Taking your dog to the dog park can be a fun way to burn off their excess energy
after a long day and to let your dog socialize with his buddies, but every dog
(and every dog park) is different. If you’ve never taken your dog to the dog
park before and you want to start, or you’ve gone a few times but you want to
become a regular, here are some tips to make your experience a success:
Vaccinate Your Dog
Dog parks are social places, which hundreds of dogs may pass through on any
given day from different parts of town. People visit dog parks when they’re
driving through the neighborhood, traveling from other cities, and as regulars
— so the diseases, parasites, and bacteria your dog will come into contact with
in a dog park are much more varied than what he might see on his daily walk.
While it would be nice if everyone vaccinated their dog, this isn’t always the
case, and in public dog parks there is no way to verify that every dog you
encounter is up to date on his shots — so make sure yours is. Vaccinations
deliver a small amount of (live or killed) viruses or bacteria into your dogs
body so that his immune system can learn to fight them in small amounts. When he
encounters these same bacteria or viruses again, he’ll be less likely to get
sick because his immune system recognizes the intruders as a threat, and
dispatches of them before they can cause a problem.
In human public health, vaccines are surrounded by myths
and unsurprisingly, many of the same beliefs exist in the dog world. If you’re
worried that vaccines will harm your dog, you should ask the opinion of a few
veterinarians in your area and see if you can find a vaccine schedule that
assuages your concerns before taking your dog around other dogs.
Train Your Dog
Work with your dog on basic obedience training in the park before going to the
dog park. Ensure that you have good control over your dog by being able to call
them away from distractions, and make sure they good people manners and don’t
try jumping up on everyone they meet. Remember that you can encounter all
sorts of people — including children, and the elderly — in dog parks, so your
dog should be pretty social before going.
Choose the Right Park
Dog parks are different everywhere, some parks are huge and encompass acres of
land, while others are small and may be divided into smaller sections for
different sized dogs. Which type of park your dog will feel the most comfortable
in and find the best buddies to play with can vary. Some dogs can act more
territorial in parks with obvious fences, whereas other dogs may run off in
parks that are too big and be hard to recall when they’re off playing.
Watch the dogs playing in the park for a while before taking your dog into a
new dog park. Are they playing? Are their owners paying attention, or are they
distracted by their phones? While dogs are naturally social animals, putting a
bunch of strange dogs together relies that every dogs owner is diligent about
what their dog is doing. It’ this kind of attentiveness that makes dog parks
fun, and prevents fights from breaking out in the first place.
It should go without saying that a clean, well-groomed park is mandatory. Don’t
take your dog into a dog park where there’s excessive dog poop, or a strong
smell of urine or feces. Most dog parks are public spaces and while park
services generally do a good job of keeping them clean, high-traffic parks and
smaller dog parks can easily become housing for all sorts of germs.
Don’t Take Your Puppy
A lot of well-meaning dog owners think that the best way to socialize their
puppy would be to take him to the dog park. After all, there is a big variety of
dogs and your puppy will get to learn and play with all of them. What many dog
owners don’t consider is that such an intense socialization experience could
actually be a problem.
Here’s a good analogy. Would you take your young child and drop him off at a
high school campus for the day? It’s still a school, and there are a lot of
other children. The problem, as you may have already realizes, is that like
dropping a kindgartener off at high school, taking your puppy to a dog park
exposes him to dogs that are much older than him — and oftentimes, who have a
much more intense personality than your pup will.
Young puppies, under 6 months old, do much better with structured socialization
with only a few other dogs, or puppies around their age. Your puppy is still
learning what appropriate social behaviors are, so if you let him meet and play
with other puppies on a walk, at home, or at a puppy class, you have a much
better chance to teach your puppy the right social behavior — rather than
overwhelming him and making him feel the need to defend himself while he’s young.
When your puppy is a little older, has had all of his vaccines, and has met a
few other dogs already, you can take him to a dog park if you choose to, but
should limit visits and choose parks where there are few other dogs. Older
puppies can have a lot of positive learning experiences in dog parks, as the
other dogs are typically social and can help teach an overly-exuberant puppy
how to play better with others — but each dog is an individual, and you should
assess your pup carefully while he’s in the park for any signs of stress.
Manage Play Behavior
Don’t let other dogs bully your dog, and don’t be afraid to ask, “Whose dog is
this?” if you’ve been watching another dog antagonize yours for a while. Dog
fights can and do happen in dog parks, and they can be very serious. Not all
owners understand that their dogs behavior is aggressive, and may think that
their dogs very rough play is OK, because she does it with other dogs, or
because it’s never caused a problem before. Tell these owners to get control of
their dogs, and don’t be afraid to ask the people around you if they think
what’s going on is OK. Play behaviors that should be limited in dog parks
- Staring behavior — Intense staring and stalking are both hunting behaviors and should never be encouraged in dog parks.
- Excessive pinning, rolling, and grabbing of other dogs — many dogs will nip or bite defensively when grabbed by the neck or pinned, which could escalate into a fight.
- Constant Herding & Chasing — some dogs enjoy chasing, and being chased, and will have great fun rolling through the grass in an off-leash park. If your dog isn’t one of them, let the other owners know
Take an Airhorn
This little known tip can be really handy if a fight breaks out. Airhorns are
portable, but extremely loud. If your dog or another dog starts fighting, use an
airhorn to frighten the dogs and make them back off. Airhorns are best used in
close proximity of the fighting dogs, to have the best chance at startling them.