Being Safe at the Dog Park

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Every dog owner has been faced with the choice of whether to take her dog to the local dog park. Debates abound on the internet and in person about whether dog parks are really beneficial to man’s best friend; some pet owners believe parks are more of a problem creator than a fun and safe spot to socialize.

Many details go into such a simple trip, and there are numerous considerations before you finally unhook that leash. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you prepare for your next trip to the dog park and know just what you’re getting yourself into.

Prepare for the Park
Before taking your dog to the park you should:

Always vaccinate your dog. Dog parks are breeding grounds for germs and diseases and it is the dog owner’s responsibility to vaccinate her dog. Don’t be afraid to ask other owners if their dogs are fully vaccinated.

Have your dog spayed or neutered. This will help combat unwanted sexual behavior while at the park.

Take the time to learn about canine body language. There’s a marked difference between dogs playing and dogs fighting; it’s important to know the difference between the two behaviors. Showing teeth and excessive growling are signs that things might be starting to get out of hand.

Know your dog’s temperament. If your dog is shy, then it may not be the best idea to take her to the park. The visit may be more stressful than fun for your fur friend.
Train your dog. Having a trained dog will help you out at the park. Even though the dogs are free to roam, you must be able to have your dog come back to you at any moment. The most important commands for your dog to know are come, stay, sit, leave it and to be able to recognize his name.

Fully socialize your dog. Make sure that your dog has had experience with other animals and people so that the experience will not be overwhelming. Be certain that your dog knows how to play with others in a safe way.

Go alone and observe the park. Verify that the park has everything you might need and that you are comfortable taking your dog there. Get to know the park’s rules. Figure out if you can bring treats and toys, if there is a fee to get in and what the best time of day is to bring your dog.

Stay Alert to Prevent Problems
While at the park with your dog:

Watch out for aggressive dogs. Overly aggressive dogs shouldn’t be brought to the park in the first place, but there is no way to control what other pet owners do. Keep your dog–and yourself–away from any poorly socialized or poorly trained dogs; don’t be afraid to say something to that dog’s owner. It is also helpful to have a plan of action in case a fight begins that involves your dog.
Separate small and large dogs. Not all small dogs can hang with bigger ones. Separating small and large dogs helps prevent injuries to the smaller dogs. Make sure your dog is playing with dogs that are close to his or her size.

Avoid canine clumping. Don’t just stand in one spot with your dog at the park. Move to different areas often so that tension doesn’t arise among other dogs once they are done playing.
Keep your dog hydrated. Dogs need to be fully hydrated while playing. Keep an eye on your dog and take water breaks when you think she needs one.

Watch the temperature. Make sure you know how your specific breed handles heat and have a cool place in mind for rest when they are overheated.

If at any point you don’t think that your dog is having a good time, take him home: It’s better to take your dog home early so that he has a good overall experience than force him to play with other dogs and then decide he doesn’t like the park.

Prepare Yourself
A few essentials will make your park experience enjoyable and safe. Make sure your cell phone is fully charged and, of course, with you before leaving home. An emergency can occur at any time, and it’s smart to be prepared with emergency phone numbers. Have an adequate supply of water for yourself as well as your canine companion. Being equipped with a leash, of course, goes without saying; toys and treats, if allowed, will help with exercise and even reinforce training. You and your dog may both get muddy feet, so be prepared with a change of shoes for yourself and an old towel for your dog’s messy paws.

Now, put on your play clothes, grab that leash, and go prepared to have a safe and fun experience with your four-legged buddy! ■

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