Dog parks are a fantastic solution for dogs in need of extra exercise and socialization.
For some dogs, it’s a veritable puppy playground: Parents mill around the perimeter while their children — er, I mean, dogs — romp through the park with their other canine friends.
But are all dogs suited to that environment? To help your pooch reap all the benefits of a group playdate at the park, make sure the conditions are right.
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When to Avoid the Dog Park
Not all dogs belong at the dog park — it’s just the plain truth. Take your pet’s health and temperament into consideration.
Don’t take your dog to the park if she fits the following descriptions:
- She is in heat. This can cause fights between other dogs and even an unwanted pregnancy. According to the ASPCA, “To avoid unwanted sexual behavior at the dog park, it’s best to spay or neuter your dog before visiting the dog park.”
- She is aggressive. If you know your dog is aggressive, especially if she has bitten in the past, don’t risk taking her off the leash — the potential ramifications just aren’t worth it.
- She is not vaccinated. Transmittable illnesses travel easily in places with lots of dogs running around. If your dog isn’t in tip-top health, then not only are you putting the other dogs at risk, but also your dog’s compromised immune system makes her more susceptible to other diseases that may be lurking at the park.
With these criteria in mind, use your best judgment. Note that unvaccinated and aggressive dogs may not be able to visit the park, but you should still exercise them separately to keep them active and happy.
The Dog Park Pack
Many parks have “regulars” — that is, the same dogs (and their humans) regularly visit.
Those dogs often form friendships and become something of a pack. Don’t be surprised if your pup gets rushed by 10 or more dogs on your first visit. It can be overwhelming, but a new visitor is always worth a sniff for these veteran dog park pups.
After a few visits, you can begin to see where your dog falls in the pack order. Is he playing with the other regulars, or is he avoiding the pack at all costs?
Signs that your dog isn’t part of the group dynamic:
- He won’t leave your side.
- He becomes aggressive when approached by other dogs.
- He isn’t interested in playing when other dogs are around.
If Rambo isn’t quite fitting in with the pack, consider choosing another park or another time of day.
Choosing the Right Visiting Hours
So your dog doesn’t get along with the park regulars? That doesn’t mean that you can’t both take advantage of the park — you just have to tweak your schedule a bit.
Try visiting at odd hours on different days of the week to check the puppy traffic. Also consider visiting during different seasons. In the winter, fall and spring, fewer dogs may be around because of the cooler (and often wetter) weather. But if you pack up some towels and an umbrella, you and your pet might just have a blast.
Understanding Body Language
Most of us don’t have a dozen dogs at home, so predicting how Champ is going to react to a stampede of new dogs is often hard to gauge. And if you dive into the dog park arena without prior playdate experience, the difference between playful and threatening body language may be unclear.
This fascinating video includes play-by-play commentary on what happens when an aggressive dog goes unchecked at a dog park:
Take some cues from other puppy families. Are they concerned about that one extra-enthusiastic dog who’s running so fast she’s knocking over other pups? If not, then maybe you shouldn’t be worried either.
Dog play can sometimes look rough, but the dogs probably are just having a great time. Expect to notice some dominant or submissive behavior, but keep a close eye if a situation starts getting out of hand with another dog.
Healthy Mind and Body
We humans need our evenings out as much as our dogs need a little socializing once in a while. Your dog might act like you’re the cat’s pajamas, but she can still tire of a dull, everyday routine.
The dog park can give her that boost of playtime and exercise that she needs. If she isn’t a social butterfly, take advantage of your local dog park during the slower hours and let her run to her heart’s content.