Written by Marissa Ann Portillo, BS, RLATG, CM
It’s all fun and games, until someone gets bitten.
Summer is the perfect time of year to bring your canine furry friend to the local dog park. Dog parks can be a great way for your pooch to spend their extra energy and learn socialization skills; but they can also be a dangerous place if you’re not careful. We have some tips to make sure your next trip to the dog park is a safe and enjoyable one.
Know Your Side
Most dog parks have a “small dog area” and a “large dog area”. It is very important to respect the signage and bring your pet to the side that fits them best. Some small dogs have big personalities, and some large dogs act like little kittens, so in this case it’s good to ask other pet parents if it’s ok to bring your pet to the side that is not necessarily reflective of their outer appearance. It’s important to communicate with pet parents that are already at the park and ensure all pets feel safe.
Slow and Steady
When introducing your pup to new friends in a new space, it’s important to go slow. Allow your dog to go at their own pace, do not rush them to make friends immediately. If your dog isn’t comfortable within 5-10 minutes, it’s best to try the park again another day. Sometimes desensitizing your pup to the new environment allows them to gain confidence.
Have Your Leash Ready
Once you get comfortable and have checked with the other pet parents, letting your dog off leash is a great feeling. Keeping the leash either across your shoulder or tucked in your pocket or bag allows you quick access should you need to restrain your pet for any reason. This lets other pet parents know that you’re ready for action should your pet start behaving rudely or simply become intimidated and need some time to relax.
Watch Body Language
Learning dog body language is so vital to having a good experience at a dog park. Lots of things can happen in this open space, especially when there are new dogs around. Watch carefully for aggressive behavior, cowering, or perimeter walking. These are all signs that something is not going right. Always watch your pet, never take your eyes off of your dog. Your dog is your responsibility, and you owe it to them to make sure they are safe and behaving well in this new environment. If, for any reason, something doesn’t look right – act fast, leash your dog, and calmly exit the park. Dog fights can break out in a matter of heartbeats and are often very brutal.
Keep An Open Dialogue
Chatting with other pet parents to better understand their pets is a great way to pass the time and also ensure that you’re doing everything you can to keep your dog safe. The dog park is supposed to be a fun, enjoyable space – pet parents want to share their ideas and discuss ways to ensure their pets are safe as well. If someone raises a flag about a particular dog at the park, it’s important to take it seriously and assess the situation for yourself. If you are not confident that a dog is safe to have in the park, remove your pet. It’s okay to do this and pet parents respect you for doing so. You can even start the conversation with “Fido occasionally has some toy aggression. I need to take him out if the other dogs have that ball”. Everyone will understand.
Follow All Posted Rules (last but not least!)
Please read and understand all posted park rules before entering a dog park. If your pet is not vaccinated or is a puppy, you should not enter the park. Some towns have very specific rules regarding weight or breed of dogs allowed in the park and although these restrictions may feel unnecessary, it’s important that you follow them to remain in compliance with the town ordinances.
We hope that these tips prove to be helpful for you and your canine companion. Should there ever be an injury sustained at a dog park, please be sure to ask the owner of the other dog involved about the pet’s rabies history and get to the nearest emergency hospital for treatment. We see at least one patient each week with wounds sustained at various dog parks, so we know how to navigate these situations. The faster you get to the ER, the more promptly we can provide care.