Article written by Judie Amyot and published in The Suburban, July 18, 2023
I love my local park with its playground equipment for kids to enjoy for hours on end while some parents scroll through their phones often oblivious to calls of, “Mommy (Daddy) watch me!” or “push me on the swing!” These ignored kids inevitably start screaming or crying while those whose parents engage with them are squealing with joy and laughter.
But there’s a different kind of park, the dog park, where again, the dog you brought there is ignored in favour of the mighty cell phone. Now we hear growling and barking as some off-leash dogs have gone beyond playfulness and are now engaged in a territorial battle with each other.
Etiquette is something we should all practice in all walks of life and at dog parks, our canine buddies need to behave with each other for it to be a pleasant experience for all. But we, as their guardians, are responsible for making sure they never become that kid down the block who nobody wants to play with.
Not all dogs are appropriate for dog parks or enjoy playing with others. Your dog should be in good health, fully vaccinated and enjoy the company of most other dogs. It’s also important that your pup be responsive to basic cues, such as “come, sit or leave it”, so that you can safely get their attention if necessary. Ideally, dogs should be spayed or neutered to reduce the likelihood of fights or unwanted pregnancies.
Before introducing your dog to a new dog park, visit the park on your own to observe the interactions between dogs and humans and to familiarize yourself with any bylaws and posted rules. If satisfied, arrange to take your dog the first few times during non-peak hours (mornings, weekday evenings and weekends are usually busiest) and observe the other dogs at play before entering the gate. If there are designated areas for big and small dogs, use them accordingly as their intent is to provide safety and comfort.
Bring water and plenty of poop bags and leave your toys at home. Even if your dog loves toys, other dogs may have issues with guarding behaviour. Ideally, your dog should be wearing a flat buckle collar and remain leashed until safely in the park. Remove your dog’s leash as soon as you enter the off-leash area as mixing on-leash and off-leash dogs can cause stress in the leashed dogs, which may lead to aggression.
Bring treats with you as a reward for a “sit” beside you in case your dog becomes overly excited and out of control. Dog parks are an excellent place to work on some basic cues with distractions. Be prepared to treat other dogs as soon as they realize you’ve got goodies in your pocket (the nose knows) but make sure to get the okay from their caregiver first.
It’s important that playing dogs are monitored at all times for their own safety. If you see new visitors arrive in the park, discourage your dog from “rushing” the new dog at the gate by calling him to your side and giving him a pet before sending him off to greet the newcomers. Understand your dog’s body language and watch for signs of stress, which may indicate that he has had enough.
If your dog is bullying or being bullied, leave the park. Bullying may occur when one dog or a group of dogs is persistently pursuing another dog, which if left uninterrupted, can lead to predatory behaviour and the need for a time out.
If you bring young children with you, please supervise them at all times and ensure they do not race around, wave toys and sticks, yell, scream or approach dogs they do not know. Always respect the feelings of other dog park users, follow the rules of the park and it will be a fun experience for all.