Many communities these days have special dog park areas where owners can legally take their canine buddies for a bit of exercise, socialization and fun. There are both unfenced and fenced parks, but using either requires some consideration and planning prior to actually taking your pooch for their first dog park visit.
Before You Go to a Dog Park….
Before you even go to a designated dog park there are two things that definitely need to be attended to.
- All vaccination protocols need to be complete, especially on young puppies. Although we all like to think that people using these facilities are responsible dog owners, there are some who may not have attended to keeping their pets’ vaccinations up to date. This exposes unvaccinated dogs to the risk of illness.
- Ensure that your dog has a very solid recall and will come to you when called, regardless of circumstances. This will keep him safe (especially in unfenced parks) and will give you the peace of mind knowing that he will stay out of trouble if you see a doggie disagreement brewing among the park’s users.
One of the best ways to prepare your dog for his first dog park experience is to arrange one-on-one play dates at home. If there is a friendly neighbour dog who will not overwhelm your pet, try to make time for these occasions. This will introduce your pooch in a gentle way to the concept of playing and getting along with new canine friends.
Timing Is Everything
Try to plan your first dog park visit during ‘off peak’ hours, when there aren’t likely to be dozens of dogs there. Weekdays or early mornings are usually a good bet for less canine traffic, which will allow your dog the opportunity to familiarize himself with the park without having to deal with too many new acquaintances all at once.
Your First Dog Park Visit
Try to ensure that your dog gets some exercise prior to going into the dog park. This will help to prevent over-excitement, which may lead to him bounding over other dogs and causing an uproar that may deteriorate into an undesirable situation. Rather than driving to the dog park, walking there should be enough to take the edge off your pooch if the park is within reasonable distance.
When you go to a fenced dog park for the very first time it’s a good idea to walk the outside perimeter of the fence.
This will allow you and your dog to familiarize yourselves with the area. You will both be able to watch the activities inside the park and get a feel for what goes on, what types of dogs and owners you are likely to encounter. If it appears that there is any sort of canine bullying going on it is best to plan to come another time so that your canine buddy will enjoy a happy introduction to this new experience.
Many dog parks will have separate fenced areas for large dogs and small dogs.
If you have a young puppy you might want to consider introducing him at first on the small dog side.
Although he may eventually get large enough to play with the big guys it can be an overwhelming experience for a young puppy to be descended upon by a number of much larger dogs.
If your dog isn’t 100% reliable on his recall, attach a long line to his collar or harness so that you can retrieve him if you need to.
Some Important Things to Remember
- Many dogs have favourite toys or balls that they prefer not to share. Plan to leave these at home to avoid any possible conflict.
- Let your dog off leash as soon as he enters the park. Some dogs are not comfortable at being approached by loose pooches while they are still ‘attached’ to their owners and may feel defensive or overwhelmed. When dogs are all off-leash they tend to sort things out between themselves very quickly.
- Don’t just turn your dog loose and then hang around talking to other dog owners. If you keep moving, your dog will be more likely to keep at least some of his attention on you, which makes for a better response if you need to call him in.
- Pay close attention to what’s going on while your dog is out playing with his new friends. Sometimes an inadvertent bump or tumble can lead to misunderstandings between dogs that can evolve into unhappy situations. You need to stay alert and focused, and pay close attention to the dog body language happening while your canine buddy is out there.
Proper socialization is important for a dog, and with careful planning a dog park can offer so much of that to your canine pal. And, you get the benefit of a happy, healthy pet. It’s a win-win all around.
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