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Dog Park Etiquette

Welcome to the dog park!

 

Your dog is going to love it here! No leash laws are enforced. We have a large fenced in areas for your dog to run around and roll in the dirt in equal measure! I promise you there will be an endless stream of dogs for your canine family member to socialize with.  

 

Off leash dog parks are great but there are plenty of ins and outs that should be respected. I have a thirteen pound mutt named Frodo (pictured above). I am lucky enough to work at a place where I can bring him to the office every day. I am also lucky enough to have the gorgeous Alimagnet Dog Park five blocks from my work location.

 

I bring Frodo to the dog park a lot. As much as three times a day. Usually we get in a fifteen minute visit before work, a thirty minute visit on my lunch break and a thirty to forty five minute visit after work. Three times a day, five days a week (as well as a time or two on the weekends). Multiply that by the two years my little furry companion and I have hung out together. That, my friend, is a great many trips to the dog park (almost two thousand).  

 

Which is why I have a lot to say about the topic. I see doggie malfeasance multiple times per week and it’s usually because the owner has done something dumb. I do not claim to be a Dog Whisperer but because of my extensive dog park visits I have a lot of common sense canine wisdom to offer. Most of it based on personal observation and some based on a copious amount of internet research. With that in mind, here are some doggie dos and don’ts while you and your canine companions visit off leash dog parks.

 

Do Not Bring Treats Into An Off Leash Dog Park!

 

Dogs like to know their place in the world. They like to know who is in charge, and if they are not the dog in charge it makes them comfortable to know their place in the doggie hierarchy. And this is important because the dogs that is in charge controls the resources.

 

At least that’s how it plays out in doggie world. Alpha dogs control the resources and then they allow dogs below them to partake of their resources. It’s the way of dog.

 

And now you’ve brought treats into the dog park. And it’s for selfish reasons -- you want the dogs to like you! Well, they will. They will swarm you. Dogs can smell your treat from a mile away.

 

The problem is that dogs with alpha personalities will want the treats (the resources) first. It confuses them if THEY KNOW they are the alpha dog and you are not recognizing it. And so you pass treats out willy-nilly to all the dogs you can reach. And so it goes -- Alpha Dog wants the treat and you give it to another dog. Alpha dog thinks, “The was MY treat!” This is a recipe for an instant dog fight.

This is an extreme example, it’s true. The overwhelming majority of the time you bring treats to the dog park, nothing bad will happen. Dogs will eat the treats, dogs will like you. But still, I’ve seen plenty of dogs fights over treats.

 

So there’s just no great reason to bring them to the dog park.

 

Pay Attention To Your Dog! All! The! Time!

 

Dogs are dogs. They don’t make good or bad decisions. They make dog decisions. You can not take your dog to an off leash park and then read a book, check your text messages or flirt with girls for twenty minutes all the while completely ignoring your dog and (more importantly) your dog’s behavior.

 

Your dog might be too aggressive. Your dog might be too submissive. Your dog might be getting bullied and is desperately giving you signals for help. Or, your dog might be the bully. But how would you know unless you pay attention

 

An off leash dog park is NOT a place where you can let you dog run wild with zero human supervision. You, the human, must monitor your dog at all times to watch for over aggressive or over submissive behavior. That’s one of your prime responsibilities as a dog owner.

 

If you notice “bad” behavior -- separate your dog immediately from the situation, calm your dog down and try again. Remember that young dogs will have a much easier time adapting to canine socialization than older dogs. Older rescue dogs come with canine baggage and a lot of times have been abused. So, while it’s true that dogs are social animals, some have been raised poorly and might not be able to handle an off leash park. But in order for you to know if your dog is right for the park, you have to pay attention to your canine, all the time.

 

So pay attention. And while you are paying attention ...

 

Pick Up Your Dog’s Poop. No, Seriously. Like - Every Single Time!

 

If you are not paying attention to your dog you will not notice when it poops. And it’s your responsibility to pick up after your dog.

 

And if you don’t want to pick up after your dog then don’t go to a dog park.

