The sun is out, the birds are chirping, and we’re hoping Spring is here to stay. After March coming in like a lion and going out…like a lion, and steady April showers, we’re excited to get out into the sunshine. If you haven’t checked the weather recently, they’re calling for a beautiful day tomorrow with a high of almost 80! If you and your pup come down with a case of spring fever you won’t be alone, and like others, you might be heading to the dog park.
Dog parks are great places for dogs to socialize, explore, and exercise with each other. We love hearing stories about daycare dogs who are excited to see each other during a trip to the dog park. However, part of visiting the dog park is understanding that since it is public, there are some things that are going to be out of your control. We want to share some tips on keeping the dog park a safe and fun experience for you and your pup.
This might seem like an obvious question to ask yourself, but there are often dogs who visit the dog park who aren’t a great fit.
Not every dog is a good fit for an open play environment. Although all of us would love to see our dogs romp around and exhaust themselves with friends, some dogs would be better off exploring on a walk or hike. Looking for a good place to hike around the Valley? Check out our suggestions here. I want to stress, just because a dog isn’t a good fit for an open playgroup/dog park, it does not mean they are a ‘bad’ dog. There are a variety of reasons why some dogs aren’t a good fit for the dog park.
For example, although young dogs usually enjoy playing with their peers, their preference may change as they age. It’s not abnormal for an adult dog to no longer be fond of interacting with strange dogs. Likening it to people, kids usually have no qualms about running onto the playground and making friends with kids they’ve never met while adults usually grow to be not at all interested in that amount of interaction with people they don’t know. If you’re the type of person that would hate to be dropped into the middle of a party where you don’t know anyone, you can sympathize with dogs who aren’t fond of the dog park/daycare. Take into account your dog’s body language. Are their movements loose, wiggly, and relaxed when they interact with other dogs? Nervous behavior such as shying away from others, flattened ears, or conversely, stiff body posture and over-stimulation are indications that the dog park is a stressor for your dog.
In addition to enjoying their time at the dog park, good candidates for an open play environment should be well-trained and socialized, with no guarding issues. If your dog loves the dog park, but overwhelms or intimidates the other dogs, or doesn’t share with others, the public dog park is not the best place for them. A private play date with a well-matched playmate (without toys if they don’t share with others) might be a better fit. A note to remember: just like people, dogs can have good and bad days. If your dog is having an off day and isn’t acting appropriately or enjoying the park, don’t force it. Be proactive and just try a walk instead. There is always another day for the dog park.
So, your dog is a great fit for the park? That’s awesome! Before you enter, make sure that the park is an equally good fit for your dog.
Are the dogs at the park good play matches for your dog?
Before entering, observe who is playing at the park. Do you think your dog would mesh well with these dogs? If there is a group of very playful small dogs and you have a large dog who may accidentally injure them, they may not be a good fit. Keep in mind the opposite scenario as well. Some parks are separated into sections by size to help ensure good play matches. Still, be sure to scope it out. If you don’t feel comfortable with what you see, there is always another day for the dog park, maybe try going on a walk and seeing if the group changes up after your walk.
How is my dog reacting to the dog park today?
Set your dog up for success. If your dog is bouncing and bursting with energy, think about going on a walk first to dispel some of this over-stimulation. It’s great that they are so excited to meet new friends and play, but making sure they greet dogs appropriately is important and will set the tone for the play session. A dog that could be a wonderful match could easily be put off by being bombarded by an overly excited greeting. Also note how your dog reacts as you approach the park. If they’re giving you any indication that they may act inappropriately (extreme pulling, quiet growling, etc.) they might be overstimulated. It could even just be a specific dog that for some reason, they don’t have a good feeling about. Again, pay attention to what signals they’re communicating to you.
One thing we love about daycare at CNL is that we have dog handlers who are right there next to the dogs in the playrooms and yards at all times. As dog handlers at Cold Nose Lodge, we’re trained professionals with continuing education. You can read more about our staff training here. We not only supervise, but facilitate positive interaction among the dogs, guiding the group through activities, and using techniques like redirection to keep the play healthy and happy.
The dog park is the perfect test for your dog’s training skills. Use the commands you’ve practiced to guide your dog to what they should be doing. Recall and the commands “come” and “leave it” are especially useful to have mastered for an open play environment. Interested in a training class to prepare your dog for situations like the dog park? Check out what we have to offer here.
Although you may not be able to be as involved in supervising play as we are at daycare, be vigilant. You may be encouraged by other owners to just let dogs “work it out,” but do not. There is no guarantee that the dogs won’t decide that “working it out” means fighting. Even socialized, well-trained dogs have limits and you can’t blame them for being defensive when threatened. On the other hand, an overly fearful dog can unfortunately be a target for others, especially if they are making prey-like vocalizations. In short: If your dog seems uncomfortable at any time or they are making another dog uncomfortable, it’s important that you remove them from the park. Even if your dog isn’t hurting anyone, if they are making others uncomfortable, you’re rewarding and reinforcing this behavior by allowing them to stay.
***If you have a small dog you need to remove, DO NOT pick them up. Picking them up makes them more vulnerable and invites injuries like de-gloving. If they won’t come when called, leash them and walk them out of the park.***
If the worst does happen, and your dog gets into a fight, using an air horn, making another loud noise, or throwing water on the dogs sometimes can snap them out of it. If you have to intervene, keep hands away from the dogs mouths, removing them from their back ends. Here is to hoping you never, ever have to do this. If you follow all safety precautions, you should never have to.
Make sure your dog is prepared for a visit to the dog park by being up to date on all vaccinations. Since there is no guarantee that the other dogs are vaccinated, it’s extremely important that your dog is protected. The Bordetella vaccination can help you to protect your dog against “Kennel Cough,” however there will still be a risk of contracting other upper respiratory infections, illnesses, and parasites, especially because the large grassy area isn’t disinfected. This is compounded by the fact that there is also no guarantee that previous owners have removed all of their dog’s waste. Please make sure you remove all of your dog’s waste. Also, keep your pup hydrated. Bringing your own bowl and water is a great extra step to limiting exposure to viruses, infections, and parasites like Giardia.
If you’d like your dog to reap all the benefits of the dog park in a supervised, guided playgroup, bring your dog in for a fun-filled day of daycare at Cold Nose Lodge. With 10 hours of play available each day, they’re sure to go home happy and tired. In the coming warm months, dogs enjoy fun in the sun with pools and sprinklers outside, and refuge from the heat when needed in our temperature controlled-indoor facility. If your dog has never been to daycare at Cold Nose Lodge before, give us a call at (610) 965-3647, we would love to schedule an introduction.