1. Take charge. Your dog must know that you’re the alpha animal all the time. That’s key when other dogs are around. Teach your dog to come to you when called. Use a word or phrase he’s not likely to hear at the park. Reward him with extra-special treats during training.
2. Pause before you enter. A well-designed park will have a double entrance with two gates. Don’t rush through both gates at once. Enter the first gate with your dog on a leash, and then pause so you and your pet can look around. If there are 20 dogs swarming the gates or if there’s a scuffle going on, this isn’t the time to barge in. A pause will also allow other dogs to get used to yours.
3. Pay attention. Once inside, it’s your job to pay attention - to the dogs, not other humans. Always know where your dog is and what he/she is doing. If you see trouble brewing, call him/her back right away. Know when your dog has pooped so you can scoop.
4. Read the signals. Your dog should play well with others if you plan to go to the park; and you need to be able to read canine behavior as well. Dogs at play have relaxed ears, wagging tails and may “play bow” with their front end down to the ground. Upset dogs hold their tails at half-mast or between their legs, with their ears pinned back and pupils dilated to show the whites of their eyes. Aggressive dogs will be tense, hold their heads high and lean forward. While growls are common in play, snarling with lips curled back isn’t. If you see these danger signs, redirect the dog with treats or a toy. You can also clap or make a loud noise. Use treats and toys sparingly in a dog park, in case they spark a fight.
5. Know what to do if a fight breaks out. Despite your best efforts, fights sometimes happen. Make sure you’re ready:
- Give it a moment. Most dog fights end as quickly as they started.
- If they go at it for more than a few seconds, try to separate the dogs with a hose, water pistol or long stick. Don’t step in with your hands or body.
6. Don’t take puppies to the park. Puppies can be hard to control. Plus, those who haven’t had all their shots yet can be exposed to a wealth of diseases. Wait until your dog is 6 months old before introducing him to a dog park
7. Know when to go. Basic good manners should prevent most problems but a few extra precautions on your part will help. Avoid the dog park if your dog:
- Isn’t vaccinated or doesn’t have flea and tick protection
- Isn’t spayed or neutered
- Is in heat
- Doesn’t know how to interact, no matter how hard he/she tries