Dog Park Etiquette
By Cara Lederman
Dog parks are excellent places to socialize and exercise your dog. However, if you’re not prepared, it can be a bad or even traumatizing experience for your dog. Safety is the No. 1 concern when at a dog park. Following the advice below can help make it a fun and positive experience each and every time.
Before You Go
Become familiar with the park before you bring your dog. Find any designated spots for small dogs and big dogs. Check to see if there are water, bowls and bags for waste. If not, you’ll need to bring your own. Make sure your dog is up-to-date on vaccinations and flea-and-tick preventatives. Observe how crowded it is and keep in mind that weekends are usually much busier than weekdays.
Understand Dog Body Language
Everyone can learn more about dog body language. Even if you know the basics, spend time watching the dogs at the park and study everything from the wrinkles on their foreheads to the positioning of their tails. Knowing how to read a dog’s body language can make the difference between redirecting and preventing a dog fight and having to break one up.
Developing a solid recall when your dog is distracted is crucial for times when she is charging toward another dog or person, or a fight is about to break out. If you need help creating a strong recall, contact a local dog trainer.
Don’t let the park be the only exercise your dog gets. It is a great idea to exercise your dog before going to the park to help release some of her energy. Overly hyper dogs can set off others dogs, which could result in a fight.
At the Dog Park
Leave treats and toys at home or, better yet, your car. Treats and toys can create jealousy or possessive aggression between dogs. If you give your dog treats and toys when you leave the park, it will be easier to end play and go home.
Walk into the park quickly. Most dogs will crowd the entry when a new dog arrives and it can be overwhelming even for the most socialized of dogs. Take your dog’s leash off after the first gate before entering the park. It can create extra tension when a dog is on-leash and the others aren’t.
In addition, be positive. Talk to your dog in a happy voice and relax. If you’re nervous, your dog will feel it and will probably be nervous as well. If you’re unsure of how your dog may act with other dogs, it is perfectly fine to muzzle her as a precaution until you’re confident of her behavior.
Remember, this is your dog’s socialization time, not yours. Supervision is essential to dog park safety. If your dog is getting too rowdy with another dog or vice versa, call her to you for a few minutes. You can practice obedience training during this time and praise your dog, then let her return to play. You can certainly make your own friends at the park, but always keep an eye on your dog.
Be prepared in case a dog fight does happen. The easiest way to break up a fight is to have Spray Shield, a citronella spray that interrupts an attacking dog. It’s safe for animals and people unlike pepper spray. This convenient spray can be attached to your belt and purchased at pet stores or online. Another option is to have an air horn to distract the dog.
As a last resort, the owner of the attacking dog should lift her back legs up. Be careful not to pull the dog away because, if she is biting into the other dog, it can cause serious damage. By lifting the back legs up a few inches, the dog should let go of the other dog and look back to see what’s going on. In that moment, grab the dogs to separate them.
Leaving the Park
Even if your dog is behaving perfectly, it is a good idea to call her to you, give lots of praise and let her go back to play. By doing this at least a few times throughout your visit, it teaches your dog that listening and focusing on you is fun and it doesn’t mean the end of play. This will also help tremendously when you call your dog to leave the park. Make sure to give your dog her favorite treat or toy when you get in the car.
Remember, dog parks can be a wonderful experience for you and your dog, but accidents and fights do happen. By following these guidelines, you’ll help to make it the best experience possible.