Updated: Feb 8
Unless you live on a few acres of land and own a few dogs, it can be hard to give your pup the exercise and socialization that a dog park can easily provide. But while we all want the best for our dog, the park can be a scary or intimidating place for a first-time dog owner, especially, if you’ve heard others’ bad experiences.
Don’t let that deter you from trying it out but make sure to read through this list so that you (and fido!) are ready for the fun.
Do a health check and vaccinate your dog
Dog parks are high traffic areas where all toys are shared and For the sake of you and all the other dogs at the park, your dog should be up-to-date on all vaccines before you should even consider a visit to the dog park. If you have a puppy, it is extremely important to wait until they have all vaccinations and are about 16-17 weeks old before taking them for the first time.
It’s also a good idea to check in on your dog’s general health before heading out. Are they alert? Wet, cold nose? Were they able to eat and keep down their food today? If you think that your dog might not feel well or if your dog is in heat, then it is best to save the park for another day.
2. Research your park before you go
A quick google search of the park will show you reviews, pictures, busy times and might also pull up a website for you to browse around as well. These can be good resources to tell you what the area is like before you even step a paw inside!
For the first visit, it is a good idea to go when there aren’t a lot of dogs there! Or take your pup on a day and time that you would normally go so you can get a feel for the dogs and people. A lot of dog owners will usually visit the same park on the same days at the same time.
Before your pooch runs free, take a look at the fencing to ensure that it is tall enough and secure with no gaps, holes, or breaks for escape. There should be a double-gated entrance for safety and to ensure that there are no escapees. The park should be well maintained, have no potholes and shade available for hot days.
3. What to Bring:
-Breakaway collar with ID tags: a breakaway collar is important for preventing choking in case your dog gets caught on a branch or in an altercation.
-Water bowl and fresh water: Parasites and diseases can be easily transmitted through communal water bowls and while you may be on top of your pup’s health, the person in the park with you may not.
-Poop bags: you bring it in, you bring it out!
-Your cell phone: always important in case of a dog or human emergency. Also, be aware of where the closest hospital and emergency vet are located!
4. Sit, stay, good boy!
While some solid obedience training can make life in general easier for you and your pup, basic commands can also aid in a smooth dog park experience. No one wants to be that owner at the park that has to spend ten minutes chasing their dog around the park because it’s time to go home but their dog says otherwise.
Practice basic commands such as come and leave it and then practice them in environments with distractions so that your pup is prepped and ready for the park.
5. Size does matter…at the dog park anyway
Taking your chihuahua into the same park as a great dane, a mastiff and two huskies could easily result in an emergency room visit because of the great difference in size. Most parks will have separate areas: one for smaller dogs/puppies and another for the bigger guys. It is up to you to be responsible and choose wisely.
6. Be on the watch for aggression
Some growling and biting are normal for dog play but you should always be on the lookout for signs of true aggression: stiff body posture, hackles raised, ears back against the head, teeth baring, and snarling to name a few. Watch for these signs in, not only your dog, but others as well. Even if two dogs seem to be playing well at first, circumstances can quickly change.
If you do notice any of these signs, remove your dog from the situation as quickly as possible.
7. If a fight does break out…
Things happen and, occasionally, a fight will break out. You can use an air horn, spray water, or use a stick to separate the dogs but do not get in the middle of it. As quickly as possible, remove your dog and take them to an area away from the others. Allow a minute or two for you and your dog to breathe and get the blood pressure down before leaving the park.
If there’s a fight not involving your dog, make sure your dog doesn’t get involved.
Exercise and socialization are essential for a healthy, happy pup! Your local dog park can be the perfect scratch for both of those itches as long as you are safe and prepared.