It’s no question that our nation is going to the dogs – 70% of all U.S. households have at least one dog living under their roof. It isn’t surprising then that we are also seeing a proliferation of public dog parks pop up across cities all over our country. Off-leash dog parks are growing faster than any other type of park in America’s largest cities and dogs everywhere are wagging their tails in excitement that public dog parks are here to stay.
So if you have been counting down the days to the ribbon cutting for the new dog park about to open down the block from you like I am, you first want to make sure that you and your four-legged friends are prepared to make your dog park experience as fun and rewarding as possible. While dog parks have opened up a whole new world to exercise and socialize your dog, becoming well-versed in what you should expect can make or break this bonding experience.
To Leash or Not to Leash, that is the Question
Before you head over to the dog park for your inaugural visit, it’s a good idea to visit the dog park you have in mind first – without your furry friend. Take some time to acquaint yourself with the park set up and read the rules. Is the park a leashed or unleashed park? Is there a separate area for small dogs and larger breeds? Is it well maintained? Is there a water source and a cleanup station? Taking a quick visit to assess the park and determine if it’s a good fit for your dog’s size, personality, and level of socialization will go far to make sure his first visit is memorable for all the right reasons.
Social Butterfly or Wallflower?
No one knows your dog’s amazing personality and all of its quirks and nuances better than you. However, the way he behaves at home can’t be used to predict what will happen when he is introduced to the pack. If your dog has never been socialized (meaning he has spent considerable time playing and interacting with a number of different dogs), you should take some steps before you let him go fully unleashed. Keeping him on a leash in a leashed area of the park and allowing him to smell and slowly engage with other leashed dogs will help him to get socialized. Most importantly, never keep your dog leashed in an unleashed dog park, as this can create anxiety and evoke an aggressive, protective response. If your dog has ever exhibited aggressive behaviors towards other animals or people, he may be happier staying closer to home, or on a leash, letting you stay in control. It’s also important that your dog is able to listen and follow simple commands you give him, regardless of the environment around him.
Rules vs. Etiquette
Any reputable dog park should have visible, clearly marked rules that should be read carefully and followed closely. However, there are also unspoken etiquette behaviors that should be considered. Always clean up after your dog and bring some extra supplies in case the park’s clean up station isn’t stocked. And while dog parks present the opportunity for dog owners to socialize alongside their fur babies, be cognizant of the fact that some people might be there just to bond with their dog and aren’t up for human interaction and conversation. You should always ask a dog owner’s permission before petting their dog – and try not to be offended if they say no. Most importantly, remember that your dog is your responsibility – and it’s ok to be a helicopter parent to your pooch while at the park – stay close by, and always keep your dog within your immediate sight.
Integrating the dog park into your dog’s routine is a beautiful way to enhance their life while making some great memories – and following these guidelines can help ensure your dog park provides years of fun for both you and your dog.
Posted on July 13, 2019