The warmer weather is coming which means the neighborhood dog park will soon be the place to be with your pup. As fun as dog parks can be, not all pups thrive in this type of environment. Before venturing to the nearest park ensure your pet is up-to-date on all age appropriate vaccines. It is recommended that dogs under three months stick to on-leash parks to get your new pup started.
As with any new regimen, it is important to speak with your veterinarian before introducing new activities. This should help determine what level of exercise is appropriate for your pet. If your pup is enrolled in obedience school or any training programs make sure this will fit in with the program. Some instructors may request that you refrain from taking your dog to a dog park for the duration of the training program.
Some dog parks will have their own unique rules. It is important that you read all the posted rules before you and your pup enter the park.
Manage your expectations. Before venturing to a new dog park, or perhaps visiting one for the very first time, ensure that both you and your dog are suited for this environment. You may find it helpful to visit the dog park on your own first to anticipate how your dog may react. If you don't like being approached or jumped on by other dogs, this may not be the right place for you. If your dog is nervous or aggressive around other dogs, this may not be the best place for them either. These behaviors may become heightened in this intense environment.
Take full responsibility for your dog. You need to be confident that you can control your dog if something unexpected happens. Don't sit on a bench and let your dog explore on their own, you need to enforce proper behavior at all times. If your dog is aggressive towards another dog you need to act quickly and safely to remove any threat of harm. If your dog appears fearful or unsettled you should offer encouragement. Most dogs will sense the emotions of their 'pet parent' and take cues from you on how to proceed.
Ensure reliable recall. In order for a successful trip to the dog park you need to be confident your dog will return to you every time you call. Practice recall activities at home or at off-peak hours at the park when there are fewer distractions. Recall can be a lifesaving skill if trouble arises when you and your dog aren't side by side.
Respect others. Humans and animals alike deserve to be treated with dignity. If you see someone not following the rules of the park assume they are unaware and politely let them know. Also know that strangers don't know how friendly your dog is (or isn't) and might be uneasy if they approach too quickly. A trip to the dog park should be a social activity you and your dog both look forward to.
If you bring a toy be prepared to share. If your dog isn't a fan of sharing toys, it may be in your best interest not to bring any with you. The rules of supply and demand are ever-present at a dog park where a ball or chew toy are a hot commodity. Even if your pup is no stranger to sharing it is best to leave their favorite toy at home.
Don't bring food. When visiting a park full of excellent sniffers, opt to have food-free pockets. Even the best behaved dogs can get extra excited in new environments and the smell of a dog treat or human snack can be too tempting to pass up. This is especially true for foods that can be harmful to dogs such as grapes, raisins or chocolate.
Bring water. It is important that your pup stays hydrated, especially when being active outdoors. Bringing with you a reusable water bottle and a portable dog dish will help ensure you both get the necessary H²O.
Be present and alert. While an afternoon stroll with your iPod and your favorite mochachino may sound like a good idea, neither belong at a dog park. You need to be focused on your dog and their safety. Listening to music or talking on the phone is a distraction that could slow your reaction time if a playful meeting turned sour. Keeping your hands free will also help ensure you can safely react to the situations around you.
Clean up after your dog. This is the most obvious rule of dog park etiquette and really doesn't need much explaining. Bring bags with you for cleanup and dispose of them in the proper location.