“Safety first” doesn’t translate to “no fun.” Sure, people don’t love rules, but playing safe is what will help everyone have an enjoyable day at the dog park. Planning a trip to your neighbourhood off-leash park? Here are some questions to ask yourself before heading out the door with Fido in tow.
Are Your Pup’s Vaccinations Up to Date?
How about tick and flea control? You don’t want your dog to catch anything at the park (especially if they drink from a water bowl that’s been sitting out in the sun all day and share by who knows how many other dogs). Before you plan your first visit, make sure you check with your vet to make sure your pet has everything they need. While you’re at it, it may be a good time to update your dog’s microchip, ID tag, and adjust their collar for proper fit too.
Have You Been to the Park?
Some experts suggest that you visit the park on your own first, without your dog. Play the role of an observer. What are the dogs doing? Are they aggressive? Are the owners paying attention to their pets while they play off-leash? Are the fences sturdy and properly secured? Listen to your gut. If you feel uncomfortable with anything you see, the park may not be the right one for you and your dog.
Is Your Dog’s Temperament Right for the Park?
Does their aggressive demeanor make them a bossy playmate? Or are you afraid that their timid behaviour might cause them to bite another dog or human out of fear? You know your dog best. If you sense that your companion might not do well in an off-leash park, that’s okay! Even well-trained dogs that are perfectly polite around humans may have trouble in a group of their fellow canines.
Maybe your dog is better suited for a leashed stroll around the neighbourhood or a walk along a peaceful hiking trail. Choose an activity that plays to your pet’s strengths and personality. You can also work with a trainer to help socialize them and build their confidence around other dogs.
Are You Ready to Be an Observer?
Your observation skills will kick in as soon as you arrive at the park. No doubt your dog will be excited to enter the park, but their excitement could be misinterpreted as aggression or an invitation to rough play by other canine park-goers. Wait until your dog is calm before walking through the gate.
Do You Know What the Red Flags Are?
Keep an eye on your dog and be ready to step in to diffuse any tense and potentially dangerous situations you observe. Trainer Sue Sternberg, the creator of the Dog Park Assistant app, advises pet parents to educate themselves about some of the red flags to look for. For example, a friendly game of chase between two dogs can be a blast! However, if that game becomes a race between many dogs, it can lead to dangerous results.
Are You Ready to Intervene If Necessary?
There’s nothing wrong with interrupting play that you feel is getting too rough. Pay attention to your dog’s behaviour to determine if they’re in distress: a tucked tail, a yelp, hiding under a table, etc. Take these cues seriously. It’s your dog’s way of communicating that they want to get out of there! It’s also a good idea to interrupt play periodically to reassure your dog that you’re still there. Reconnecting with your dog and taking them away from the action for a short break is a good way to prevent aggressive play.
Some people may believe that dog parks are spaces for dogs to be dogs, but that doesn’t mean that safety precautions need to fall by the wayside. With your guidance, dog play can be fun and safe. After asking yourself these questions and getting your pet prepped for play, there’s one final question that you need to ask your dog: “Ready to play?”