Dogs love running around in the open, making dog parks a brilliant place for your Pet to socialize and have fun…if everything goes well. As many Pet parents have learned, this type of play area can be a recipe for disaster when the dogs in it do not behave well. The last thing you want is to have innocent stick chasing escalate into an attack. By paying attention to the surroundings and having a keen sense of dog park safety, you will take strides at ensuring that an afternoon of play remains memorable for the right reasons.
Details to Pay Attention to in Dog Parks
Before entering a dog park’s gates, take a few minutes to scope out the area and those in it. Warning signs that the park might not be safe for your dog include:
• Too many dogs crowded together
• Dogs surrounding new dogs
• Dogs bullying other dogs
• Pet parents not paying attention to their dogs
• A toy that causes conflict among the dogs, such as a ball or disc
• Gates and fences that are not secure
Be mindful of the sizes of the dogs in the park. If you have a smaller dog, it might be best to use a park that has a separate area or playtime for small dogs. Similarly, if you have a larger dog that doesn’t get along well with smaller dogs, it is a good idea to use a park with separate areas.
Dog Park Safety Tips
Training and Socialization
Pet parents and their dogs get the most out of a day at the park when the dogs behave well. Before going to a dog park, a dog should obey commands well. This not only helps prevent a brawl when you see warning signs of escalating behavior, it also keeps you and other Pet parents safer.
If your dog tends to charge at new dogs that it meets, shows dominance, doesn’t like to share, is territorial, sniffs dogs that are uncomfortable with the action, or displays other impolite behaviors, it might not be ready for the dog park.
Exercise before Going to the Park
Dogs with a lot of energy can become over-stimulated in a dog park. A dog running around to expel this energy might encourage other dogs to chase it, which could lead to a fight. Dog parks are a good supplement to a Pet’s regular exercise, but shouldn’t be the main source. Take your dog for a walk before heading to the park to prepare it for the excitement that awaits.
Remove Leashes, Harnesses and Prong Collars
While it seems logical to leave a dog’s leash, prong collar or harness in place, doing so could cause accidental injuries. Dogs gently nip at each other’s shoulders and necks as a form of play. Prong collars and other metal objects in these areas could break or hurt another dog’s teeth, jaws, legs or paws. If a dog accidentally gets stuck on these objects, it could panic and start fighting. The only accessory a dog should wear at a dog park is a nylon or leather collar that you can remove quickly.
Leashes in a dog park pose safety risks to dogs and Pet parents because they tangle easily and are tripping hazards. Some dogs on a leash, even when the leash isn’t secured to anything, feel as if they can’t escape. If they feel scared, they might attack instead of run away.
Reconsider Bringing Puppies and Unvaccinated Dogs into the Park
Dog parks are ripe with parasites and diseases. Vaccinated puppies that are 12 weeks or older, as well as dogs that are current with their vaccines, are more likely to have immune systems that are strong enough to survive these invisible threats and their treatments.
To reduce the risk of illness and infection, Pet parents should always clean up after their dogs in a park.
Don’t Bring in Pregnant Females and Those in Heat
A sure way to start a commotion at a dog park is to bring a Pet in heat or one that’s pregnant. In such situations, it’s best to avoid the dog park and play in a more isolated area.
Don’t Let Dogs ‘Work it Out’
Unlike people, dogs don’t work out their difficulties well with dogs they don’t know. If you see your dog picking on another dog, or it’s the victim of a bully, it’s up to you to intervene. Don’t assume that the other dog’s Pet parent will step-in. Separate the dogs and leave the park, even if your dog behaved well. In such a situation, safety trumps pride.
Supervise Your Dog All the Time
Don’t take your eyes off your dog while it’s at a dog park. While it may seem tempting to chat with other Pet parents or play on your phone, it’s not worth the risk to your dog’s safety. Like children, dogs know when their Pet parents aren’t paying attention. They may take advantage of the situation to misbehave. Save your conversations, emails and social media posts for later.
Dog Body Language
While dogs don’t talk, their body language can tell you a lot about how they feel. Paying attention to these cues at a dog park will let you know when your Pet is having fun and when it’s time to leave.
Dogs at play have loose, relaxed bodies. They tend to move from side to side, instead of forward. Unlike fighting, the playing may stop and start again. Similarly, dogs at play switch from having dominant and submissive roles. While playing, dogs sometimes bow, and bite with their mouths open. They may bark or have high-pitched growls.
Signs of aggression include staring, circling a dog while keeping a rigid body, and standing over another dog’s neck or shoulders. If your dog stays near you or a fence, cowers or moves away when another dog approaches it, it’s telling you that it’s ready to go. Keep in mind that not every dog enjoys dog parks, and not every park is appropriate for your dog.
Visiting a dog park should be a relaxing, fun experience for you and your dog. By being aware of the Pets in the area and preparing your dog with proper training and exercise, you will have more control over the outing and increase the chances that everyone has a good time. If a trip to the dog park turns into playtime at home because the environment wasn’t ideal, that’s okay, too. After all, you are your dog’s favorite companion.