Going to a dog park should be fun for both you and your dog, but not all dogs and not all owners are comfortable going to a dog park, both dogs and people can find it very stressful.

Following are a few tips that might help you decide if going to a dog park is for you and your pet.

First if you have any concerns about your dog`s health be sure to check with your veterinarian if your dog is healthy enough to go to a dog park.

Puppies younger than 4 months should not go into a dog park. They wouldn’t have had all the necessary inoculations that allow them to play safely with other dogs and to deal with the many deceases and viruses that may be in the park. Better to find a training school that runs safe puppy socialization classes until they are 4 months old and inoculated.

If you decide to check out a dog park, please keep your dog on a leash until you enter the off leash area. Before entering the dog park observe your dog’s behaviour, is your dog looking happy and eager to enter the park, or is the tail down and your pet looking worried? Check what is going on in the dog park. Are the dogs playing nicely together? Is the play starting to go over the top and are the owners paying attention to their dogs and breaking up the play if it is getting too intense?
Every dog park has their own set of rules, be sure to read them and obey them.

If you or your dog feel the activity in the park is too intense, don’t go in; walk around the outside. If this is still upsetting to your dog move further away until your dog looks relaxed and comfortable. Try entering a dog park another time when there is very little activity going on.

Providing you are comfortable with what you see in the park and your dog is happy, enter the park through the double gates, some dogs may come running over to check out the new dog. This can be a little unsettling to some people, but keep an eye on your dog to see how your pet is handling the greeting. If this is the first time for your pet it may take a couple of minutes for him/her to adjust to the enthusiastic greetings. Owners should call their dogs back to them to allow dogs to enter hassle-free, however this is not common in most parks.

Upon entering the park let your dog run around, play and sniff. Always make it a fun time for your dog with petting or playing with a favourite toy when your pet comes close to you. Clipping the leash on and off then saying “go play” several times while in the park will strengthen your dog’s response to you even with strong distractions around. When it is time to go home some dogs tend to “go deaf”, working on the leash clipping on and off exercise will make it more likely that your pet will come to you so you can clip on the leash and go home.

Going to a dog park is a fun time for most dogs, they get to play, sniff and meet old and new friends. Although it’s a very social environment for both dogs and people the owners need to keep a close eye on their dogs all the time. Things can happen very fast and a quick intervention can stop an incident from escalating into something more serious so everybody can continue to have a good time.

Paul Storrie CPDT-KA