Blog post by Amber Quann CPDT-KA KPA-CTP
It's no secret that within the dog training industry not many of us are dog park fans. These public areas designated for off-leash play are often filled with anxiety for those of us that observe dog body language for a living, because they typically come with a lot of missed stress signals and a lot of potential for dog-dog conflicts that we can't not see. Additionally, in our line of work we often hear from clients (or potential clients) who are seeking help to deal with new behavior challenges that have emerged after their dog had a bad experience with another dog at a dog park. I recognize that our sample is certainly skewed, in that we don’t often hear from the owners whose dogs have had great experiences at the dog park and thus no emerging problems, but in speaking from our experience with our clients, dog parks aren’t always all happy, wagging tails.
However, since dog parks are a beloved feature in many communities, I think it is worth spending some time setting everyone up for the most positive, fun visits possible! Here are a few ideas for making your dog park routine the safest possible for you, your dog, and others.
- Be Alert and Engaged: If you are buried in a book, cell phone, or daydream, you might not be aware of what your dog (or other dogs playing with your dog) are doing. By staying alert and ready, you can better redirect a dog-dog conflict or other dangerous incident (i.e. your dog is about to swallow a rock!) before it even occurs. Read up on dog body language too, so you can be watching for signs that your dog is stressed, overwhelmed, overheated, etc.
- Encourage Your Dog to Take Breaks:Nonstop play isn’t always good play – dogs that haven’t taken a break are more likely to react negatively towards their playmates who push them too far. And the risk of health event like overheating or paw pad tears increase as your dog gets worked up. If you see your dog engaging in nonstop play for too long, try redirecting him to a quieter area (or a recovery leash walk outside of the dog park) for a break before coming back to play some more.
- Build Good Routines:Warmer weather and sunny skies often brings out the “fair-weather dog parkers” whose dogs are out of practice with the dog park routine. Often the best times to go are during a drizzle, flurry, or cold spell, because the dogs and owners you meet during this time are the “rain or shine” crowd who will hopefully be more practiced in positive dog park manners. Don’t be a fair-weather dog-parker.
- Teach Good Manners: One of the biggest areas where we see dog stress and tension is right at the gate of the dog park as a new dog is entering. Dogs already at play in the park tend to rush to the gate to greet the newcomer, which can be overwhelming and cause unnecessary stress for everyone involved. Teach your dog a good recall away from the gate, and to wait until his friend has entered completely before running up to initiate play. This and other good manners and social skills can keep your dog and other dogs safe and as stress-free as possible during park play dates.
- Explore Other Adventures Too:Dog parks can be stressful (despite the fun), and going every day can cause this stress to stack up. Mix it up with a hike, and only do dog park visits as a supplement (instead of the only piece) to your dog’s exercise routine. This will also give you other fun adventures to mix in if/when your dog stops enjoying the dog park environment as much as he once did – as dogs age, they often don’t enjoy the large group play atmosphere as much as they did as younger dogs. Training for other activities and adventures as well as the dog park visits can give you the most options getting your dog quality exercise and social interactions.
Happy Dog Parking!!