How do you know when a dog is ready for the dog park?
As in, how do you know the dog won’t fight with other dogs?
I don’t really know how to answer that question. I’m not really a dog park person. I don’t use dog parks or dog beaches as the primary way to exercise my dog. Instead, dog parks are fun places to visit every now and then.
But besides my own dog, I have taken a few clients from my dog sitting business to the dog park. So I have some unofficial rules I use to determine if the dog park is a good idea for each particular dog. These are the same questions I ask of my own dog or any dogs I’m fostering.
Before I take a dog to the dog park, I ask myself:
- Have I known this dog for at least three months?
- Have I seen him interact with different types of dogs?
- Is he friendly towards other dogs while on a leash?
- Does he seem relaxed and comfortable around other dogs?
- If a fight broke out, do I think this dog would avoid the fight?
- Does this dog pay attention to me and come when called?
- Does this dog share his toys?
- Would I trust this dog around my cats?
Very few dogs meet the above criteria, actually.
Personally, I would not take a dog to the dog park if I could not answer yes to all of the above questions. I tend to use caution and avoid dog parks unless I’m dealing with a well-mannered, predictable dog. If I answer no to one of the questions, it doesn’t mean the dog should never visit the dog park. It just means we have some work to do first.
Once I decide the dog is ready to visit the dog park, I take the dog for at least a 20-minute walk (probably much longer) right before heading to the park. Usually I do this from the parking lot of the dog park, and we visit during a quiet time such as a Monday morning when there will be fewer dogs around.
Once we’re in the dog park, I would call my dog to me whenever a new dog arrives in order to give the new dog some space and time to adjust to the new surroundings. Gates and other barriers can bring out territorial instincts in some dogs, especially in an exciting environment with unfamiliar dogs coming and going.
Beyond that, here are my dog park reminders:
10 things to remember at the dog park
1. Just because a dog gets along with one dog doesn’t mean he’ll get along with all dogs.
2. Just because a dog fights with one dog doesn’t mean he’ll fight with all dogs.
3. Keeping the excitement level down goes a long way.
4. Tense owners standing around make the dogs tense.
5. If your dog is too rough or playful for another dog, go and get your dog so the other dog doesn’t have to resort to a growl or a bite. Don’t be offended if the other owner scolds your dog away. That was your job, and you failed to do it.
6. Ask a trainer to join you at the dog park if you feel like you need some help interpreting your dog’s behavior. Even if you know a lot about dogs, it’s good to get another (unbiased) opinion. We all think our dogs are perfect, and they’re not. 🙂
7. Minor scuffles are usually no big deal. Even fights are usually just noise and no blood.
8. If your dog keeps humping (or getting humped!), intervene. In my opinion, this behavior is a sign of too much excitement. Too much excitement at a dog park is what often leads to fights.
9. Every single person in the park has a different idea of what is and is not acceptable from the dogs and each other. No one is really right. Go with the flow, but keep your dog safe.
10. Every single person at the park thinks the problem is someone else’s dog.
How do the rest of you decide when a dog is ready to visit the dog park?