We humans get lots of chances interact with each other. Doing the wave at the Panthers game. Cutting loose on the dance floor. Noshing potato salad and slightly charred hotdogs at backyard cookouts. Dogs jump at the chance to cut loose with their peers too, but that usually comes down to off-leash dog parks and doggie day care facilities. If all goes well, fun adventures can be had and new friends will be made at the dog park. But like a little league playoff game or a dinner party with friends, good manners and courtesy can mean the difference between a grand slam and a strike out.
Is Your Dog Up for It?
Churning clouds of dust trail a galloping herd that suddenly banks, bursting with raw power in a new direction. No this isn’t the Belmont Stakes or a round up scene from the ‘Rifleman’, it’s your local dog park on Saturday morning. It can be a bustling place, and on a busy day, you can expect jubilant barking, slobbery tongues, and lots and lots of running. Is your dog ready for this kind physical activity, or have long afternoons on the couch watching Animal Planet left her a little soft? Before you go to the park, make an appointment with your veterinarian to be sure your dog is healthy enough for the action.
Consider Your Dog’s Temperament
Would you describe your dog as slightly more approachable than Santa Claus, or more like Tony Soprano on a bad day? Somewhere in between most likely, and that’s a wide range. Think of the dog park like a trip to the mall, where you’re sure to encounter all sorts. Some dainty and a little shy. Some stocky and gruff. Some cute and a little flirty. Does your dog have a history of conflict with a specific breed? At a dog park, you’ll meet all manner of sizes, ages, levels of socialization, and training. If your dog responds negatively or is uncomfortable in certain situations, have a plan B if it doesn’t go well.
Spay/Neuter Your Dog
Altering your pet is a smart move whether or not you ever plan on going to a dog park. Instead of plotting when to go for the throat, neutered males will get along like the Brady Bunch. Spayed females will avoid the drama and risk that being in heat is certain to invite, not to mention a litter of unwanted puppies. Think your cousin in Indiana has a lot of kids? Consider that one unaltered female and her offspring can produce 67,000 puppies in just six years. Now that’s procreation.
Leave Puppies at Home
The dog park can be rowdier than a Daytona biker bar even for full grown dogs, but for puppies under four months it can be more like Gettysburg. Puppies can be intimidated or even trampled by larger dogs, and they’re at greater risk because they haven’t had all of their vaccinations. Many dog parks have a separate area for puppies and smaller dogs, but even for large breed puppies like Great Danes that can seem full grown and ready for the big league, it’s best to wait until they’re at least four months old to bring them to the dog park.
Keep up on Vaccinations
Imagine sending your kindergartner into a classroom without a measles vaccination. That would be irresponsible, and you certainly wouldn’t appreciate it if other parents did so. Dogs don’t have to worry about mumps or rubella, but diseases like parvovirus and canine distemper are easily spread at dog parks. Some off-leash dog parks have a permit process that requires proof of vaccinations, but many don’t, including the municipal off leash dog parks in Mecklenburg County. It’s smart to keep both your dog and others safe, by making sure your dog’s vaccinations are current before you go to the dog park.
Clean Up After Your Dog
You’re never going to look cool picking up a steaming pile of poo with a plastic baggie. It’s impossible, like time travel in a 1986 Delorean. But you look even less cool when you glance at your phone and walk away as soon as your Rottweiler squats to deposit what might be the park’s largest pile on record. Most dog parks have clean-up mitt stations placed throughout, and if they don’t, bring your own baggies. Do the right thing and clean up after your pet. If everyone did, you’d never again have to look around for just the right sized stick to scrape out the tread on those new sneakers.
Without refs, a Sunday football game would look more like a contest involving swords and spears in a Roman Coliseum. Hockey would be about as family friendly as a bare-knuckle street fight in a Dublin alleyway. Some dog parks have paid supervisors on site to regulate play, but most don’t. When that’s the case, it’s up to you and other owners to break up aggressive pack behavior and bullying, even if it means taking your own dog out of the park.
If you’d feel more comfortable socializing your dog in a supervised setting, consider a doggie day care facility like Carolina Critter Sitters that has a huge indoor play area, and a large outdoor activity area with real grass. Ask your dog to wag if she prefers real grass over artificial turf, and watch her clear the coffee table. And sure, you might be slogging through another boring sales meeting instead of throwing Frisbee together at the dog park, but you’ll know she and her friends are having a blast, chaperoned by professional staff.
Don’t Bring Food
While slightly less crazy than leaving a pulled pork sandwich on your dashboard in Yosemite, bringing food to the dog park isn’t much better. And though the risk of having the roof of your new SUV peeled back like foil packaging is lower, bringing food to a dog park – even treats intended for training rewards– can cause trouble. Your dog might understand the concept of sharing but not all dogs do, and bringing food into a dog park can provoke a fight, and distract dogs from the real reason they’re there – to play and have fun!