Introducing Your Dog to the Public Dog Park (Tips & Etiquette)

Introducing Your Dog to the Public Dog Park (Tips & Etiquette)

If there’s one thing all dogs have in common, its their love for food and running freely through the great outdoors. With green scenery as far as the eye could see, wagging tails, and plenty of friendly owners bringing their dogs for socialization and exercise – dog parks are becoming increasingly popular in Australia. This is no surprise as revealed in the Pets in Australia survey (Animal Medicines Australia 2016), dog ownership has risen from 40% to 46% out of all households with pets in Australia. All these dogs will need some form of exercise and socialization, and dog parks provide a great opportunity to fulfil both these needs at a low expense. If you and your dog are new to the high-energy and etiquette of dog parks, keep on reading for tips!

Ground Rules
As all dogs are able to visit these public places without regulation, it is important for all dog owners to recognize the responsibilities they have as the owner. Make sure your dog(s) have gotten the appropriate worm/flea treatment, are vaccinated and are in good health. With the strong social nature of the park, many dogs will be constantly in close-range to other dogs and people. This keeps dogs healthy, safe, free from diseases and illness, and importantly, enables them to freely enjoy themselves. This may be an obvious procedure; however sometimes certain conditions may be missed due to unnoticed symptoms – so its important to regulate and check on your pet often.

As briefly mentioned in the previous paragraph, playing at the park is almost always about socializing with other dogs and people. Does your dog do well when surrounded with many other dogs of different sizes? You will need to observe and consider if your dog will be okay playing amongst much smaller or much larger dogs.
As it is usually a lively place, dogs may be extremely stimulated if they are relatively new to a dog park environment. They will be in the presence of new dogs, people, smells, sounds and sights. Your dog will need to be calm in this atmosphere for the health and safety of them and others. There may be common behaviors that may be misinterpreted as threatening when they aren’t familiar to your dog or other dogs (tumble play, chasing, sniffing, barking), especially when in an off-leash environment, so it’s important to observe well when bringing your dog to a park for the first time.
Its good practice to have first attended doggy playgroups or have spent time around a variety of other breeds/sizes prior to your dog’s first time in a dog park. As dogs all have their own personalities, a particularly rough or reactive dog may be better suited to walking streets or quieter public parks without many dogs in the same area.

Observation of Risks
We may not always be able to predict a dog’s behavior with absolute accuracy especially in the circumstances where your dog is newly being introduced to an environment. It is usually impossible to know just exactly how a dog may react when provoked or presented with an unpredictable situation – a responsible owner will constantly be watching for any sudden changes in behavior.
Signs of discomfort and anxiety in a dog can include lip-licking, yawning, pinned-back ears, a tense body, and a low or tucked-in tail.
Signs of aggression in a dog can include growling, snapping, snarling, baring teeth or lunging. Its imperative to step in safely as soon as possible if any signs of aggression occur.
A good owner will know their dog’s general behavior and reactions and thus be able to make informed decisions in certain situations.

Does your dog have good recall recognition? This may be known as a reliable recall. This means that when you call your dog to return to you, they should listen to this call instantly and enthusiastically. During training commands, it’s important to have a clear word that tells your dog to return or back off. There may not be a guarantee that your dog will listen every time, but it is immensely helpful or even lifesaving in dangerous or harmful situations.
This will provide reassurance when outside in unpredictable situations and will make off-leash playing much safer for your dog and other park guests. Alternatively, if you aren’t confident in your dog’s recall or if they are still learning, there’s no problem with keeping your dog on-leash, as this is most likely better and safer during the training process. It may also be beneficial to practice recall in an enclosed area or on a longer leash. These two options still give your dog the freedom to explore as they please.

The safety and happiness of a dog park relies on the cooperation and communication between all dog owners. This means being aware of leash laws around the community, cleaning up any mess, picking up after them and following any requirements advised by other owners regarding their own dogs. This will keep the community morale up, maintain good hygiene, establish respectful relationships, and keep the public park clean and safe for all. One unreliable dog or owner may impact the whole park and create a potentially dangerous situation. Following regulations and listening to fellow dog owners lower this risk.

Now it’s time to go to the park! Pack some treats and toys, and don’t forget to check the weather!

Source(s): RSPCA and American Kennel Club