Etiquette at the Park for Your Dog

Etiquette at the Park for Your Dog

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Beckoned by the weather and that forlorn look your dog wears when he wants to go out, you take him to a local park. 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? It's time you make an effort to find the closest dog park to you. 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. (Sometimes the term is used for any park that permits – rather than explicitly invites – dogs. Usually, these parks are not designed with dogs in mind.) Some parks are enclosed and some are not. Often, a small entrance fee or membership fee is charged per dog.

Your dog should be fully vaccinated before taking him to any park. (Actually, he should be fully vaccinated even if you don't take him anywhere but the front yard.) The dog should be spayed or neutered, which means you really shouldn't take your dog to a park until he is older than 6 months (the age when the surgery is typically performed).

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. Dogwood Park, in Gainesville, Fla., for instance, requires that dogs be off-leash. According to officials, leashed dogs are intimidated by off-leash dogs; leashed, a dog knows he doesn't 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. Some dog parks have groups of people (volunteers or paid staff) that intervene to have owners leash and/or remove aggressive dogs. 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, don't bring your dog if he's not feeling well. He may get even more sick or make someone else's 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? (Hopefully, you answered no to that one.) Well, it isn't 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. As the park staff patiently explains time and again, 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 and be honest – if you see him searching for a nice spot to relieve himself, get a bag, go to the area and scoop it up.

    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 don't you may find that a once dog-friendly park has been declared off-limits to canines.

  • Watch out for your children. Some dog parks won't 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 don't 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.

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