Are off-leash dog parks safe? We interview RSPCA Dog Trainer Nicole to get her advice.
As a Professional Dog Trainer I regularly get told about the happenings that occur in dog parks and asked for advice so I thought I might share a few tips on what you should and shouldn't do so everyone has a better time at the park, especially your dog.
Let's start with some of the Don'ts...
- Don't walk your dog in a dog park on leash as it will make your dog anxious. Every other dog will go into pack mode and head straight for your dog which will be completely defenseless.
- Don't bring your dog into a dog park and ignore it. Engage with the dog instead of drinking coffee and texting on your phone. Dog parks can be a high risk place for dog fights to break out. You need to be close by them and constantly monitor them to step in if necessary.
3. Don't bring your dog to the dog park if it is unwell or has a skin disease. If the dog is in the recovering phase, then it might pass it on to other dogs as all dogs lick and slobber over each other.
4. Don't bring your dog to the dog park if it is on heat. This is against most Council laws. Dogs noses are very sensitive and the other dogs will be able to tell, so attemtps at mating, dominance and fighting behaviour is bound to occur.
5. Don't be afraid to remove your dog if another dog is behaving inappropriately! You won't know the training or history of dogs you have just met - however, if they are jumping all over your dog and your dog is not happy, take them away from the situation rather than expecting them to put up with it. If your dog is the rude one, don't expect other pet owners to be happy with your boisterous animal if you can't call them away from play. If your dog does not like to play with new dogs, why not go for a nice walk on a long leash in an on-leash park instead?
6. Don't bring toddlers to the dog park with your dog and get angry when someone else's dog accidentally pushes over your child in a fit of excitement. If you bring your toddler, then you are responsible for the well being of your child and don't get angry at an excited dog especially the smaller puppies who can reach a child’s face very easily.
7.Don't ignore your dog and let it poop all over the park and pretend not to see it. Not only is it against Council laws, its gross if you step in it. It’s everyone’s responsibility to pick up after their dog. If we don't start getting on top of this our dog parks will slowly decay and the Council will close it down because of all the complaints it gets from the public regarding dog owners lack of judgement.
8. Don't try and train your dog in the dog park as you will not have success, too many distractions and smells for the dog and you will just get frustrated that your dog is not listening to you.
Right let’s get on to the DOs...
- Do come to the dog park regularly as they need to socialize and have friends too!
- Do take your dog off leash and walk around with your dog, bring his favourite frizby or ball & make it a good play time.
- Do make sure that your dog constantly drinks water while at the park and clean out the dog water bowls if they are dirty.
- Do have a time limit at the park especially if it is hot. Think of your dog and try to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
- Do try and find another dog that your dog gets on with particularly well and see if the owner is agreeable to let the dogs have a good play together without either of you worrying over one dog hurting the other.
- Do organise play dates with other park goers so your dog will be happy and exercised. I have made some lovely friends at the dog park and the dogs get to know each other.
- Do enjoy and have a great time with your DOG!!
If you ever worry about a large group of dogs entering the park, feel free to chat to the owners as they approach the fence, and if you aren't comfortable just leave the park before they enter! When you are watching your dog play in groups, look for these kinds of signals that say the play is probably good:
Dogs taking turns chasing/being chased, taking turns jumping up, and being jumped on, soft, wiggly body language in all participants, without tenseness or stiffness. Dogs taking breaks from play to sniff and explore.
Remember, dogs are social animals, and if they have been well socialised, the dog park can be great fun! But also remember that it is your responsibility to supervise your own dog, ensure they are being polite and having a good time, and have a great "come when called" so that you can get them out of any situations you aren't comfortable with.
I hope this helps some pet owners out there and makes your dog park experience easier and enjoyable. In a few weeks I will write about different forms of playing between dogs and give suggestions on what is acceptable and what is not. Looking forward to seeing you all out there at the dog park :)
About the author Nicole is a Positive Reinforcement Dog Trainer in Moreton Bay Area.
Nicole with our team member at RSPCA Qld Santa Paws