By Lindsay Shostal
I have a love/hate relationship with off-leash parks. Most dog parks have rules posted in clear view but a lot of people tend to ignore them. Every city has different bylaws which affect the rules, so please review them if you're unsure. Acknowledge the fact that your dog may not enjoy socializing with other dogs. Are you at the dog park for you or your dog? The park isn't the time to catch up on work email on your iPhone, or sit on the bench and make out with your date. It's time for you and for your dog, so pay attention.
To help you out I've listed some unspoken but helpful rules for making your trip to the dog park uncomplicated and fun -- exactly what it should be!
1. It is a myth that all dogs will love the dog park.
A lot of dogs don't do well in the melting pot of the off-leash dog parks. Are you letting your dog loose into a space that's unknown and wondering why they're not playing? Much like people with strangers, dogs don't always enjoy or want to interact with others, especially ones they've never met before, especially if they have poor social skills.
2. Poo bags!
This seems like a no-brainer, right? We have this dog owner at my park who never comes prepared. Without fail, his dog runs into the off-leash park and drops the world's biggest poo. He always uses the same excuse, "I didn't know my dog had to go!" Some parks participate in dog waste projects involving the use of recycling bins. Check the signage at your local off-leash area to see what disposal method you should be using. This is also a great thing you can help introduce and initiate at your dog park. Contact your city today to get the ball rolling. Pro tip: If you're going to a dog park, assume your dog will take at least two poops!
3. Close the gates!
Again, this seems like a no-brainer but keep watch for those escape artist dogs that dodge the open doors. Prevention is the key but it's important to be familiar with your city's pet lost and found resources before the need arises. You should also get your pet microchipped and be sure to keep the information associated with the chip up-to-date.
4. Keep key contacts close at hand.
Saved in your phone you should have: your local animal shelter and humane society, city animal control, nearest 24-hour veterinary clinic, your city's non-emergency services number (super handy for when gates are broken or when garbage bins are overflowing) and your dog's microchip and city licence numbers.
Be considerate. Not every dog is like yours. Not every dog knows "drop it" (cough, cough, my dog, Logan). Some even have resource guarding issues, which can cause problems. Good rule of thumb: Don't be upset if your dog's toy temporarily (or permanently) disappears.
Please don't bring your lunch into the dog park. Also, don't bring treats and feed them to dogs without asking permission from the owner(s) first. With the number of food allergies dogs have, you'd rather be safe than sorry. Plus, I don't really feel like wondering why my dog has explosive diarrhea for two days because you slipped him some unknown beef by-product at the park.
7. Intact (un-neutered) males
This is one of those issues that comes up time after time. There's a lot of myths floating around about this but neutered males generally do not like unfixed males. You're putting your intact male at risk for a serious fight.
Karen Fazio explains, "The most common type of altercation involves neutered males aggressing toward intact males. Neutered males smell like females. The scent of an intact male cause many neutered [dogs] to react negatively toward them since intact males smell male. The scent of an intact male can cause tensions to rise even before the two dogs engage each other because intact males retain the ability to mate and give of the scent of male, which can be considered a threat to neutered males."
Remove chain collars, prong collars, or any other than a training collar that contains metal links. During play dogs can easily get their teeth stuck in them. I've witnessed this. The blood was unreal and the dog ended up losing a few teeth in the process. Let's prevent this from happening. Trust me, I walk Logan on a Halti, but if I'm knowingly going to the dog park, I will put a flat collar on him so he's not "naked" at the park. You never know if you'll need something to quickly grab onto to maintain control of your dog.
The dog park is one of those places where you need to understand you're taking a risk with your dog every time you step foot in it. As I said before, a lot of dogs don't enjoy the dog park. These are the dogs that stand around, usually picking fights, eating crap off the ground, or trying to dodge out of the gates every time someone enters or exits.
Are you going to the park more for yourself? Is this the only way you "exercise" or allow your dog to interact with others? Does your dog even enjoy interacting with other dogs? These are questions you need to ask yourself. What does your dog enjoy? Chances are, it's spending time with you, without distraction. Going for a walk may be boring (for you), but this is when you need to make it more than that.
There's so much you can do with your pup one-on-one that you can't accomplish at the dog park, including building the bond of trust.
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