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The Real Secret to Success at the Dog Park
March 02, 2010

March 2010

In This Issue

Dog Care News You Can Use
  • The Real Secret to Success at the Dog Park

Organic, Natural and Holistic Dog Care
News You Can Use

The Real Secret to Success at the Dog Park

Can you feel it?

Yes, that sweet smell of spring is in the air (or is coming soon!), and for many of you, it likely feels well deserved after one of the worst winters in recent history. And for us dog owners, that sunshine and melting snow means freedom from the confines of our homes and the long awaited opening of the city dog park… hooray!

Since the opening of the country’s first dog park in 1990, the brilliant concept has spread like wild fire throughout cities and suburbs, giving dogs and their owners a safe and exciting place to socialize and exercise.

But if you are a dog park expert like us, you surely understand that though the concept is wonderful, often times certain problems occur that can make the “dog park experience” less than desirable and occasionally even dangerous.

So, whether you will be a dog park newbie this spring and summer season or a returning veteran, it’s important to review the most up-to-date dog park etiquette, which will ensure that you, your dog and your dog park reputation remain safe and secure. Let’s break up this lesson in dog park etiquette into three sections:
  1. Park culture
  2. Appropriate / inappropriate dog behavior
  3. Commonly made owner mistakes
Park Culture

Walking through the gates of a dog park for the first time can be very intimidating for you and your pup, especially if the park is overly crowded or is not optimally designed. This is a normal feeling that comes along with most new experiences and it should quickly diminish as long as you and your dog feel comfortable, safe and accepted.

Every dog park has a unique “park culture” that is established by the owners and dogs that frequent it, along with the city that maintains it.

A positive park culture is usually created when the owners band together and create a sense of community, take pride in the park, consistently obey posted park rules and are not afraid to step up to an owner whose personal behavior or dog’s behavior is inappropriate or dangerous to others.

If you visit a dog park that does not seem to have a positive, healthy park culture, then don’t return to that park. A park that is poorly maintained, constantly over-crowded and has an overall hectic feeling to it is not a safe place to take your dog.

If you find that your city’s dog park has a bad park culture, don’t feel like you’re out of luck. Here are a few things you can do to give your dog that social playtime he craves:
  • Check out this website that lists dog parks in cities all over the country, there very well may be a dog park within driving distance that you have never heard of before. And if you know of a good park that’s not in their database, add it!

  • Find or post an ad on for doggie play groups. Once there, find your state, then your city, then under "Community" click "Pets". On that page, first see if there are any others looking to form a group. If you can't find any listings, create your own by clicking "Post" in the upper-right hand corner.

  • Have a Facebook profile? If so, try searching Facebook for other dog lovers/owners in your city… you and your dog could make some new friends!

  • Use your favorite search engine (i.e. Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask, etc.) to see if there are any privately owned dog parks near you. Private parks are becoming more and more popular and are often beautifully maintained and more closely supervised to ensure safety. Dogs are pre-screened for behavior problems and owners are forced to follow the park rules. They usually operate off a monthly fee.

Appropriate / Inappropriate Dog Behavior

The main issue when addressing dogs with behavior problems is not the behavior itself but the owner’s inability to recognize and deal with it properly.

With that said… dogs with aggressive or obsessive behavior problems do not belong in a dog park, nor is a dog park the appropriate place for owners to try and solve their dog’s behavioral issues.

We dog owners need to be responsible and evaluate our dog’s true personality traits and social abilities before bringing them to a dog park. Not all dogs enjoy being around packs of other dogs, and that’s okay. But we need to make smart, honest decisions to ensure the safety of the other dogs and humans.

Even if your dog has never before displayed violent behavior or concerning behavior of any sort, the dog park may still not be the best place for her to socialize. Run down this checklist to make sure that your dog will be a good dog park dog:
  • Dog should be friendly and outgoing and always enjoy making new friends. If your dog tends to be overbearing with his “affections” for other dogs and in turn acts like a bully, this is not appropriate behavior.

  • Dogs who are especially fearful of other dogs or people will not do well at a park.

  • The dog should have all his basic manners and should know not to jump up on people, lift a leg on anyone, or bark excessively, just to name a few.

  • Dog needs to obey basic commands the first time they are given. If your dog does not come, sit, stay or leave it when told, then he needs to learn these commands and obey them before going into a dog park.

  • Elderly dogs, sick dogs and dogs that haven’t received their necessary vaccinations (puppies under the age of 4 months) do not belong in a dog park.
Commonly Made Owner Mistakes

Many dog owners only make mistakes at the dog park because they are new to the system and have not been taught the proper etiquette. This is completely understandable, and no one is going to ban you from the dog park for making a few mistakes… as long as you’re willing to learn from them and make a conscious effort to remember the next time.

To make it a little easier on you, we have combined a few of the major mistakes that dog owners make at the dog park that not only frustrate other park goers but actually endanger other dogs as well:
  • All dog parks post a rules and regulations board for park goers to read before entering the park. These rules are posted for good reason and should be read and respected by all who use the park.

  • Many of the well-managed dog parks supply dog owners with baggies to scoop and dispose of their dog’s feces. This is not a recommendation… it’s a requirement: you must clean up after your dog and be prepared with your own baggies in case the park has run out or does not offer them.

  • If you are the owner of a small breed dog, we do not recommend that you frequent dog parks that do not separate the small breeds from the large breeds. Small dogs can easily get hurt when playing along with the big guys.

  • Keep an eye on your dog at all times while in the park. It is nice to be able to socialize with friends or read a book, but it’s your responsibility to keep a close eye on your dog’s behavior (plus you need to see when and where he poops!).

  • Do not bring food or treats into the park with you under any circumstances. Food can cause big problems between dogs and can even put you in danger of being jumped on and possibly injured. The dog park is not the place to train your dog using treats, so leave them at home.

  • Do not bring toys from home to play with at the park. Like food, toys can cause fights between dogs, especially when one dog steals another dog’s all-time favorite squeaky toy.

  • Never discipline someone else’s dog. This can be a hard one to follow especially if you see your dog being attacked or bullied. If this does happen, call out the owner to help you handle the situation.

  • Even if you deem yourself a dog behavior training expert and have watched the last four seasons of “The Dog Whisperer”, it’s best if you keep your advice to yourself. Nobody likes a know-it-all and we have found that it’s especially unappreciated at the dog park.

  • Walk your dog up to the park gate entrance on leash, but make sure to remove the leash immediately upon entering the confined space. Dogs on leashes tend to feel nervous around dogs that are off leash, which could result in aggressive behavior.

  • It is very important to be polite to other dog owners at the park. Say hello and try to be social if you’re in the mood. Remember to be open to discussing your dog’s behavior if another owner has an issue, and vice-versa. Kindness and understanding will work much better than lashing out in anger.

  • Lastly, do not bring young children or babies into the dog park. Dogs can jump up on young children in excitement and cause harm to the child. Most parks say that children under the age of 8 should not be allowed into the dog park. If you must bring them in with you, keep them next to you or on you at all times.

Now you have had your yearly lesson on dog park etiquette and are fully prepared for a successful, fun and exciting season at the dog park. If you’d like to double check your knowledge, then click here to take a quick quiz.

Also, we found a short video that covers a few of the same things we addressed in this newsletter, along with a few other recommendations for dog park users. Take a peek if you’re interested.

Comments? Ideas? Feedback? We'd love to hear from you. Just reply to this zine and tell us what you think!

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