written by Alicia Harantschuk
Canine ownership has grown more than 29% over the last decade (United States Pet Population and Ownership Trends Report 2017 – Focus on Dogs, Cats, and Other Pets, 2017). To support this growing trend, dog parks are popping up across the nation. Whether you live in a major city or a country town, chances are you have a dog park close by. Not only are they increasing in accessibility, the amenities included might make your pup feel as though they are at a five-star luxury resort. Conveniently located, cost effective, opportunity to exercise and socialize you dog? Is it too good to be true?
There is no getting around it, there are risks associated with dog parks. Dog park cleanliness and fights among canine participants are real concerns for pet parents. We can mitigate risks by following some very simple guidelines.
Here are just a few for you to consider before your next outing:
1. Determine if the dog park is the place to be!
This is for you dog park regulars. Each and every time you are planning to head to the dog park, you must evaluate if it is the right activity for your dog. The dog park is a physical and social activity. If they are nervous, tired, sick, stressed or injured, “dog parking” might not be the best outing for the day.
2. Assess the park before entering.
Whether it’s your first time trying out the dog park, or one you have been to several times, remember each day is different! Take a walk around the perimeter of the park. This allows your dog to become familiar with the smells, sights and sounds, while you make sure the park is safe and clean. If you spot inappropriate dogs or humans already in the park, do not enter. It is better to pick another activity than risk a bad experience for you and your dog.
3. No second chances for a first impression.
Dog parks should have a double gate entry system. These were designed to prevent dogs from escaping the park as people come and go. But they serve another purpose by providing a safe place for your dog to acclimate and calm down before actually entering the park. It is very common for all the dogs to rush over and want to investigate the new guy which can be overwhelming for your dog. Once in the holding area, wait until excitement levels have dropped for your dog AND the dogs already engaged in active play. By doing this we significantly reduce the changes of highly excited dogs redirecting their energy by snapping at other dogs igniting squabbles.
4. Cell phones down.
Dog parks can be a bit like the Wild West, where anything can happen at the drop of a hat! Most dogs are not sitting politely waiting for your approval (or another dog’s approval) to engage in play. Pay attention to your dog’s body language and play style. Pay attention to how the other dogs are playing, and any change to the surroundings. Vigilance on your end will help to ensure a good time for your dog! Avoid the use of any device that may distract you from keeping an eye on things.
5. Time’s up!
Every dog is different, and knowing your dog will help you to decide when to end your visit to the dog park. Each dog has their own preference on what is acceptable play and can handle different levels of intensity, roughness, and duration. Regardless if it has been 5 minutes or 50 minutes, knowing when it is time to leave based on your dog’s body language and energy levels will help end your visit on a positive note.
6. Clean up on aisle “No. 2”.
Dog parks are part of your community, and it’s up to you to keep them clean! Please be sure to always pick up after your dog, and dispose of the waste in an appropriate area. Most dog parks now have clean up stations for you to use positioned conveniently around the park.
7. Kids free zone.
It is nearly impossible to watch human and canine kids at the same time. Dogs are running around at high speed and making it a dangerous situation for small children. Not all dogs in the park may be friendly with children, and we want to make sure both the dogs and the kids have a good experience at the dog park.
With a little thoughtful planning, dog parks can be a great experience for everyone. Take it slow, use common sense and you will surely have FUN at your local dog park!