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1. Stay away from the gate
The above photo is not from a dog park, but it’s indicative of the amped up, on-leash behavior that frequently occurs near the front gate of any dog park. Gates are natural choke points. Between the excitement of the dogs and the close confines, it can be a recipe for trouble. I like to enter the park as quickly as possible and move the dogs to play as far from the entrance as possible.
2. Spread out
Humans, wherever we go, seem to bunch up. For the same reasons as listed above, I always find my way away from the crowd. The more space the dogs have, the more likely they are to enjoy the trip. It also makes keeping an eye on everyone that much easier.
3. Be ready to get down and dirty
If you value something, do not wear it to the dog park. If you are not prepared for something to withstand a Beethoven like shake, do not bring it to the dog park. This will save you a lot of frustration/money and make it easier for you to enjoy the trip.
4. Be able to follow your dog anywhere
Related to my previous rule, this one just means be prepared to go through any terrain to keep your pup safe. If you’re on trails, be ready to go through mud. If you’re in fields, be ready to cut through deep grass. If you’re at the beach, be ready to go in the water.
I’ve fished out a couple over-ambitious pups from the water while their owners were still trying to untie their dress shoes.
5. Embrace Communism
Whatever your human political beliefs are, know that communism is the law of the land at dog parks. Assume any toys, balls and sticks you throw belong to the general population. Of course, you want to be polite and return balls to their owners. But the smart move is to bring a few cheap tennis balls rather than one prized ball.
6. Don’t expect perfection
Before I got Eko, I imagined dog parks as this blissful utopia where every pup is perfectly happy. Yeah, not so much. The personalities, energy levels and social skills of dogs vary as wildly as in humans.
Dog parks don’t offer effortless joy, but they do offer the opportunity to work for that joy. This means working on socialization, recall and general training. There will be bumps along the way for everyone, but the effort is well worth the reward.
7. Leave too early
I touched on the importance of leaving the dog park in my first post, but I don’t think it can be said enough. Exiting the dog park safely and on your terms is invaluable. It’s always better to leave too early than too late.
For my own training, I found the familiar “three-strikes” method effective. If (aka when) puppy Penny misbehaved, I gave her two corrective chances. After strike three we would immediately. Sometimes this meant our trips to the beach were about three minutes long, but overall the training worked quite well.
Conversely if I see an unsocialized dog causing problems, or someone letting their small child tease dogs with a bagel (this actually happened), we leave. Sure, those people should have left. But I always prefer to be safe than to be right.
8. Have fun!
This one seems obvious but it’s always good to remind ourselves to enjoy the time we have with our pups. And the happier we are, the more at ease our dogs are. Which is always a good thing.
One last reminder. Always bring a towel and extra poop bags. No matter what. Trust me, whenever you don’t have these things you’ll need them.
In the next few weeks I’d like to put together a short video about “Dog Park Rules” based on my two posts. If you have any ideas for additional rules I could include in the video I’d love to hear them. Thanks!