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Citizen Canine (Dog Park Etiquette & Tips)

Taking your dog to dog parks provides her with the mental challenges and physical exercise that she needs to stay healthy, fit, and well-adjusted socially.

If your dog is ready for action more often than you are or at times when you’re tired (such as after you get home from work), visiting a dog park can be a great solution. You’ll have time to decompress while your dog gets physical and mental activity.

The kinds of exercise dogs give each other while playing and chasing in an open space is generally better for them than walking or jogging along at a steady rate with a human.  A dog’s physiology requires intense, short bursts of exercise, followed by brief rest periods. When off-leash, dogs tend to pace themselves in ways determined by their dominant breed(s). It’s helpful to visit dog parks that have fenced play areas to separate the little dogs from bigger ones, allowing the dogs to exercise and play at full capacity with each other without as much risk of injuries and accidents.

Below are tips to help your dog park rendezvous go smoothly.

  • Avoid being overwhelmed by an excited mob of dogs greeting your dog when she enters the park. When you first arrive, spend a few minutes playing outside the park. This provides a chance for dogs already in the park to work out excess energy before your dog joins in.
  • Train your dog to come to you – instead of running away – when it’s time to leave. To teach her that being called to you does not mean her fun is about to end, call her to you frequently – not just when it’s time to leave – and reward her when she obeys.
  • Match your dog with playmates of a similar size and complementary personality. To confirm whether a playmate is a good match, call your dog away from her comrade for a few moments alone with you. When you release her to return to playing with other dogs, observe whether she chooses the same playmate or finds a different buddy. Not all personalities work together, so if your dog meets another who isn’t a good match, help her find a different pal. Mismatched packs lead to increased risks of aggression, injuries, and accidents.
  • Keep an eye out for unfair play. In healthy canine play, there are frequent role reversals. If one dog always wants to call the shots, other dogs may feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Subjecting your dog to this sort of situation can cause her to be anxious and afraid of going to the park.
  • Be wary of high-speed games of chase involving a pack of dogs. This type of play can suddenly turn into an attack because dogs can quickly become overexcited and their predatory instincts can kick in without warning.
  • Recognize the difference between playing, play fighting, and real fighting. Understanding canine body language is very important for anyone visiting dog parks. Only break up dog fights if you know how to safely intervene.

Pack the following supplies to prepare for common dog park situations:

  • A leash. Even when visiting off-leash parks, your dog will need to be on a leash for the trip between the car and the park. Keeping a leash in the car at all times is a good idea because you never know when you’ll need to control your dog.
  • Poop pick-up bags. I’m sure you already know that picking up waste when you’re in public is the number one rule of good dog owner citizenship. Remember, when dogs are active they have more frequent bowel movements and bladder emptying needs than usual.
  • Water. Dogs will play longer if they can rehydrate when they’re thirsty or overheated.
  • Toys. Bring your dog’s favorite toys for interactive play, such as balls, flying discs, sticks, and plush toys. When socializing, many dogs carry toys in their mouths and use the toys to solicit chase games with other dogs or humans.
  • Bite-sized treats. Rewarding dogs with treats is often the best way to thank them for behavior you’d like to see more often. Carrying small training treats with you on any adventure with your dog is a good idea so you can reward her for listening to you when there’s a lot competing for her attention. Be careful offering your dog treats when other dogs are nearby; they might expect treats too. And if you do give other dogs treats, first ask their people if it’s ok. Some dogs have dietary restrictions and feeding them your treats could pose a problem.

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