The Dog Park can be a great environment for your dog to play, build social skills, and be a part of a community of canine friends OR it can be a nightmare for both pup and owner. In order to make your trip a success, here are some dog park do’s and don’ts.
First, observe the environment without your dog.
Leave your dog in the car and take a moment to observe what’s happening inside the fences of the dog park. How many dogs are there? How are the dogs behaving? How are the owners reacting?
By taking the time to observer the environment, you will be able to make an informed decision on whether or not this is the right time be inside the park.
Enter as calmly as possibly and in control of your dog.
The dog park is an exciting place for you dog, but it shouldn’t be your dogs primary source of exercise. Take your dog for a good walk before coming to the park and then enter the park as calmly as possible.
If this means you need to take a couple laps around the park to keep your dog from lunging, pulling, or dragging you into the gate, then by all means take those laps. An overexcited dog can become a target and cause a lot of unnecessary problems at the park.
Be present and ready to intervene.
The dog park is not the best place to update your FaceBook page, take a business call, or look up restaurants for dinner. In fact, it would probably be in your best interest to leave your smartphone in the car because it’s so tempting to stare at that screen and disengage from reality.
Be present with your dog at the park. By being alert and present, you will be more aware of problem signs and able to intervene before things take a turn for the worse.
The dog park is not only a great social environment for your dog. It can be a social outlet for dog owners as well.You might meet some friendly dog owners who love their 4-legged friends as much as you do.
Know your dog and watch for signs of stress.
You spend the most time with your dog, so you probably know your dog better than anyone. This is powerful information. You will be the first to recognize signs that your dog is stressed or over-stimulated. Instead of waiting until there’s a real problem, feel free to take your dog out of the park for mini breaks if you notice they’re getting a little frazzled.
A Few Don’ts:
Don’t feel like you have to enter.
You’ve driven all the way to the park, you get out, and now you see signs of unsocialized dogs that cause some concern. If you are observing a lot of behavior issues that you don’t want your dog to pick up, then don’t go in the park.
One great option if you made the drive, is to practice obedience training outside of the park. As you train your dog, you should increase distractions with each command. The area outside the dog park is an area heavy laden with distraction, perfect for improving your dogs obedience and listening skills.
If you have a dog that has behavioral issues, practicing outside the fence is a great option for you too!
Don’t bring treats into the park.
Resource guarding [growling, barking or biting to protect something the dog views as valuable] is too common and having treats or food can cause a lot of problems amongst the dogs. Similarly, bringing toys in can also create an issue, so watch out for dogs that don’t share very well.
Don’t listen to all the advice you will receive.
You will meet some great people at the park and hopefully you will make some new friends! However, you will also meet a few very opinionated people who believe they are ‘dog experts.’
Some of the worst advice I have heard has been amongst dog owners at the park. So take the advice you receive with a grain of salt and do your own research or consult a professional if you have concerns about your dog.
So get out there and enjoy the dog park with your best friend! There are some great dog parks to explore in New Jersey and I’m sure you will have a blast.
For more reading, here is a great article on dog body language from the ASPCA. If you learn to read the dogs at the park, you will be much better off. http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/