I was in Buford last Wednesday working with a new Home Dog Training Client and his eight-month-old Golden Retriever named Wally.  Wally was behaving just like any other “untrained”, eight-month-old Golden Retriever; he was nuts.  “Nuts”, for those of you who aren’t familiar with “technical dog training terminology”, means that “…What we have here is failure to communicate”.  My client could not get Wally’s attention in order to direct him to proper outcomes.

Dog park safety

After a few hours of education, explanation, and demonstration, our client could control Wally so that he would obey commands and stop misbehaving.  He was excited with what he had learned and thrilled that he now had a wonderful dog.  As we were finishing up, I decided to give our client a friendly suggestion.

Wally was a young, very energetic puppy.  He will remain a “puppy” until about two years of age.  With this said, he needs a great deal of exercise and stimulus on a daily basis. Our client needs to get Wally outside to run, jump, and possibly interact with other dogs as often as possible.  This helps stimulate his mind and just “tucker him out”.  The bad news was that they lived in a townhome, but the good news was that they were just down the street from a really great dog park.

Robin and I love dog parks when clients don’t have large yards or they aren’t able to take them to doggie day cares on a regular basis. Even though dog parks can be a great avenue to let your dog’s energy out and increase their socialization skills, there are drawbacks and challenges as well.

I shared these “watch out for’s” with our client and I would like to share them with you.

Be attune to your dog’s nature. Some dogs don’t enjoy meeting new dogs. Don’t let your dog get overwhelmed by meeting too many dogs at one time. If your dog hasn’t interacted with other dogs on a regular basis, you must find out how he will react.  Try introducing your dog to a friends’ dog that you know is fine with other dogs. Testing your dog in a controlled environment is perfect before you go into the dog park.

Make sure that your dog is healthy. Keep up on all his vaccinations and worming medications as well as his “Vet Checkups” to keep him protected from any infections he may get from other dogs in the dog park or the environment itself.

Get a good feel of “the lay of the land”. Visit the park without your dog for the first time to familiarize yourself with the dog park and the dogs that normally go there. Spend some time watching the other dogs and how they interact. If the dogs seem too rough for your dog, come back at another time or try a different dog park.  Find a park and a time where it “feels right” for your dog. Then, and only then; you may want to bring your dog and sit quietly with him outside the park. Having your dog with you to observe from outside the park allows you to watch how your dog reacts to seeing the other dogs.

Keep your initial visits short. The first few visits to the dog park should be brief. I suggest that they don’t last more than fifteen to twenty minutes.  Slowly increase the length of your stays as your dog becomes more comfortable with the dog park atmosphere.

Make sure you pick a “quiet time” for your first few visits to the park. Weekday evenings and weekends normally tend to be the busiest times at the dog parks.  Weekdays are normally the best time to find a “quiet park”. Coming then will allow your dog to “work his way” into the environment with minimal inappropriate distractions.  Most importantly, it will allow you to better protect him, if needed.

Watch your dog like a hawk. Do not get distracted while talking to other owners. Keep your eye on him at all times to assure his interactions with other dogs are safe. Be attuned to his body language to help you avoid any trouble before it begins. Watching his actions also enables you to quickly clean up after any “accidents”.

Remove his leash as soon as you enter unleashed areas. Mixing leashed and unleashed dogs can create a volatile situation. Leashed dogs, and their owners, often display body language and behavior that is hostile to the unleashed dogs.

Be aware of potential hazards. Look out for “bad stuff” such as toxic chemicals, garbage or noxious plants. Be sure to wash any chemicals, such as fertilizer or pesticides, off your dog’s feet and legs to ensure they aren’t licked and ingested. If you find that this is the case with the dog park you are visiting, it is probably time to find a new dog park.

Leave the kids at home. Don’t bring your kids and their friends with you to the dog park. You will not be able to watch your kids and your dog at the same time. Some dogs have not been socialized to children. Both frighten and excite easily — and react differently — creating a dangerous atmosphere. It’s simply too easy for a child to get hurt at a dog park.

No matter what anyone says, a dog park is not the place for small, young puppies. Puppies under four months of age are not fully immunized and are at higher risk for contracting diseases. They can also be vulnerable to being traumatized by another dog’s aggressive behavior.

There is no need to bring toys or food to the dog park. Most parks are already littered with balls and toys that other people have brought. Rewarding your dog with treats or giving him toys in front of other dogs often creates jealousy and aggression.

Watch your dog’s body language. Educate yourself about dog body language and communication signals so you can tell the difference between fear, play and anger.

Do not “overstay your welcome”. You should leave if your dog is being threatened or bullied and seems fearful; starts to show aggressive behavior by becoming overexcited or threatening toward other dogs; or seems overly tired. Your dog’s safety is your top priority while at the dog park.

DO NOT physically intervene in a dog fight. Never reach in to break up fighting dogs. If a fight breaks out, the best thing to do is to throw blankets over the dogs to disorient and distract them.  This will help to deescalate the moment and have the dogs refocus back to their respective owners.

Dog parks are a great place to help socialize and exercise your dog.  These are some of the rules and conditions you should observe with your dog while at the dog park to make the entire experience positive and fun.

Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help.  We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over seventeen years.  We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.