Saturday, March 5, 2011

Dog Park Etiquette

Whether you go to a park that warmly invites dogs or to one that merely tolerates their presence, there are a few points of etiquette that you and your dog should follow.

A Park of Their Own?

The first point of etiquette is: are dogs allowed? As you approach that beautiful sea of green grass, you may confront a harsh reality: the ugly sign prohibiting dogs in the park.

Law-abiding person that you are, you turn away. To do otherwise could earn you a fine. But now what? With more than 700 dog parks scattered throughout the United States, this may mean a bit of a drive. But as more communities enact leash laws, dog parks are increasing in number.

For the uninitiated, a dog park is generally defined as a park where dogs and owners are encouraged to visit and has amenities designed to make the visit more pleasant. Some parks are enclosed and some are not.

Your dog should be fully vaccinated before taking him to any park. Preferably the dog should be spayed or neutered.

Doggie Etiquette

On leash or off? Believe it or not, many dog parks request dogs to be off leash, unless dog and owner are specifically traveling from one end of the park to the other. According to officials, leashed dogs are intimidated by off-leash dogs; leashed, a dog knows he does not have the same freedom of movement and tends to react defensively or fearfully. You may want to let him run around with the leash still attached, so you can grab him at a greater distance, if need be.

At a general park, however, keep your dog on a leash. Not everyone is dog-friendly, but everyone does have the right to enjoy the park unmolested.

Dog fights. Because they are on "neutral territory" in a park, dogs have less to fight about. Even territorial dogs become friendlier when off their home turf. However, fights do occur occasionally. Dogs that have the most fun at parks are those that have been well socialized at an early age.

Health issues. It is extremely important for your dog to have all of his vaccinations up to date (rabies, parvo and distemper, for instance). Likewise, do not bring your dog if he's not feeling well. He may get even more sick or make another dog ill.

Human Etiquette

Overly friendly dogs. Think of your dog's behavior as a reflection on your own manners. Is it polite to let a child run up to strangers and kiss them repeatedly? Well, it is not polite to let your dog run up to other people uninvited and plant sloppy kisses on them either. This is a major complaint at dog parks. Your puppy may be just the cutest bundle of love on the planet, but he is best reserved for people who can appreciate him, i.e. you and your family.

Scoop the poop. The biggest complaints arise when nature calls. The park is NOT a convenient place to let your dog do his business. Scooping the poop is always the responsibility of the owner. Dog parks almost always make this necessary task easier by supplying bag stations and trashcans.

Sometimes people are honestly unaware of where their dogs go when they are unleashed. You should keep an eye on your dog at all times.

In parks that permit rather than invite dogs, baggies may not be available. It is even more crucial that you bring your own; if you do not you may find that a once dog-friendly park has been declared off-limits to canines.

Watch out for your children. Some dog parks will not allow children under 10. This is because young children may become frightened by a friendly dog, or could get knocked down and hurt accidentally. Check on the age requirements at the park near you. If you deem your children too small, or they are fearful of dogs, you may not want to bring them.

If you do not have a dog park within reasonable driving distance, you may want to think about starting one. You can start by getting a committed group of dog owners together and contacting your city or county representative. Stress the benefits to people as well as to dogs, and explain how the park can educate the public on responsible dog ownership. With some help and perseverance, you may establish a dog park of their own.

Good idea: I learned not to bring dog treats to a dog park as you will find that most dogs will sniff out the treats and follow you everywhere.

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