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PawPost Issue 3

Is your dog ready for the Dog Park?

Dog parks range in size and design but all share the same purpose: to provide a place where dogs can run freely off-leash and socialize with other dogs. They can be your dog's favourite place or their worst nightmare depending on your dog's personality.

If you've taken your canine companion to an off-leash dog park, you've probably noticed that some dogs and their owners seem pretty clueless about proper dog park etiquette.Some dog parents clearly don't plan or prepare for a visit to an environment in which dozens of dogs who don't know each other are running loose and engaging in a variety of canine behaviors, some of which are potentially dangerous. There are 3 golden rules when it comes to dog park safety.

Rule #1 is that as your pet's guardian, you assume a certain amount of risk when you take your dog to a dog park. He could be injured during play or a fight, he could be bitten (or bite someone), or he could acquire an infectious disease. Supervise your dog. This is not the time for you to be distracted talking with other owners or burying yourself in a book. You must be monitoring your dog’s activities to be sure they aren't behaving badly and other dogs are not behaving badly toward them.

Rule #2 is that not all dogs enjoy or do well at the dog park, and it's possible yours is among them. Some are too fearful, don't know how to play, or are too threatening or aggressive toward other dogs or people.

Rule #3 Pick up after your dog. You don’t want to step in another dog’s poop anymore than someone else wants to step in your dog’s mess.

Some tips to make your dog park experience more rewarding

Pick the right dog park for you and your pet. Ideally, an off-leash park should have:

  • A double-gate entry, secure fencing, and posted rules of conduct

  • Centrally located, well-stocked poop-bag dispensers and trash cans

  • Separate areas for large and small dogs, and plenty of room for dogs to run

  • A sheltered area, preferably with seating

  • Dog-friendly water fountains

Before you bring your dog into the fenced area, take a few minutes to scan the activity in the park. If there are too many dogs, inattentive owners, aggressive animals, or piles of dog waste lying around, find another park, or return when the situation is improved.

Make sure your dog is consistently responsive to basic obedience commands like come, sit, stay, and leave it. This will help you control her in a potentially dangerous situation. Be vigilant. It's not necessary to be on high alert every time you visit the dog park, but it IS important to be observant. Don't let your dog inside the gate if there are other dogs gathered there. Wait until they wander off before opening the gate and removing your dog's leash.Keep an eye on your dog, but also be watchful of other dogs around them – especially if they appear overly excited or aggressive. If your dog reacts with fear or seems overwhelmed, call them back to you or go to them and extract them from the situation.

Always bring necessary supplies with you, including: Your dog's leash, Poop bags (the park may not provide them or the dispensers could be empty), fresh water (in case there are no drinking fountains), your mobile phone to make an emergency call if necessary and finally something to break up a fight between dogs, such as an animal deterrent spray or an air-horn

If the dog park you visit doesn't have a separate small dog area, be extremely careful of big dogs around little ones. If your dog is large, don't allow them to frighten or intimidate smaller dogs. If your dog is small, try to find a dog park with a separate small dog area. Aggressive dogs come in all sizes, but a small dog has a much better chance of surviving an act of aggression by a dog their own size.

Don’t be naïve and think that a dog park is a safe place for your dog to be around other dogs. This may not always be the case. If your dog is being threatening or aggressive to other dogs, or even if he's just acting overly excited, your safest option is to remove them from the park and visit on another day. It's unwise to assume your dog, even if it's normally passive, will never attack another dog or human. Unfortunately, it happens, and what is often heard from the dog's owner is, "But he's never done that before!".It's important to know your dog's temperament and moods. It's also important to realize that you can't with complete certainty predict his behavior 100 percent of the time.

Know the difference between play (which can be very active and sound violent) and real threats. A playful dog bounces around, wags their tail, and generally looks relaxed both in posture and facial expression. A dog that is showing aggression often has a stiff stance, raised hackles, a closed mouth, and is hyper-focused. Know when to intervene and when to stay out of an interaction among dogs. If you feel uninformed about canine behavior, learn more before taking your dog to a park. Harm can come to your dog if you under-react as well as over-react. If your dog and another dog begin growling at each other, remain calm and don't yell. Call your dog back to you with a basic command and move to another spot away from the other dog, or take your pet out of the park if you or they still feels threatened. If your dog winds up in a fight, don't grab his collar because you could get hurt. Instead, use a deterrent spray or air horn to break up the fight.

