At face value, the dog park seems like a dream come true. Your dog can run around off-leash, socialize with other dogs, and you hardly have to lift a finger! Amazing, right? Well, not entirely. The dog park can get a little crazy sometimes. With so many excited dogs in one area, accidents are bound to happen. It’s important that dog owners learn proper dog park safety before taking their dog there. Think of it like preparing for the playground with a child. Here are five tips and tricks to arm yourself with before taking the leap and heading to the park with your pup.
- Visit the Vet
Elementary schools require children to be fully vaccinated to keep all children safe and healthy. The same rule applies to dogs at the dog park! It’s important to keep your dog in top health before playing with a group of dogs.
The number one thing you can do for your dog’s health is to stay up to date on vaccinations. During your yearly visit to the vet, your veterinarian will update all the necessary shots to maintain your dog’s health. Staying up to date means your pet will not be vulnerable to diseases that could be contracted at the park. This is particularly the case for young puppies, states the Animal Humane Society. Young puppies will not have all of their vaccinations before a certain age and therefore are more susceptible to disease. Until all vaccinations are administered, the dog park is not recommended.
It’s also important to never take a sick dog to the park – you don’t want to spread illnesses to other dogs! One common and highly infectious virus found in dogs is papillomavirus. Papillomas appear as a wart, most commonly on a dog’s lips and gums. They are usually relatively small and have a rough appearance – almost like the head of cauliflower. These warts are highly contagious to other dogs. Any pup with papilloma virus should stay be kept away from other dogs. It usually takes between one to five months for papilloma to clear. However Papillomas are not contagious to humans or animals that aren’t dogs, so you and your pup can continue life as usual.
If you suspect your dog may have papilloma, take them to the vet to run a test. The vet will be able to confirm the presence of papilloma and recommend treatment. And until your dog is in the clear, the dog park will have to wait!
- Know Your Dog
Just like you wouldn’t take a shy friend to a rowdy party, you shouldn’t take your shy or anxious dog to the park. The dog park can be a crazy place. There may be a lot of high energy dogs present, which can be overwhelming for some pups. That’s okay though – there are ways you can build your dog’s confidence.
One important skill to practice with your dog is coming to you when called. The Animal Humane Society recommends practicing this as often as possible, with positive reinforcement each time your dog does as they are told. When a dog consistently comes when called you have the power to avoid all sorts of potential conflicts at the dog park. It will also make your dog feel safe knowing you are there to set the ground rules.
If you’re not confident that your dog will feel comfortable around unfamiliar dogs, consider starting with play dates before going to the park. Talk to friends and neighbors and see if they are willing to schedule one with you. You can also enroll your dog in a training class before venturing to the park. This will not only expose your dog to many new friends but will also build a solid relationship between you and your dog. With a good background in basic commands and training skills, you and your dog will already have an edge on safety – and fun – at the park.
- Stay Vigilant
The dog park is not the appropriate place to set your dog free and completely check out. Socializing with other dog owners is great, but always keep one eye on your dog. It’s important to stay aware of your dog’s body language, as this awareness can prevent accidents.
This vigilance should begin the moment you enter the park. Often, the gate you enter the park through will become crowded with dogs as you arrive. Other dogs are excited to meet your pet, which is great! But this could quickly become overwhelming. Once you feel that it is safe to do so, let your dog off of its leash. This will allow your dog to communicate with the other dogs without your intervention. It also gives them a chance to run away from the overcrowding if it’s too overwhelming.
Once inside the dog park, remember the training you and your dog have worked on! To demonstrate to your dog that you are there to keep them safe always remain calm and assertive. Watch how your dog is interacting with the other dogs – and trust your gut. If their behavior looks off, it’s okay to pull your dog away from a situation and give them a chance to calm down. And don’t feel bad about leaving the park earlier than you intended to. It’s always better to leave early than to stay too long and become part of an accident.
Another reason to stay vigilant is so you can clean up after your dog. Dog parks do not have a cleaning service, so it is your responsibility to clean up after your dog. As a courtesy to other dogs and dog owners, it’s best if you clean it up as quickly as possible. Always bring bags with you in case the dog park does not provide them.
- Don’t Rely on Other Dog Owners
While you and your dog may have a fantastic training relationship, this may not be true for all dog owners. Some dog owners may be dealing with a brand new dog or a dog who has behavioral issues. On the other hand, some owners may not have an understanding of dog behavior or simply do not care to learn. It’s best to remove your dog from any situation that may seem threatening. Don’t worry about offending another dog owner. Better safe than sorry!
In a letter to a frustrated fan, Cesar Millan stresses the importance of maintaining a strong and disciplined presence for your dog – even when another owner is not. Continue to intervene in ways that you know are correct based on training you and your dog have gone through together. And who knows – other dog owners may follow your lead!
- Prepare for the Worst
It’s possible that a fight will break out while you are at the dog park which involves your dog. Don’t panic! The best thing you can do is stay vigilant, calm, and be prepared for this situation to occur.
Both the Higgins Animal Clinic and the Animal Behavior Associates recommend that dog owners never physically intervene in a dog fight! This means do not reach in and grab your dog by the collar, scruff of the neck, or any other body part in an attempt to break up the fight. This could cause injury to both yourself and the dogs involved. It’s also important not to yell. Though it can be tough to restrain yourself, yelling and shouting can often aggravate the situation.
A good technique for breaking up a fight is to use a spray bottle full of water. A quick squirt of water on a dog’s head or face (but not in the eyes!) will distract the dog long enough to separate them from the fight. Another good technique is to use a citronella spray or a can of compressed air. The citronella spray will emit an intense smell that is distracting to dogs. The can of compressed air, when sprayed, emits a loud hissing sound that distracts dogs long enough to break up a fight. Consider bringing any of these with you when you go to the dog park.
It’s also worth bringing a pet first aid kit. Water, bandage wrap, and hydrogen peroxide to clean wounds are simple and effective items to keep with you at all times. For anything serious, always have the number or your local veterinarian or emergency vet saved in your cell phone.
Bonus Tip: HAVE FUN! Don’t forget to smile, play, and have a great time! Remember that the dog park is like a playground. Accidents will happen, but probably not that often. Be fully prepared, and enjoy this special play time with your dog.
Do you go to the dog park with your dog? Thinking of trying it out soon? Share your stories with us!