For many dogs, the dog park is paradise, and for good reason. The existence of new sights, smells, sounds, people, and dogs can be a welcome respite for adventure-seeking dogs who may become bored with the same routines at home. For active pups the dog park is a great outlet for releasing energy and practicing socialization skills. However, dog parks can also be unpredictable. As with any situation where animals are placed in close contact with one another, dog fights can occur if action is not taken to recognize and diffuse a dangerous situation. Dog owners can also be unpredictable, and are not always keeping a close eye on their fur-babies. When taking your dog to the local park, be sure to keep the following tips in mind.
- Keep a close eye on your dog A running joke among dog trainers and veterinarians is the owner who says, “but my dog has never done that before!” when having to extract his or her dog from an aggressive situation. Remember: just because your dog is calm, content, and happy 99% of the time, does not make him or her bomb-proof. Dogs love routine and consistency, and dog parks can be very stressful for some individuals. Every time a new dog is introduced to a pack, a new hierarchy has to be determined. Not uncommonly, two dogs may not be able to stand one another. Look for signs that your dog is distressed or acting overly-dominant, and remove him or her from the situation immediately. Do not rely on other dog owners to alert you to these signs, and also be aware that other pet-parents may not be as vigilant as you, either. Just as you would never drop off your child at the park and not pay attention, you should not do so with your dog.
- Do not take toys or treats to the park While well-intentioned, taking your dog’s favorite toys or treats to the dog park can be a recipe for disaster. Sure, the park is a wide open area that allows your dog to stretch his or her legs while chasing a favorite toy, but be aware that dogs can become territorial over their personal items (this is called resource guarding). For instance, your dog may enjoy fetching tennis balls. However, certain dog breeds, such as border collies, have a hard time resisting a ball, regardless who is throwing it. The other dog may try to intercept or outright take the toy from your dog, which may cause trouble. Another common situation is well-meaning owners who take training treats to the park in order to work on obedience while distractions are present. The problem here is that other dogs may want to get in on the action and swarm that owner for treats. For some overly protective pups, this may lead to a scuffle or assertion of dominance.
- Do not take a dog to the park who does not know basic commands After bringing a brand new dog home, you may be tempted to take him or her immediately to the dog park to have fun. Avoid doing so unless you are certain your dog understands commands such as “come,” “no,” “drop it,” and “leave it.” Without a solid foundation in obedience, the dog park can not only be dangerous (i.e. if your dog behaves inappropriately and you are not able to get his or her attention) but also extremely frustrating (if it is time to go, but you cannot get you dog to come to you). As a general rule of thumb, only well-behaved and obedient dogs should ever experience the privilege of running free at the park, for the health and safety of all involved.