• Many dog parks provide an enclosed area within the park where you can train your dog off leash in a safe environment. This also helps train your dog to pay attention while surrounded by distractions.
• Injuries at dog parks are not infrequent. Some people bring aggressive not appropriately socialized dogs into the park - putting your dog in danger.
• Although dogs at the park should be free of parasites and disease, that's not always the case. Most dog parks require proof of immunization before granting a yearly membership. However, they may offer day passes which do not require proof of immunization. If this is the case, proceed with caution.
• Your dog may not enjoy dog parks. Some dogs experience stress or can be overwhelmed by dog parks (mine included!), but other dogs absolutely love the experience. Knowing your dog’s personality will help you make the right decision.
If you decide to go to your local dog park - keep these practical tips in mind to ensure a positive experience:
• Make sure your dog is comfortable meeting unfamiliar dogs on leash first. If your dog pulls or lunges, or shows signs of aggression towards other dogs on leash, then your dog needs socialization and training before heading to a dog park.
• Check the rules of the dog park online before heading over. For instance, some parks don’t allow toys (balls, frisbees, etc.) because it can cause possession aggression.
• If your dog is high-strung, it's a good idea to give him/her a short walk on leash before going to the dog park. This will help you avoid over-excitement issues - especially if this is a new experience for your dog.
• Have your dog wear a simple collar and tags. Bandanas, leads or other items another dog may pull at or tug can cause issues.
• Check online to see if the park has fresh water available. Some parks have well pumps or faucets, but you may need to bring your own container to fill. Other parks require you to bring your own water. Having a refillable gallon jug works great!
• Remember to pick up after your dog. Most parks make this step easy by providing poop bags. However, it’s always a good idea to bring a couple extra with you.
• Be respectful. If your dog is misbehaving or bullying another dog - it's your responsibility to step in and correct the behavior. If need be, leash your dog and leave. Safety for everyone at the dog park is top priority.
• Don't overdo your dog's first trip to the park. It can be an overwhelming experience (even if your dog is having fun)! Don't allow your dog to become overtired. An overtired dog can become cranky (understandably so). Set your dog up for success by leaving the park on a good note while he/she is still having fun.
Finally, weigh the pros and cons carefully. If you decide it’s right for you and your dog, following these easy guidelines will set you both up for success!
Mindy Nelson writes for the blog, Shelter Mutt. Her goal is to help dogs find a ‘furever’ home by promoting dog adoption for ‘mystery mutts’ and purebred rescues as well (she considers all rescue dogs ‘Shelter Mutts’).In addition, Shelter Muttpromotes spay/neutering responsibility and Shelter MuttPride!You can check out her website at www.sheltermutt.com for blogs related to adoption, rescue, entertainment, recipes, dog tips and more.