Join the Pack at the Park: A Dog Park Guide

Join the Pack at the Park: A Dog Park Guide

By: Jessie L. Rayburn, CVT

The days are warm and pleasant which means our dogs are ready to be outside having fun and expending their pent-up energy. Dog parks are a fantastic arena for socialization and exercise. Unfortunately, they can also be a potential environment for hazards, especially for an inexperienced dog or owner. The following is a compilation of helpful dog park tips and proper canine etiquette.

There are a few things you can do to set yourself up for success before stepping a foot (or paw) on the park grounds. Most dog parks have posted rules and regulations, either on-site or online. Take a few minutes to become familiar with the park’s requirements. Make sure your dog is up to date on their vaccines and preventatives; dog parks can be a breeding ground for transmissible diseases and parasites. Check the weather forecast before heading out. If the weather is going to be excessively hot, keep your play session short to avoid heat exhaustion. Be sure to provide hydration for your pup as well.

You and your canine should master some basic commands before your initial dog park visit. Sit, stay, and come will be the most helpful. Practice these outside the home to help your canine get used to obeying in environments that offer a lot of distraction. Your first few outings to the dog park should be short; try to go during non-peak hours when it will be less crowded. Keeping your dog on a leash for your first visit is also a good way to safely judge how they will respond. If you know a seasoned dog park veteran, that dog will make a valuable first play partner. Try to avoid “zoning out”. Keep your attention focused on your dog in case a situation should arise. Plus, play dates with other dogs can make for some precious puppy moments that you don’t want to miss!

Every canine companion is different, so try to think about how your particular pup will behave and interact at the park; a lot of canines have their own special quarks. If your dog is protective or possessive of toys, balls, etc. it may be a good idea to leave those at home. The same thing goes for treats and food. If you want to offer a treat to reward good behavior, wait until you have exited the dog park.

Learn how to interpret canine body language so you can get an idea of how other dogs are feeling and responding to their surroundings. Some common indicators of unease or agitation are: showing of teeth, raised hair at the nape of the neck, large wide eyes or “whale eyes”, cowering or hunched body positioning, and grumbling/growling. Some canine vocalization during play can occur so know what is normal for your dog and confirm with other owners what is normal for theirs. Lastly, remember a wagging tail doesn’t immediately mean “I am happy and playing”. This is a common misconception. A wagging or straight up and down tail is one way for a dog draw attention to themselves so they can communicate with others. Like a human waving their hand at someone to get their attention. It can mean they want to play, or it could mean something else entirely. So look at the rest of the canine’s body language and put the dog’s whole message together.

Dog parks are growing in popularity and are a marvelous hub of socialization. With the proper research, prep, and communication between dogs and owners, you can create some wonderful summer memories. Find a local dog park, make some new friends, and create your own wolf pack today!

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