Ah, dog parks. The place where your pup can run free and meet friends! As idyllic as dog parks can be, mastering proper park behavior can be a little tricky. Getting so many different dogs together can sometimes lead to problems, so here are some tips that can help you avoid awkward moments so you can have a great time at the dog park.
Be vigilant for vigilantes
Think about it—you wouldn't drop off your kids at a park and then totally ignore them, so apply that same logic to your fur babies. Watch your dog's body language to make sure he's happy and not stressed by the other dogs. Also, pay attention for signs that your dog isn't getting into scuffles with other dogs. If that happens, remove your dog from the park for some solo walking to calm him down.
Unleash the fun
While it's undoubtedly easier to control your dog on a leash, most dog parks discourage them. Leashes, choke collars and harnesses get in the way of dog play and could snag another dog in a painful way. As long as the park has good fences, you're supervising closely, and your dog comes when you call his or her name, let your dog off the leash.
Bringing dinner to the dog park can be a major distraction. The same goes for bringing snacks for your dog. Use the adage your middle school teacher taught you and "only pack snacks if you brought enough to share with the class."
Get the green light on treats
If you do bring treats for everyone (you sweetheart, you) check your dog park’s rules and ask pet parents for permission before doling them out. Other dogs could be allergic to an ingredient in the snack or may be on a specialized diet.
Watch your non-furry babies
The dog park is a place for your pup to really let loose and run with his buddies. This kind of play can be a little more rough-and-tumble than how they play with humans, so this is probably not the best environment for small children. If you do bring kids, check your dog park’s rules first and keep them close to you and make sure they ask permission before approaching any of the other dogs.
Scoop the poop
This is pretty much the golden rule of dog owning: pick up your messes. It can be hard to stay on top of things with so many dogs running around, but do your best to scoop up your dog's droppings as they happen. This will keep the park looking nice, and all the dogs playing there will be healthier and happier. Bring extra bags just in case one of your fellow pet parents forgot theirs.
Keep your eyes on the size
It's true that dog friendship knows no size boundaries, but sometimes a group of big dogs can overwhelm the little guys. Try to go to dog parks that segregate the sizes so that little dogs don't get trampled. If your community doesn't have size-specific parks, try to find local meet-up groups with similar-sized dogs, and pick a day to all go to the park together to even out the ratio.
Hit them with your best shot
As important as it is to socialize your new puppy, dog parks can be teeming with germs that can wreak havoc on an unvaccinated dog. Ask your vet how long you need to wait after getting all the necessary shots before taking your dog out on the town.
Get your ya-ya’s out
Taking a dog who has been cooped up all day straight to a dog park can lead to a wild outburst. Consider taking your pooch on a short walk or run before letting him play at the park so he can let out some of his pent-up energy.
As fun as they are, dog parks aren't for every dog. If you have a shy dog or one who is more aggressively playful, you may want to have a get-together with a few friends instead of the whole neighborhood's dog-habitants.
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