Thinking about taking your new puppy or just adopted adult dog to the dog park? Already visiting dog parks on the regular? Here are some tips for keeping the dog park safe, fun, and beneficial for your dog when it’s a good fit, and when to pack it up and go home.
Consider the Age of Your Puppy
- Go to the dog park first without your puppy so that you know what to expect!
- Introduce your puppy to other puppies and adult dogs, one on one and/or in small playgroups, before visiting a dog park…
- Complete all puppy vaccinations before visiting a dog park so that your puppy is protected from disease.
- Avoid a visit during the weekend; instead, go at an ‘off’ time so that your puppy can relax and explore.
- You are your puppy’s leader! Remember that a traumatic event can make a permanent impression upon your puppy. It’s up to you to protect your puppy and not allow other dogs to frighten or scare him.
- Other dog owners may encourage you to ignore your puppy’s fear or discomfort, but this isn’t a time to worry about what other people think. When a puppy runs away from a dog, this can grab other dogs’ attention as well and cause an ugly chase game. If this happens, pack it up and go home!
Assess Your Adult Dog
- Does your dog prefer to play ball or frisbee with you, and is typically disinterested in playing with other dogs? If so, take a pass on the dog park.
- Is your newly adopted dog undersocialized or unsocialized? If so, find calm and friendly dogs for him to interact with one one one. He’ll gain confidence and learn how to communicate with other dogs!
- Is your dog an adult? A mature adult? Dogs become more selective as they age, and are less inclined to play with every dog they meet. Dog parks are great for youngsters, but not so great for mature adults (who are not so tolerant of junior’s shenanigans!).
- Is your dog geriatric? See above. Since dog parks typically attract young adolescent dogs who need more exercise and tend to have fewer physical boundaries with each other, it’s not a good situation for your elderly dog. Best to avoid getting jumped on and bounced around like a bumper car.
- Does your dog have any obedience training? Obedience training helps you communicate more effectively with your dog and keeps him safe.
Evaluate Your Dog’s Temperament
- Is your dog a wallflower, a shrinking violet, an introvert? Does he want to hide once he’s inside the dog park? If so, take a pass. Finding your dog a small group of besties [away from the park] will give him an opportunity to ‘be a dog’ and to keep social skills sharp without the overwhelm.
- Is your dog a bully? Does you dog ram, roll, and pin other dogs? Is his style more like professional wrestling than loose and relaxed play? Opt out. Not good for him to practice that style of play over and over again, and not good for the other dogs either.
- Does your dog guard resources such as toys, balls, treats, or you?!? Since you can’t control what other people bring into the park, or how other dogs interact with you, smarter to find other activities for your dog until you can incorporate training and behavior modification into your lifestyle.
Remember… there’s no shame in making a decision to avoid dog parks or even dog day cares or beaches if your dog doesn’t enjoy off-leash play with new dogs. At the end of the day, it’s likely that your dog, most of all, wants to spend time with you. Most dogs do want and need interactions with other dogs, but you get to decide how and when that should happen!