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Dog Park Etiquette

Off-leash dog parks can be great places where dogs can run free and where people and dogs alike can have positive experiences and even make new friends. However, they can also easily turn into negative experiences for both dogs and their owners. To avoid a negative experience here are a few tips to ensure your off-leash park time together is a success.

How to create a successful off-leash dog park experience….

  • It’s advisable to take your time to assess the environment and possible hazards or dangers before entering the dog park, rather than just exposing your dog and yourself to the unexpected. Go for a walk around the perimeter of the park so you can see what other breeds of dogs are in the park and if their play style is suitable for your dog. This also gives your dog time to acclimatise to the new environment and the other dogs present. During this walk you can also chat to the owner of the other dog/s, if they are nearby, and establish if your dogs are compatible.
  • Look for dogs that are able to focus and interact with their owners. Dogs left to their own devices that have had no training and seem disconnected from their owners may be harder to control in certain situations.
  • If you’re feeling uncertain about entering the park with your dog then don’t! Go for a nice long walk instead. Dog parks are not for all dogs, all of the time.
  • If you’re happy to proceed, make sure the gates are closed. This is very important as owners come and go and don’t always remember to close the gates behind them. Also watch as owners leave the park during your time there, as they may completely forget to close the gates.
  • Allow your dog space when entering the gate to the park. Wait until the other dogs are distracted or if possible ask the owners present to call their dogs away, so your dog is not crowded by other park visitors.
  • At this stage, if you’ve followed the rules, you should be comfortable enough to let your dog off the leash. Keep your eye on your dog and the other dog’s body language and look for equal and even play. Equal and fun play can be observed through relaxed, bouncy and loose body language which includes lots of play bows and breaks. When a dog’s body becomes rigid or they display sharp intentional movements, if your dog is simply being bullied by a dog that stands over your dog, humps your dog, or chases your dog incessantly, this is not considered nice equal play. This interaction is one-sided it is no longer considered fun for the dog on the receiving end. This is the time to intervene. Call your dog away and ask the owner of the other dog to do the same. When dog display these behaviours during play they need a break to calm down or may even have to leave the park and call it a day. Keep in mind that certain interactions can be highly arousing to some dogs, and arousal can easily escalate into aggression. Watching your dogs movements and activity and intervening at the right time will prevent this from occurring.
  • Training a reliable recall and having other basic training skills on board before you head out, will benefit both you and your dog. This established training, along with the essential bond you’ve created with your dog, will aid in the correct response and appropriate reaction from your best friend when in the dog park. These factors will make a huge positive difference to your off-leash time with your dog.
  • Interact with your dog in the presence of other canines. Bring a ball or a toy to encourage interaction. Bring your treats to encourage the behaviours that you’ve trained, while watching that there is no food guarding issues between the dogs present. This is important as your dog learns that they have the freedom to play with the other dogs present, but they can also still focus, and interact with you. This interaction also maintains harmony in the dog park, as all the dogs there are not then solely focused on each other.
  • It’s important to keep in mind that if a situation arises that makes either yourself or your dog uncomfortable, you can leave at any time. Don’t wait for a negative experience to occur. Prevention is a much better option.
  • Remember that not all dogs like to socialise. Do not push your dog into a situation which may make them feel terribly uncomfortable. Your dog will tell you if it’s feeling uncomfortable, therefore take some time to watch your dog’s body language. Tail between legs, head down, lowered body, ears down, are some of the ways your dog will tell you that they are concerned.
  • Remember to keep up with your dog’s vaccinations, worming and flea protection when using the dog park. This will keep your dog protected from most health concerns. However, to be certain it’s worth remembering that some owners may not consider their dogs health concerns when using the dog park, so it is up to you to notice the signs of ill-health in other dogs, and protect your dog by preventing interaction with dogs that show obvious signs of questionable health.
  • If you have an entire female who is in season it is highly advisable that you refrain from using the dog park during this time. Seasons can see a change in behaviour in bitches and also can cause havoc between male dogs in her presence.

A trip to the dog park does need some careful thought and planning. Unfortunately, some dogs have very negative experiences at dog parks and professional dog trainers are called to help these now reactive dogs work through their trauma. However, with the right mind set, observation and planning, your off-leash dog park visits should provide your dog with great exercise, socialisation and bonding time.

Our dogs love their off-leash time and we’ve all had many very positive experiences using dog parks, while being conscious of the risks involved in what may be considered a simple outing.

Please be respectful and always pick up after your dog.

Be observant and respectful of your dog, all other dogs, and each other!