 

Ever.

 

Watch Out For Dog Obsession.

 

I didn’t even know this was a thing until I started attending dog parks. Dogs can get obsessed with another dog. Like stalker, rapey obsessed.

 

I see it all the time. Usually the obsession happens with a dog smaller than they. Frodo, for some reason, gets easily obsessed with five to eight pound fluffy yorkies and / or fluffy tiny poodles. And when Frodo is obsessed with a tiny, fluffy pooch, Frodo will not leave that poor dog alone! Frodo will ignore all other stimuli and follow that fluffy dog and sniff them and chase them and wrestle them and nip play with them and chew on their ears and try to hump dominate them at all times. Now I know the signs to watch for and I pull him away immediately when I see the obsession set it. But for a good long while I deluded myself into thinking, “They’re just playing.”

 

Obsessive dog behavior is not healthy dog play. Dog obsession will not stop unless you, the human, does something about it. If your dog exhibits obsession it’s best to pull your dog out of the situation and / or leash your canine and go somewhere else for a while.

 

What To Do In the Face of Aggressive Dog Behavior

 

I see aggressive dog behavior all the time. Some of it is innocent -- an overly energetic dog plays too hard and accidentally hurts another dog. I have seen actual aggressive dogs -- a white German Shepherd ran through the dog park and attacked three or four small dogs while the owner frantically chased after the Shepherd. But exceptionally bad experiences, such as the German Shepherd one, are very rare.

 

If dogs exhibit aggressive behavior -- leash them and / or remove them from the area immediately. Within thirty seconds your dog will be back to normal. Aggressive dog behavior can lead to dog fights. And dog fights suck. To be honest, they don’t happen often and when they do it’s usually posturing and not an actually bloody fight.

 

Here is a video showing a dog park scuffle. As the video says, “Sounds bad. Looks bad. No dog was actually harmed.” Most dog fights aren’t actual fights, per se. They are more like dogs jostling for position. That being said, you can see in the video that one dog is standing on top of the other dog for like ten seconds as both dogs stare into each others faces. The owners, frankly, should have separated those dogs immediately. And it looks as if one of the owners was trying to do just that BUT was one second too late and the dog fight occurred.

 

Again, if you see aggressive dog behavior remove your dog from the situation immediately before it leads to something worse.

 

And, of course, if your dog was the attacked the other dog owner will still blame your dog for being aggressive.

 

And that’s because …

 

Dog Owners Are Crazy People!

 

It’s true. The only people crazier are parents blindly defending their children (when it is obvious their child is in the wrong). Dog owners are like that.

 

Dog owners will insist their perfect, loving, charming, beautiful, kind, mellow [Dog Breed Name Here] would never, ever cause another living creature any harm. Ever. And if their perfect dog happens to act aggressive towards your dog -- the owner will, one hundred percent of the time -- blame your dog.  

 

If you happen to notice that your dog is getting into a lot of fights -- it’s probably not the fault of all the other dogs at the park. It’s probably -- your dog! So you should do something about that up to and including, not taking your dog to an off leash park.

 

Off leash dog parks are not for every canine. Some dogs, usually older rescue dogs are too scared, submissive or over protective. These poor doggies will run havoc at an off leash park.

 

Know your dog and act appropriately. The off leash dog park might not be for you. I have a friend who has the sweetest (fifty pound) rescue dog you can imagine. That dog LOOOOVES people. That dog, also, HAAAAAATES other dogs. My friend found out early on that his loving canine should not ever, ever, ever go to an off leash dog park.

 

It would be bad.

 

And to be honest, that’s kind of the hard part. Recognizing that your dog has issues. Yes, dogs are animals. But they are animals capable of a wide range of emotions and feelings.  It’s up to you, the human, to pay attention to your dog, know its body language, clean up after your pup and to try not act like a crazy person who lives in dog aggression denial. 

 

And now, if you'll excuse me, I must away and take Frodo to the dog park!

 

 

 

 

Published in News & Information