Dog parks can be one of the best ways to socialize a puppy, or adult dog, to other dogs. Dog parks provide a safe environment for supervised, off-leash play. Most communities have established off-leash, fenced dog parks. Some dog parks separate dogs by size, so that there is an area for large dogs, and one for small dogs. This can help prevent bullying and play that is too aggressive and physical for smaller dogs.
While the term "dog park" usually refers to a fenced park, many communities also offer unfenced areas where dogs can be off-leash - such as beaches and larger, more natural parks and nature preserves.
Why Taking your Dog to a Dog Park is Important
Just like socializing children, being around peers is the only way for your dog to understand how they are supposed to behave in new situations. The more you socialize your dog, the friendlier your dog will be to other dogs and humans.
Dog Park Etiquette and Tips
- Take off the leash. Humans put tension on the leash unknowingly, and this may cause tension in the greeting between dogs. Also, the closer your dog is to you, the more he feels he has something to protect.
- Don't pick up your dog inside the dog park, as this leaves their most vulnerable area (belly) exposed to other dogs.
- If your dog is afraid of another dog, stay near your puppy and pet the other dog - this way he'll know that dog isn't a "danger" to him.
- Familiarize yourself with doggy body language and social cues. Tail up and wagging = happy and curious. Tail tucked = afraid. Tail straight up = interested, alerted, alarmed.
- Wear close toed shoes, as your feet will be stepped on. Wear clothes you don't mind getting dirty.
- It is important not to micromanage your dog at the dog park. While you should intervene if he is humping the nice lady next to you, you should not necessarily intervene if he's sniffing a girl dog's butt too much for modesty. She will snarl at him and he will learn boundaries. He can't learn boundaries if you step in every time.
- Always make sure your dog has water. If there isn't a water fountain at the park with a bowl for the dogs, bring your own. Pay attention and make sure your dog isn't getting overheated or overstimulated. Know when it's time to leave.
- You want to maintain a line of sight on your dog at all times at the dog park. Don't let your dog wander off. Don't let them off the leash unless you're in a fenced in area. Make sure you're in the correct dog park (most are divided by size, "Up to 40 pounds" for small dogs, and "Over 40 pounds" for large dogs)
- Always scoop the poop. There are usually baggies by the trashcans if you forgot your own.
- Don't bring toys if your pup shows any signs of resource guarding, or if you don't want said toys to be destroyed by a dog that isn't yours. Tennis balls are good. I recommend having your dog wear their harness the first ten or so times you go to the Dog Park, in case you need to pull them out of a situation with another dog.
- Know when it's time to leave. If you see an aggressive dog come in, walk your dog to the gate, then put on his leash, and exit.