It may come as surprise to many, but there is a strong contingent of dog owners who loathe dog parks. And it may come as an even bigger surprise hearing it from me, but they have a lot of good points.
I’ve visited dog parks of all shapes and sizes across the country and seen plenty of things which could discourage a person from visiting. I’ve seen everything from unsocialized dogs fighting (luckily without serious harm) to a family deciding the dog beach was the perfect spot for a picnic. (Hint: It’s not!)
Dog parks are inherently risky. In that sense, I consider visiting them a lot like driving a car. In both cases I’m making a calculated risk involving circumstances both in and out of my control. And in both cases there are a number of things I can do to improve my likelihood of a safe and successful trip.
1. Avoid peak hours
Immediately after business hours, weekend afternoons and holidays are all high-traffic times for dog parks. Visiting the park during quieter hours ensures there’s plenty of space for all the pups and it’s easier to keep an eye on everyone.
2. Know your dogs better than they know themselves
I know every nuance and subtlety of Eko’s and Penny’s body language. This allows me to quickly gauge and predict behavior. Often when Penny charges, like in the above photo, Eko lets her pass by. But that little tongue lick let me know he was about to engage and wrestle.
Penny knew it too and she made a hasty retreat!
I always keep a close eye on my pups to make sure they’re happy, relaxed and comfortable.
3. Actively supervise play
It might be a beach, but the dog park is no place for setting up a picnic or reading a good book. Active supervision ensures the beach stays fun for everyone. It’s also key to stopping problems before they start. If I notice Penny wants to play tug with an unwilling partner, I make her disengage and we head to another part of the park.
4. Speak up!
I can’t count how many fearful eyes I’ve seen when Eko bounds over to say hello to someone’s tiny dog. I know he’s a gentle giant, but others certainly don’t. I’ve found it very helpful to speak up about my dogs’ personalities to others. “Don’t worry, he’s gentle” helps ease tension, and “She loves to play tag, is that okay?” is a simple way to test the waters.
5. Expect the unexpected
No matter how many times dogs play together, there’s always a chance something changes. In the above case, Penny was quite shocked to learn Doc was the one instigating a wrestle. Like the Boy Scouts, I try to be prepared for anything.
6. Always be ready to leave
The most important command I have at the dog park is “Ready to go?” I only use it at dog parks and it simply means we’re leaving. Now. When the pups hear the command they both come right to me (took a bit of time to train Penny!)
Whether we’ve had our fun for the day, or I’m concerned about my pups’ safety for the slightest reason, I’m always ready to leave the beach on a moment’s notice.
The above rules, together with standard common-sense, help keep the dog park a safe, fun and invaluable resource for my pups. Dog parks are certainly not necessary for all dogs, but my two couldn’t do without them. There’s no other place in the city for these two to get the off-leash exercise they need to stay healthy and happy.
Quite happy indeed!
For those of you who also visit dog parks, do you have any rules/tips for making the experience fun for you and your dog?