If your dog seems to be fearful or is being “bullied” by other dogs, don’t let them stay, thinking they will “get over it”, that they will learn to “stand up for themself”. Chances are greater their behavior will get worse and could cause an aggressive reaction.

Don’t take any toys to the park your dog is not willing to share.

While treat can be a great way to reward good behavior, they are not the best idea at the dog park. If your dog can’t tolerate other dogs crowding around her wanting to share the goodies, treats may not be a good idea.Simarly if another dog is present that has food aggression issues this could lead to fights.

If your dog has never been around other dogs before – don’t go to a dog park until they have had a chance to be around other dogs in other situations so you have a better idea of how they react to other dogs.​ Introduce your dogs to other dogs gradually – allow your dog to greet other dogs while they are still in the separate entry area available at some parks, or let your dogs sniff around the fenced boundary.

Do not take your small children or babies in strollers to a dog park. Dogs and children can easily frighten one another and bad things can happen to either of them in the blink of an eye. It is very hard to adequately supervise both dogs and kids at the same time

Reasons Why Dog Parks Are A-MAZE-ING

  • Physical and mental exercise for dogs Your dog can zoom around off-leash to her heart’s content, investigate new smells, wrestle with her dog buddies and fetch toys until she happily collapses. Many dogs are so mentally and physically exhausted by a trip to the dog park that they snooze for hours afterwards.

  • Opportunities to maintain social skills Dogs are like us, highly social animals, and many enjoy spending time with their own species. At the dog park, your dog gets practice reading a variety of other dogs’ body language and using her own communication skills, and she gets used to meeting unfamiliar dogs on a frequent basis. These valuable experiences can help guard against the development of fear and aggression problems around other dogs.

  • Fun for pet parents Dogs aren’t the only ones who enjoy dog parks. People do, too. They can exercise their dogs without much effort, socialize with other dog lovers, bond and play with their dogs, practice their off-leash training skills, and enjoy the entertaining antics of frolicking dogs.

Reasons Why Dog Parks Are Not For Everyone

  • Health risks. Healthy, vaccinated dogs are at low risk of becoming ill as a result of visiting the dog park. There are health risks any time your dog interacts with other dogs, just as there are for us when we interact with other people. Talk to your veterinarian about the risks and whether they recommends vaccinating for Bordatella (“kennel cough”) if you become a regular park user. Fleas are everywhere so the key to flea control is providing adequate protection on your pet. Your dog could get injured in a fight or during overly rambunctious play. It’s highly unlikely, but small dogs could even be killed at a dog park because larger dogs sometimes perceive smaller dogs as prey.

  • Dog problems. For some dogs, especially those who are naturally shy or easily overwhelmed, a visit to the dog park can be stressful. If your dog has unpleasant experiences with other dogs—if they bully or fight with them, intimidate them or just play too roughly—they might decide they don't like them at all! They could start growling, barking, snarling, snapping and lunging to drive other dogs away, and even biting if they approach.

  • People problems. Everyone has a different perspective, and some people have strong opinions about dog behaviour. Pet parents don’t always agree about what’s normal dog behaviour, what’s acceptable during play, what kind of behaviour is truly aggressive, which dog behaviours are obnoxious, whether or not one dog is bullying another or who’s at fault in an altercation. People might argue about how to respond when problems between dogs arise. Since there’s rarely an authority figure to appeal to at a dog park, disagreements can get heated and result in human behavior problems!

Is Your Canine Companion 'Just Not that into Dog Parks'?

If your dog doesn't do well at dog parks, it's important not to label them as anti-social or unfriendly toward all other canines. Many dog trainers and behaviorists believe it's normal for an adult dog to NOT play nice with strange dogs in a dog park. Wild dogs aren't social in the human sense. They're social in that they live cooperatively in packs, but it's more about preservation and procreation. Dogs in the wild don't run around looking for other dogs to be BFFs with. So don't use your pet's behavior at the dog park as a gauge of their sociability. Adult canines aren't wired to mix and mingle with large groups of strange dogs, so think of socialization in terms of exposure to other dogs and people through directed activities.

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