Ahhh…The joys of the dog park….dewy grass in the morning, ears flapping in the cool wind, running with exuberant joy. We can only imagine how great these parks are to our furry canine friends. But have you ever stopped and looked around to see how people and their dogs are behaving- or reacting- to each other? Have you ever seen dogs, and people, behaving badly? Unfortunately, in our world these days, there are a lot of distractions, stress and a myriad of reasons why a day at the park can turn dangerous, even deadly. This is the #1 reason why, as a rule, our company does not typically bring dogs to dog parks…the liability is a huge issue since we can’t control other people’s loose dogs.
Over these past 23 years of pet sitting, I’ve seen a thing or two at dog parks that make me cringe. I thought I’d jot down some pointers to keep in mind if you want to keep it fun and safe for all at the park. Here are my favorite tips:
1. Eyes on your dog at all times. Yes, that means put the phone away. It’s OK to make friends at the park, but keep conversations going while keeping an eye on your dog. It only takes a few seconds for an aggressive situation to escalate.
2. Learn dog body language/behavior. Read books (I especially like Patricia McConnell. Her learning center website is a wealth of information here: https://www.patriciamcconnell.com/learning-center ), take a class, watch videos on the subject. Video is especially important so you can see how aggressive dogs move vs. how friendly dogs move. Did you know a wagging tail is not necessarily a good thing?? Becoming an expert will save you a lot of trouble.
3. Pick up after your pooch. #2 is the #1 reason you need to carry poop bags! If the park doesn’t provide any, bring at least 2 per dog. Feces carry disease (ie : parasites, viruses, bacteria, even rabies!). If left on the ground, feces drains into our oceans every time it rains! Do you surf? If so, you know this is one reason why we shouldn’t surf 3 days after a rainstorm. Besides, if you’ve ever stepped in poop, well, let’s just say you have no excuse NOT to pick it up.
4. Let dogs greet off leash behind the fence before bringing your dog into the park, if possible. This way, you can judge if the other dog(s) will be friendly with yours and vice versa, before they have access to each other.
5. If you see your dog, or others, being aggressive, take your dog out of the park immediately. Nobody needs to take chances. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, or vet bills, as it were.
6. If your dog is in heat, don’t take her to the park. It’s just too tempting for the male dogs to get all riled up and misbehave.
7. Do make sure your dog has access to water. Especially in warm weather, make sure they aren’t overheating. If you see a “balogna tongue” (Panting tongue looks like a bologna slice), take a break in the shade and provide water. Brachycephlic dogs (those with a wide skull and a short/no snout) need minimal exercise, so don’t overdo it. I’ve known Bulldogs & French Bulldogs who have passed out and died from overheating. If your dog is having trouble breathing, cease activity, get water and head for home.
8. Last but not least, Have fun with your dog! Bring his favorite toy and enjoy the bonding experience, especially if you’re alone at the park. I often prefer it that way, some of the best memories are of just me and my pups playing. I think they remember these good times too.