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It used to be that playgrounds were only for kids. Thankfully for your dog, those days are over.
Dog parks represent one of the fast-growing segments of city recreation services within the U.S. today. Millennials are repopulating urban areas in record numbers, and by some estimates there are now more American households with dogs than with kids. Consequently, the demand for dog parks has soared in recent years.
These playgrounds for dogs provide an excellent alternative to traditional forms of dog exercise. By letting your dog off the leash in a controlled, supervised setting, your canine can receive the same level of exercise while also being socialized and having a great deal of fun.
The modern dog park is hardly a simple enclosed piece of grass. While the breadth and quality of features varies considerably, many dog parks now include double-gated entry and exit areas, shade for hot days, benches for humans, water access, and tools for waste cleanup. Some dog parks even furnish canines with obstacle courses and other sources of stimulation.
But how can you be assured your local dog park proves safe and enjoyable for your canine? Read on for our tips.
1. Make Sure Your Dog is Prepared to Visit the Dog Park
Before venturing to the dog park, there are various factors and precautions you should consider for the well-being of both your own canine and his companions within the park.
As much as you’d love to bring your 10-week-old puppy to the dog park, you simply cannot. Not only are puppies tiny in stature, but they also lack the necessary vaccinations to be exposed to other dogs in this setting. Most puppies are not fully immunized until approximately 16 weeks of age.
Spayed and neutered dogs are less aggressive than their reproductive-capable counterparts. Accordingly, it may be worthwhile to delay visiting the dog park until your dog has been spayed or neutered. At the very least, leave dogs in heat at home.
Provided your local dog park does not furnish drinking water and cleanup tools, you will need to bring these items with you. It also doesn’t hurt to keep a first-aid kit in your car.
2. Ease Your Dog into the Dog Park Environment
While a dog park ultimately proves exciting and enjoyable for most dogs, you should proceed cautiously until you know how your dog will respond to this type of atmosphere. The first visit to a dog park may serve as a culture shock for a timid canine, especially if he previously hasn’t been exposed to many other dogs.
Avoid peak hours for your initial visit to the dog park, as this will make it easier for your pooch to adjust to this circus-like environment. Peak hours at most dog parks tend to be on weekends, as well as before and after work on weekdays.
Your first visit to the dog park should be kept short (perhaps only 20 minutes), and you can gradually increase the duration of your dog-park experiences as your canine develops a comfort level.
3. Ensure Your Dog Follows the Code of Conduct
Dog parks are generally reserved for well-behaved dogs who are not prone to fighting. After all, many dog parks have a rule requiring all dogs to be unleashed within the park for safety purposes. If your pooch’s behavior is not yet suitable for a dog park, you should delay your visit until you conduct obedience training.
Because dog parks represent neutral territory, dog fighting is less common in this setting. Still, fighting does occur and your dog must not exhibit a level of aggression toward fellow park-goers. It may seem like a fine line between high-energy playfulness and aggression, but you must be able to recognize the difference in your dog.
Dogs who bark incessantly may be tolerated at some dog parks but less tolerated at others. Develop a strong grasp of the rules and dynamics pertaining to your particular dog park.
4. Follow Owner Etiquette
Owners, too, must behave responsibly while at the dog park. First and foremost, make sure to provide constant supervision for your dog, especially if small dogs or children are present. Contrary to the beliefs of some, the dog park is NOT a place to drop off your dog while you run errands.
Should your dog be acting aggressively or otherwise misbehaving at the dog park, it’s the owner’s responsibility to recognize this and know when it’s time to leave – even if your visit has been short-lived.
Furthermore, a dog owner is responsible for cleaning up after his dog. Rather than assume a dog park will furnish items, bring the necessary supplies to scoop and dispose of your dog’s waste.
5. Dog Parks Are Not for Everyone
Although many dogs and owners find delight in dog parks, this is not the case for everyone. It’s important to be aware of the risks involved with taking your canine to the dog park prior to setting foot there:
- Dog bites: Not all dogs are “nice” and play well with others. Dog attacks and bites can happen, so you must prepare for this possibility.
- Parasites: Fleas and ticks can live on dogs, fall into the grass of the dog park and jump on your dog.
- Kennel cough: This infectious virus has become associated with areas where many dogs are confined to a small space.
- Rabies: Make sure your dog has received the necessary vaccinations prior to entering a dog park.
6. All Dog Parks Are Not Created Equal
As more and more dog parks open their fence gates each year, you can become more selective as a dog owner. Recognize the wide variety of dog parks at your disposal. While fancier dog parks charge an admission or membership fee, others are free-of-charge and funded by city taxpayers or non-profit organizations.
Some of the modern amenities found at top-of-the-line dog parks prove better than those at regular parks. These include showers, pools, mist cooling stations, obstacle courses, and playgrounds.
While your dog won’t be picky and will be thrilled with any dog park you choose, it’s at least worth noting that driving a few extra minutes to visit a superior dog park may prove worthwhile.
7. Consider Throwing a Pooch Party at the Dog Park
Dog parks represent a popular party site. There are few better ways to bring together your dog’s “friends” for some socialization and fun. Once you’re researched the rules and regulations governing your local dog park, organize a get-together for canines there. You can even throw your dog a birthday party.
Resources for Dog Parks
Want more useful advice regarding taking your pooch to a dog park? Check out our featured articles:
- Dogs Play at the Park
- Etiquette at the Park for Your Dog
- The Dark Side of Dog Parks – Why Dog Parks May Not Be Your Dog’s Friend
- The 2006 Top Dog Parks
- Parties for Pooches