Pro Tips for the Best Dog Park Experience

Our first public dog park, Dog Park at the Rez will be opening this weekend, and that means many owners inexperienced in dog park culture will be there to try out a dog park for the first time. I noticed many of my clients were becoming anxious about the grand opening and still on the fence about going to the dog park. While I am not a huge fan of dog parks myself, I think that with a community understanding of dog body language and safety, they can be enjoyable for a select group of dogs and owners. To help ease some anxiety and help everyone have a safe and fun weekend at the dog park, I give you my tips for having the best dog park experience.

1. Scout out the park before entering.

Scouting out the dog park before entering is always my first suggestion to dog park goers. I advise people to watch the dogs that are playing inside the park already. Are they playing rough? Are all the dogs calm? Are there any fearful or aggressive dogs in the park? If there is a rather rough playgroup already in the park or you have the feeling the dogs are out of control, wait until some of the offending dogs have left the park before entering.

When you are scouting out the park, look for trouble spots. Trouble spots would be tight areas where dogs can get trapped by other dogs when playing, water areas that could trigger resource guarders or entry gates where new dogs might be entering. Having the area well explored beforehand can help you direct your dog to better locations for playtime and keep them from having a bad experience with another dog.

Keep any owners you see with toys or treats in mind because these new objects can trigger resource guarding in some dogs. It would be best to keep your dog away from these owners if possible to avoid your dog getting caught up in the swarm of dogs that may not want to share.

2. Know what to do if things go south.

Education in how to break up a dogfight and/or how to perform canine CPR and basic first aid can be beneficial. ProPetHero offers a wonderfully priced pet CPR and first aid certification course that can be attended on online. If you are an avid dog park goer, it is worth every dime.

Injuries often happen at dog parks from rough playing or actual fights breaking out. It is always best to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Keeping a first aid kit in your car can help you have peace of mind.

Other owners will have various ideas on how to break up dogfights within the dog park and things get out of control rather quickly because it becomes a blind leading the blind situation. Never stick your hand or leg in between two dogs fighting. It might seem obvious, but this is our first instinct when trying to save our dog. You want to try hands-off methods first, like throwing treats, making loud noises, or a water hose.

Human safety should come first and foremost during a dogfight – even if your dog has never bitten you. The dog can mistake you for the other dog very easily and if your dog is injured, they might be more likely to display aggressive behavior when injured. Use caution when handling any injured animals.

3. Consider if your dog is suitable for the dog park environment.

Some dogs don’t thrive in the dog park environment, even if they are friendly with other dogs in their backyard. The best way to think about this is that some humans enjoy a nice, quiet lunch with a couple of friends, but they dislike big, loud parties. The dog park is the big, loud party.

It is fine for dogs to have preferences and we should consider what our dog likes and dislikes. The dog park is supposed to be a fun experience for the dogs, and if your dog doesn’t enjoy it, please leave them at home.

Use caution when considering bringing the following types of dogs to the park; fearful or shy dogs, human or dog aggressive dogs, resource guarders (dogs that growl or bite over food, toys, water, people, or locations), dogs with bite histories, “dog selective” dogs, “human selective” dogs, reactive dogs, intact males or in heat females, puppies, and/or sick or injured dogs.

4. Know when to break up playtime and give your dog a break.

Even at home with my family dogs, I allow my dogs a break from the play about every ten minutes. This tip is especially important if the dogs aren’t taking breaks themselves. As the dogs get tired, they tend to start asking the other dog for a break, but some dogs can be pushy and will not listen to their signals to stop. These moments are when dogs suddenly break out into fights for “no reason.” There is almost always a reason.

Removing your dog from the dog park while they are still having fun and giving them a break is necessary. You want to your dog to be begging to go back and play with their friends – not so tired that they are begging you to put them in the car.

5. Pay attention at all times.

If you don’t follow any of the other tips, follow this one. Put your cell phone down and watch your dog at all times. Be respectful of the other dog owners around you by keeping your dog under control and making sure they aren’t bullying other dogs in the park. It is important to understand your dog’s body language so; you can figure out what is happening. Dr. Sophia Yin has several articles on her website about reading body language to help you.