Bringing home a new puppy can be one of the most exciting days of your life. It’s almost like being a parent as you mark the milestones of housebreaking, obedience training, and the end of the chewing that cost three pairs of shoes and the phone charger.
There are some things that puppies don’t outgrow, however, like the need to burn off energy. And since not everyone has a large yard or time for walks, the community dog park can be indispensable in keeping your canine companion happy and well-adjusted.
If you’re new to the dog park scene, it’s important to remember that these are public spaces, and as with any park, following both written and unwritten rules can make the experience positive for both you and other pet owners.
Make sure your dog is current on vaccinations, worming and flea control
Some parks require proof of vaccination, but most parks operate on an honor system. Parvo is especially virulent, and in some instances, dog parks have been shut down due to the virus, which can live in the soil for six months to a year. And remember, your puppy should have all the required boosters before coming to the dog park, along with boosters for distemper, parainfluenza, leptospirosis, and kennel cough.
Internal parasites, ticks, and fleas are also a concern, so protect your pet with a monthly preventative before exposing your dog to his new playmates.
Pick up after your dog
Even if your dog’s poop is parasite free, pick it up anyway. Some parks provide pick-up bags, but if yours doesn’t, bring your own. No one wants to come home with poop on their shoes.
Know your dog, and keep it in control
Some dogs are calm, some are aggressive. Some dogs are submissive, some dogs are dominant. If your dog lacks social skills, likes humping other dogs to show dominance, or has an aggressive method of play, it is up to YOU to make sure he doesn’t ruin the experience for other dogs. Allowing your dog to chase, hump or roll another dog is not only rude but can ruin the dog park experience for other visitors. Makes sure you have recall control over your dog before going to the dog park, so if your dog interacts negatively with others, you can call it back to you. It is not a good idea to keep a dog on a leash in the free-play area, as dogs can get tripped up in your dog’s leash. You should be able to control your dog with verbal commands.
Respect size restrictions
The small dog portion of the park means just that, so letting your 50-lb. pooch run with Chiweenies and Yorkies is not only poor form, but potentially dangerous if the larger dog gets rough. Yes, you may feel your dog is safer playing with the little guys, but it may not be safer for them, and rules dividing the dog park into areas for small and large dogs are there for a reason.
Don’t bring females in-heat to play
This should be self-explanatory, but sometimes owners fail to realize how dangerous a dog park can become when someone brings a bitch in heat into a setting with three or four intact males. Most parks don’t require visiting dogs be spayed or neutered, and males can get into terrible fights when a female in season is introduced to the mix. If you have a female you’re intending to breed, you need to be mindful of her heat cycles, and keep her away from the dog park when she’s in her fertile period.
Supervise your dog at all times
In the age of smartphones, it’s easy to just let your dogs run around while we check our Facebook, Instagram, or email. But while you’re at the dog park, it’s your responsibility to be vigilant so you can make sure your dog isn’t bullying, being bullied, or being possessive of its toy, or the toy of another dog. So turn off the phone and be vigilant in monitoring your dog’s behavior.
The park is not a place to teach your dog to socialize
If your dog has aggression or socialization issues, the dog park is NOT the place to work these out. That should be left to the venue of an experienced trainer, who may or may not employ other dogs in the training. It’s not just bad manners to expose a dog with resource guarding issues or an attack history to your neighbor’s pets, it could lead to injury for both humans and their dogs.
by Victoria Rouch
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