Keeping Your Dog Polite at the Dog Park

Dog owners love to take their pets to the park to romp and interact with their canine buddies. But, just like with people parks, dog parks are happier places for all whenever visitors follow basic rules of etiquette.
In today's hectic, business-oriented society, where people spend long periods of time away from home, often, dogs get neglected and left to fend for themselves in their owners' fenced-in backyards or inside the house or apartment. Not only is it bad for a dog's personality and emotional health to be cooped up alone for very long periods of time, it can also have a negative impact on their physical health if they don't get enough exercise. Not to mention the fact that dogs can easily become destructive if they are left alone so long that they become bored and need something to do.

The solution to all of these problems is to get your dog out of the house for some exercise and interaction with other people and animals, and there's no better place to do this than at a dog park. Taking your dog for a walk every day does offer sunshine, fresh air, and exercise, but a dog park also offers socialization and more intensive physical exercise with other dogs. It also gives you the opportunity to meet people who share your interest in dogs, to swap stories, compare pet ownership strategies, or discover other common interests. The dog park can be a wonderful experience for both your dog and you, as long as you follow a few simple and straightforward rules.

Leave the Park the Way You Found It
This is the number one rule of every dog park―clean up after yourself and your dog, or you risk not being allowed to come back. Clean up after your dog religiously while you are inside and outside the park boundaries. Not only is it rude to let your dog leave little piles of waste around the park, it is also unsanitary to risk the breeding of bacteria in the ground where other dogs and owners are walking and playing. Be sure to always take plastic bags, paper towels, a poop scooper, or whatever other tools you need to be sure your dog leaves the park as he found it.

Keep an Eye on Your Dog
While it isn't necessary for you to watch your dog closely every minute that you're at the park, it is expected for you to stay in the park the entire time he's there. Leaving your dog alone in the park not only can make other owners feel uneasy, it can also result in your dog being harmed by another dog or taken out of the park without your knowledge. Even though these parks are enclosed by fences, you should never consider them safe places for you to just drop your dog off.

Create and Maintain a 'Park Culture'
In the best dog parks, owners get to know one another and create a community where they can rely on each other to keep the peace and maintain a sense of camaraderie and social interaction for both dogs and humans. If a thriving dog park culture exists, regular visitors can work together to monitor the behavior of animals and people, educate visitors new to the park, and help keep problems to a minimum. Be sure you have all the tools and implements you need when you come to the park―towels, treats, leash, and anything you may need. Continually having to borrow from other visitors leaves a bad impression.

Be Sure Your Dog is a Good Fit
Not every dog is a good candidate for going to a dog park. If your dog has a serious behavior problem or is uncomfortable around other dogs or people, then you may want to avoid taking him there unless you invest in obedience classes or other training strategies. Dogs with issues such as these should be socialized more carefully and intentionally, than in the unstructured environment of a dog park. To have a good experience and be fair to others visiting the park, your dog should be social and reasonably confident―not aggressive―and obedient to at least basic commands. If your dog will not come when called, you may be inviting problems by taking him to a place where it may be difficult to get control if necessary. Dogs who bark continuously or aggressively are not welcome at dog parks, both for the relaxation of other visitors as well as people who live nearby.

Do Not Take Your Dog to the Park if He is Sick
Communicable diseases or parasites are problematic because they can infect other animals, but chronic painful conditions such as arthritis or hip dysplasia can make a dog aggressive or reactive to other dogs if they are hurt or frightened. So keep this in mind too.

Make a Reconnaissance Trip Beforehand
Before you take your dog to the park for the first time, stop by alone for a few minutes to check out the surroundings and get a feel of the culture there. For the first time, try to go at a non-peak usage time, so both of you can get acquainted with the area without being stressed out and distracted by other animals and people.

Appropriate Human Behavior is Also Important
Most parks don't have rules against bringing in toys, but remember that you may cause a fight between animals or owners if you bring in any toy that flies, such as a Frisbee. Keep in mind that dogs are like children, and fighting over a toy can only cause problems or even injuries. Don't bring small children or young puppies to the park, because you have no idea what to expect from the other dogs that will be there. If someone comes to you with a complaint about your dog, don't rush to judgment immediately and don't be instantly defensive. Listen to the complaint, apologize if you believe your dog has been offensive, and be willing to leave if necessary. If you have a problem with someone else's dog, be polite and respectful when approaching the owner to discuss the problem. Never discipline another person's animal. If you must break up a fight between dogs, be careful and end use whatever means necessary, but never try to punish another dog. If another dog's behavior is unacceptable to you, the best thing to do is remove your own dog from the park, rather than trying to correct the problem being caused by another dog.

Dog parks can be a godsend to people who need a place to give their dog some freedom, while still being able to control them. They can be a perfect spot for giving your dog exercise and socialization, or they can be a nightmare where you and your dog might be traumatized or hurt. The outcome of your trip there depends primarily on you. If you understand the etiquette rules required and follow them, then the dog park will be the best place for you to take your best friend to.
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