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Off-Leash Obedience, Dog Park Rules, and More

In terms of physical and mental advantages for your pet, a day at the dog park is equal to a dozen leash walks.

“They get the chance to get off-leash and run around and play with other dogs,” says Rebecca Ruch-Gallie, DVM, of Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Fort Collins. “It keeps their weight down, their muscle tone up. It keeps them social. It’s huge.”

  1. Take charge. Your dog must always be aware that you are the dominant animal. When there are other dogs around, this is crucial. Teach your companion to come to you when he or she is summoned. Use a word or phrase that they won’t hear in the park. During training, give them extra-special treats.

2. Take a breather before entering. A well-designed park will have two gates and a double entry. Don’t go through both gates at the same time. With your dog on a leash, enter the first gate and take a look around. This isn’t the moment to barge in if there are 20 dogs swarming the gates or if there’s a scuffle going on. Other dogs will become used to yours and won’t be as hyper when they do come in if you take a break.

3. Pay attention to the details. It’s your job to keep an eye out for the dogs, not other humans, once you’re inside. “Dog parks are fantastic,” Ruch-Gallie says, “but they’re not about human socialization.” Know where your four-legged pal is at all times and what they’re up to. If you suspect a problem, call them right away. You should be aware when your dog has pooped so that you can scoop as well. Although many parks provide plastic bags, it’s never a bad idea to bring your own.

4. Pay attention to the signals. If you plan to take your dog to the park, you’ll need to be able to interpret canine behavior in addition to being able to play with other dogs. Dogs who are having fun have relaxed ears, wagging tails, and may “play bow” by lowering their front end to the ground. The tails of agitated hounds are held half-mast or between their legs. Their ears are pinned back, and their pupils contract so that the whites of their eyes can be seen. A ready-to-rumble dog will be tight, keep their head high, and lean forward. Their ears will also tip upwards or forwards. Growls are prevalent in plays, but snarling with your lips curled back isn’t. If you notice these warning signs, refocus the dog with treats or a toy, according to Ruch-Gallie. You can also use your hands to clap or create a loud noise. In a dog park, only use treats and toys when absolutely necessary, as they may cause problems.

5. Know what to do in the event of a fight. It can happen despite your best efforts. Make certain you’re ready:

  • Give it a moment. Most doggie duels end as quickly as they started.
  • If they go at it for more than a few seconds, try to squirt them with a hose or water pistol, or use a long stick to push them apart. Don’t step in with your hands or body.
  • If they’re still fighting after about 3 seconds, you and the other owner should approach the dogs from the rear. Gently grab their back legs at the top of the leg and lift them up like a wheelbarrow then start moving back. Don’t reach for the collar. Your dog could bite you by reflex.
  1. Do not go to the park with puppies. It’s difficult to keep them in check. Puppies’re cute to people, but they can be a hassle to older dogs. Furthermore, those who have not yet had all of their vaccinations are at risk of contracting infections. Before you go, wait until your puppy is six months old. “[The dog park] isn’t a terrific location to learn socializing,” Ruch-Gallie says, “but it is a good place to be social once they’ve learned.”

7. Recognize when it’s time to leave. Most problems can be avoided with basic good manners. It will help if you put in a little additional effort. However, don’t take your dog to the dog park if:

  • Isn’t vaccinated or doesn’t have flea and tick protection
  • Isn’t spayed or neutered
  • Is what the ASPCA calls a “dog dork.” These are dogs that just don’t know how to interact, no matter how hard they try. Other canines may find them just as annoying as puppies.

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