Sizing Up the Dog Park

Dog parks offer our pets a confined area where they can run and benefit from aerobic exercise. The parks can also provide a community pet advocacy platform and a group to share pet-related resources. Pay several visits to the dog parks without your dog. Observe the groups – dogs and humans – to assess whether you and your dog should participate. With the dog’s best interest in mind, here are factors to consider when using dog parks.
In a free-roaming environment, such as a dog park, safety risks increase. Some large dogs have lovely play styles and modify activities for their little friends, but others do not. Small dogs can quickly become overwhelmed and move into defensive mode. Larger dogs can move into predatory drift, which is dangerous.
Ideally, there should be a bench or two for senior citizen dog owners. Lots of seating encourages human visitors to sit and relax, read, talk on the phone or text, etc… All of these distracted activities take attention away from the dogs and their unfolding play action. A safe dog park play group is more likely when owners are on their feet most of the time, remaining close to their dogs to interrupt play, if necessary. Seating can also imply a lengthy stay. It’s unwise to overstay one’s welcome at the dog park. A playtime of 20-30 minutes is more than enough for most dogs. Beyond that, the risk for unsafe play increases with the dog’s arousal level. Play certainly fits the bill as a high arousal activity.
The dog park is open season, with many breeds, temperaments, and play styles. It’s the rare dog that truly enjoys the company of every other dog. (Do you know any humans who truly want the company of every random human?) It is worth a preview of the crowd your dog is likely to find himself in. You can scope out – dog less – who is there when you intend to go. Why go if your dog won’t have fun? After a handful of times, assess the fun factor. Don’t mistake running around mindlessly with having fun. This is often a fear response. If your dog isn’t interacting with any other dog and has no interest in playing ball or Frisbee with you, do him a favor.  Leave the park and find a different activity. Many dogs prefer the company of humans, and that is OK!
A dog park should be an ample size for dogs to run and play, but not so big that you can’t attend promptly to her while she’s playing. Even at some distance, you can get your dog back to you with a reliable recall. To ensure safety, move around with your dog’s play group. Monitor chase games. A large space allows for faster action and higher risk. A low risk chase game usually presents with ears back on the “chaser” and little, if any, physical contact when the running stops.
Even though your dog has a group of furry, four-legged playmates, his most valuable resource – and FUN playmate – should be you.
Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel CPDT-KA, 2015 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC