As if we don't have enough controversy in life, the simple dog park–a space where dogs can explore leash-free–is constantly being scrutinized. Sure, sometimes you get the wild canine that just can't control himself in such a permissive environment, but, for the most part, dog parents are to blame for mishaps. Just because all dogs are allowed in a dog park doesn't mean all dogs should go.
So, first off, how do you determine if your dog is suited for a freedom romp? Ask yourself a few questions before embarking on the adventure.
If your dog displays any of the characteristics in the "heel" column, it's probably best to stick to leashed walks until your pooch is better-trained. Introduce socialization with other dogs slowly, rather than throwing them into the lion's den, so so speak. If your dog displays all of the characteristics in the "release" column, she is probably a good candidate for an off-leash romp at the dog park. Regardless, it is best to use caution and make sure your dog is always in control. You want every trip to the dog park to be a safe and positive experience for both you and your pooch.
But once you're there, what's the proper etiquette? Here are some dos and don'ts:
• Observe before entering. If any dogs already inside the park are exhibiting any of the "heel" behaviors, you may want to postpone entry until the troublemaker has left.
• Bring poop bags. Observe and clean up after your pooch.
• Remove your dog's collar upon entry. Unless you have a breakaway collar, it's best to remove it for the safety of your pooch and the other pooches at play. Teeth and paws can become tangled in collars during interactions, potentially causing serious injury.
• Make sure your dog is healthy. Just like you shouldn't go to work if you're ill, don't bring your dog around other dogs if he's contagious.
• Exercise your dog before entering. An overly-excited dog brings intense energy to the group, which can create conflict.
• Work on commands. Periodically call your dog to make sure he is listening. This periodic "check-in" will help you maintain control.
• Make sure your pooch is in control at all times. Boisterous play is fine as long as other participants are game, but aggressive behaviors should not be tolerated.
• Don't set your pooch free without getting the lay of the land. Observe for a few minutes before entering to make sure there aren't any problem personalities (canine or human) in the park.
• Don't leave home without a poop bag. Even if your park has them, sometimes they run out, so don't rely on a supply to be there.
• Don't bring small children. Aside from being easily excitable, changing the energy at the park, small children may also be knocked over by boisterous dogs. The potential for injury for your child is high.
• Don't bring your female dog if she is in heat. Let's hope she's been spayed, but if not, do not bring her to the dog park. She will attract unwanted attention and possibly cause dangerous conflict. Not to mention an unwanted pregnancy, should there happen to be an intact male.
• Don't leave your dog's leash on. Aside from the fact that his new canine friends will snicker, keeping your dogs leash on is an opportunity for it to get tangled, as other dogs will likely greet you with excitement as you enter.
• Don't be distracted. Do not get absorbed in your cell phone or a book. Your dog requires your full attention. Though you may be able to trust your pooch, you never know what other dogs will do. Always observe all interactions.
• Don't bring your dog's favorite toys. Your pooch might become possessive if other dogs play with his favorite things. Best be selfish and leave those special items at home, avoiding possible conflict.
Though the dog park can be a great place for a well-trained dog to socialize, it's not a place to take your dog if he or she has "issues," such as fear or aggression. It's best to work those issues out with a professional trainer before coming to the park. If you have any doubts that your pooch may not be well suited for a romp in the dog park, err on the side of caution and seek other forms of exercise and interaction, perhaps something in a more controlled environment.
Do you take your dog to the dog park? What has been your experience?