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Discovering and participating in new activities with your pup can be one of the most fun and gratifying parts of being a pooch parent. One such popular activity is bringing your furry child (once he’s received all of the required vaccinations and has been cleared by your veterinarian to be in close contact with other dogs) to the dog park. While some feel there’s nothing better than watching your dog play, run free and interact with his adorable peers, many dog owners dislike the idea of the dog park due to valid concerns such as cleanliness and/or potential dangers. Thus, to find out whether the dog park is right for you and your dog, and if it is, to find one that’s safe and comfortable for you and your pet, it’s important to do your research in advance. Start by answering these questions to first find out if your pup is ready for the dog park and if so, how to find that “pawfect park.”
- Is your dog’s personality a fit for a highly socialized environment?
If your dog is extremely anxious, shy or aggressive, you may need to undergo some socialization training prior to bringing your dog to a dog park. Be honest with yourself (and your pooch) and be patient if he’s not ready yet. The park isn’t going anywhere, so there is plenty of time to bring him once he’s better trained. You should also make sure your dog is spayed or neutered before taking him to a park – dogs who aren’t fixed can be disruptive and potentially dangerous amongst other dogs in a group setting.
- How much exercise does your dog regularly receive?
In order to make sure your dog is a good candidate for the dog park, make sure you’re not relying on the park as his sole form of exercise. Otherwise, dogs can become overly stimulated and excited by all the new dogs and smells. Among other dangers, this pent-up energy can lead to aggression and dog fighting. Make sure your dog is getting ample opportunity for walks outside and runs in the backyard so that he arrives at the park with a healthy, but curbed amount of energy.
- What’s the best way to find a good park?
Ask for recommendations! The best people to ask will be your neighbors as well as pet service providers such as your veterinarian, trainer or groomer. Trusted reviews are crucial to finding a safe park in your area visited by well-mannered pooches and courteous pet parents. Once you have a recommendation, look up the park’s hours and rules.
- What are the must-have amenities in a dog park?
Make sure the dog park has all of the necessary conveniences including a clean water source that’s available and/or large enough to accommodate many dogs at once, several easily accessible garbage cans as well as doggy bags for waste disposal, and benches or comfortable seating in a shaded area for pet parents to congregate and watch their pooches frolic.
- What safety measures are crucial to check for?
When visiting the dog park, make sure all enclosures are free of sharp points which could cause injury. The barricades should also be tall enough to prevent larger dogs from jumping over them. On the flip side, look out for any holes or gaps in fencing that smaller dogs could squeeze through. Most dog parks will have two separate sides – one for larger dogs and one for smaller dogs as an extra safety precaution. Size does matter in this case – pay attention to the weight limits or breed rules. Clearly mixing a Chihuahua and a German Shepherd is a bad idea.
- Is the park up to your cleanliness standards?
While all dog parks require owners to clean up after their pets, not all do unfortunately. Watch for piles of fecal matter to not only avoid stepping in them yourself, but avoid your dog getting dirty or worse, ingesting and getting sick. The best ground cover for dog parks is grass or gravel. The ground should be free of burrs or sharp debris that could get stuck in your dog’s coat or injure his paws.
- How do the other owners interact at the park?
When you arrive at the dog park, pay attention to the other puppy parents and see if they’re showing awareness and taking control of their pups. Oblivious or careless owners can make the dog park a dangerous place. And once there, if you’re ever worried about the other owners’ level of responsibility, don’t hesitate to leave. In an ideal dog park environment, the owners are interacting with the dogs, following and calling them when necessary. If you see a group of owners clumped around a bunch of picnic tables engrossed in conversation with no idea what their dog(s) are doing, it’s a bad sign.
Now that you’ve done your due diligence and know what to look out for in a dog park, you can let your pooch off-leash with confidence. Be sure to capture those woofs, wags and games of fetch on video! Oh, and be prepared for your pooch to take a long snooze after the experience. Playing and running around with other pups can be tiring!