Your dog may be fantastic on leash. But she may act very differently at a dog park. Let’s look at why…
A dog on leash is often very focused on you, if you’ve taught her the basic commands plus “Look at me” which gets her attention and reminds her that you’re still there.
That’s it, though – your dog knows you’re there, will correct her if she’s being impolite and she likely feels more confident because… you’re in control.
Now take that dog to the dog park where she runs free with dogs she doesn’t know and you’re no longer in charge except at a distance.
It’s really an odd situation for her. We all just sort of throw our dogs “out there” and expect them to behave as usual but there are so many outside factors, such as dogs there not being sure about their boundaries, either.
Or, dogs there might be aggressive.
Or, dog owners might not be paying attention to what their dog is doing (this is a big one, I’ve noticed).
So, you’ve potentially got confused dogs, aggressive (or overly assertive dogs), submissive dogs…
We often just assume that dogs will “sort it out” on their own. After all, they’re pack animals, right? But “pack animals” earn each others’ trust and spend their lives with each other. Our dogs are, after all, far removed from those wolf days.
Here’s what to do to make it safer and easier for you and your dog to go to a dog park –
- Visit the dog park alone – you may not be able to go in without a dog, depending on the rules, but you can still get the layout.
- Make sure the dog park is truly enclosed – you can do this by walking around the parameters.
- Observe the types of dogs, and dog owners!, who seem to frequent the park – do the dogs seem to be comfortable with it? Are the dog owners paying attention to their dogs?
- Learn the rules of the dog park – these should be posted on or near the gate to get in.
- Don’t let your dog loose immediately when entering – there should be an area between the main gate and a gate to the actual dog park. Pause there. Let your dog take it in.
- Walk your dog around the park – let her sniff at the boundaries and watch her potential “friends”
- Train your dog beforehand – teach her to come to you via hand signals or commands. Put her in situations where there are distractions. Use a longer and longer lead.
When you’ve decided to try out the real thing –
- Stay close to your dog
- Keep a training lead on so you can grab her easily
- Be polite to other owners but Keep Your Attention on your dog
- Do very short stints – you can increase the time there but always keep it under fifteen minutes. Dogs can be attentive about that long.
- Don’t be afraid to tell other dog owners that their dog is acting inappropriately.
Above all, remember that this is not an opportunity for you to let your dog go and have fun so you can take a break from responsibility. It’s also not a social gathering for dog owners, despite the fact that many seem to think it is.