Are Dog Parks Safe
Dog Parks are a super way to combine socializing with exercising your dog, but it is not a cure-all for your dog’s bad behavior. First and foremost your dog CANNOT be Dog Aggressive. Oftentimes the root of dog aggression can be traced back to the handler and lack of socialization. You must show the dog in a calm way that you are the Alpha person — that this is YOUR house, YOUR space, and he must follow YOUR rules. This probably sounds mean and nasty, and should never be done in a physical, out-of-control way. I equate a dog with a very young child, and treat them as such. Isn’t this the same way most responsible parents teach their toddlers. When a child is first learning to walk and run, most parents set rules. Barriers are set up to protect them from dangerous situations, they shouldn’t be allowed to run outside unattended, and basically at first they have to be taught simple rules. We show them what we want or don’t want in a gentle way, oftentimes by taking the by the hand and leading them through the behavior we want them to do. Of course as they grow older, and are able to think for themselves, more freedom is given, but I know I never gave my toddlers the choice of whether or not they could run out the door and into the street!!! No matter how smart or trustworthy you think your precious pet is, all dogs are “perpetual children,” and will always need some type of supervision and rules. Most dog parks have posted signs explaining their dog park rules. But it is up to you as the owner/handler to make sure your dog stays safe.
It is always best to visit the park without your dog the first time, just to get an idea of what you can expect. After a few trips to the dog park with your dog, you will learn to recognize a dog that might not get along with yours, or perhaps an owner who would rather chat than watch their dogs to prevent their dog from misbehaving or possibly causing harm to another. Before entering, it is a good idea to check out what kind of behaviors the dogs are exhibiting. I have an older Chesapeake Bay Retriever with weak back legs. Recently I went to a dog park only to discover 2 large young Great Danes that kept trying to jump on top of my dog. They really weren’t vicious, and seemed to be just playing, but my dog was getting knocked down, which was an unsafe situation. The owner was responsible, though, and when she realized she realized her dogs were out of control, she took them both out until they could settle down. I would have left if she hadn’t. If your dog doesn’t listen to you at home, it certainly isn’t ready for the dog park!
An Ounce of Prevention…
The old adage, “An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure” is very appropriate when planning to take your furry friend to a dog park. But sometimes the most obvious precautions are overlooked. For example never, ever take your dog if she is in heat! If you want to cause trouble and/or a fight, this is a sure way to do it! Also, leave your dog home if he is sick. And be extra vigilant in watching for both external and internal parasites. Every pet owner may not be as responsible as you are. Make sure your dog is on a good regimen for fleas and ticks, and have your veterinarian check for worms regularly. It is also a good idea to discuss a heartworm preventative with your veterinarian. Many monthly treatments also have the extra benefit of controlling hook, round and tape worms.
My Dog is so Sweet – But He doesn’t like Other Dogs
Your dog may be the best behaved dog on the plant when at home, but then turns into a “Mr. Hyde” upon seeing another animal. Many factors can cause a dog to be dog aggressive including a dominant personality, another dog in heat, or fear just to name a few. However, I keep coming back to the word “Socialize.” A properly socialized dog is rarely dog aggressive because the fear has been taken out of everyday encounters, and the dog trusts the handler. And with proper training, the dog has been taught how to behave around another dog. I compare this to a human bully. A bully is usually someone who doesn’t feel good about himself. It takes hurting someone smaller or weaker to bring up the bully’s self-esteem. In my opinion, the best way to socialize any dog is to enroll him in a Group Obedience Training Class as soon as possible where he will be taught to behave in the presence of other dogs. Many trainers are now realizing the importance of Puppy Socialization, and are offering pre-obedience classes for puppies. Just because your dog barks at passers-by through the fence doesn’t mean your dog is vicious. I will say that if at all possible, your dog should be kept in an enclosure rather than tying the dog outside, especially in a populated area. Walks are still very important too. If possible, a different walking route is a great idea. Keeps the dog from getting bored, and gives him a chance to experience different situations . And believe me, it is never too late to start training your dog. An Old Dog CAN learn New Tricks!
Once Inside the Dog Park
Remember, meeting new humans with obviously similar interests is great for you, but your main purpose for going to the dog park should be for your dog’s benefit! It is your responsibility to be vigilant, and keep full control of your dog at all times. If your dog is excitable, or has excess energy, it is a good idea to give you dog a long walk before going to the dog park. A “wired” dog entering a dog park like Gang Busters, might be taken the wrong way by another dog, which could be an invitation to trouble. More than likely, a little rough-housing will take place, just as it would in a playground with small children, but don’t let it get too far. If your dog is showing dominance to another dog by constantly jumping on it or blocking it, take your dog out of the mix for a time-out. If your dog won’t settle down, then perhaps it is time to take him out of the park. This would be a good time to put him on a leash, and run him through some of his obedience commands. Then when the dog is a little tired and calmer, you can bring him back into the park. Like any other training exercise, this may take a few times before your dog gets it, but the extra effort will pay off later! You just have to stay calm yourself, and be persistent. Creating the “perfect dog” is a constant work in process.
Basic Dog Park Rules
First and foremost you must clean up after your dog. Most parks have poopie bags and waste cans available. Also, if you have a small dog (usually under 30 lbs.) make sure there is a separate enclosure for small dogs. Most parks have a small “entrance” enclosure to allow you to safely remove your dog’s leash before entering the main park. Once the leash is off, open the main gate, and briskly walk in. Many parks do not allow leashed dogs inside the main park. Of course there are exceptions — if your dog gets too rambunctious, and needs to be removed from the park, a leash is appropriate.
Do not hesitate when entering. This hesitation oftentimes is interpreted by the dog as nervous energy, which is cause for your dog to be concerned. I have had many dogs over the years, and although each one had its own personality, they still learned from early on that they have rules to follow. Except for the leash and collar, I use the same approach for any dog as I did with my very young children. I show them what I expect, and then give them a gentle correction when they forget! Once they understand what is expected and what isn’t allowed, usually a verbal reminder is all they need. Like with a child, it is the parent’s responsibility to make sure the rules are followed. When out whether at the dog park, or any other place, you should expect your dog to behave. That means, it isn’t allowed to jump on people or put their mouth on someone, to mount other dogs during play, or to bark excessively just to name a few. Following dog park etiquette makes for a fun and rewarding time for both you and your dog.