Most dogs do not want to live by man alone, but sometimes it's hard for them to find buddies unless you take them to a dog park. This segment is about 'going shopping' for the best dog park environment for you and your dog. Not all dog parks are created equal!
1. Visit the dog parks in your city or town.
Idyllic Scene, Derry Township Dog Park (PA), painting by Frank Harris
There may not be a dog park close to your home, but you don't have to bring your dog to a park every day, so if the park is a little out of your way, it still might be worth it to take your dog there once in awhile.
- Check out every park that's in your area, but leave your dog home while you are checking them out. You can bring your dog later when you've found what might be the best one for her.
- Go at the same time of day that you would normally take your dog and, if you can, on the same day of the week, so you can see the dogs that might be there when you bring your own dog. Because of work schedules, people tend to bring their dogs at other regular times and days.
Are there separate areas for small, medium, and large dogs to play? Do people tend to honor those defined areas? Are dogs playing gently or roughly? Are they ganging up on one dog? You want to see if the dogs that are there would make a good fit for your own pup.
2. Park logistics.
Many dog parks are located within larger parks, where adults and children go to walk or play ball, have barbecues, etc. If this is the case, make sure the dog area is far enough away from the other areas that the dogs will not be endangered by flying discs, balls, ashes, or kids screaming (which might be an upsetting factor for dogs).
3. Make sure there is an enclosed entry area (anteroom) separate from the play area.
There should be two fenced and gated areas in a dog park: a large play area and an entry area. The entry area is a transition for you and your pup. You can remove his leash in this “lobby” and read the mood of the dogs inside, while dogs sniff out your own dog through a fence.
When a new dog enters, do the dogs all gang up at the inner gate waiting to check out the new dog? This can be intimidating for your dog.
Dog trainer, Robin K Bennett, says the entry gate is the most dangerous part of a dog park. (If this does happen to your dog when you do bring him to the park, just go for a short walk, and bring him back when there's no "reception committee" at the gate.)
4. Make sure the grounds are clean and kept up.
What are the conditions of the dog park? Dog parks are not golf courses and they don’t tend to be groomed as such. BUT, the grounds should be free of obstructions or holes, and even-surfaced, so dogs will not be injured while running or playing. You should not see dog poop lying around. Owners should be bagging their dogs’ poop and tossing it into trash containers within the gated area of the park. Usually bags are provided at dog parks; if not, owners need to bring their own.
5. Are dogs playing with each other or with their owners?
Some folks bring their dogs to a dog park to play fetch. Others bring their dogs to socialize with other dogs. Sometimes there is a conflict between the two activities, especially when dogs don’t understand that they’re not part of a game being played by another dog and her owner. Personally, I took my dogs to the park to socialize with other dogs, so I avoiddc bringing them into a situation where there are toys that may make them or other dogs possessive and/or aggressive.
6. Are owners watching their dogs?
Dog owners playing cards would be discouraged in most dog parks, but not at this one in Dallas, TX. image
Owners are responsible for their dogs’ behaviors at a dog park. Of course, you want to be respectful and friendly to other dogs and dog owners, but if there’s a lot of conversation going on, there’s not a lot of dog watching. Dogs should be watched to make sure their behavior is appropriate, to make sure they are not eating or drinking anything nasty, and so you can pick up after them when they poop!
Hopefully, you will find your dog parks more like this one:
These are more attentive dog owners at this dog park in Australia.
7. Is food prohibited in the dog park?
At the dog parks around my home, food is prohibited: both human food and dog food (including dog treats). Each owner should be responsible for what goes into their dog’s mouth - and that should be outside of a dog park, where it can’t cause jealousy among other dogs. You can’t be too careful about what your dog eats and that includes other dog’s poop she finds on the ground, as well as food from other persons.
8. Are children allowed in the dog park?
I would get my dog out of the park asap if I saw this coming at us! (image)
Dog parks should specify that children under a certain age are not allowed into the dog area, as does the One of my bugaboos is when people bring their young kids to the dog park to interact with the dogs. A dog park is not a petting zoo. Some perfectly nice dogs don’t like children poking and pawing at them.
When young children are brought into a dog park, you should walk out with your dog. If something bad happens, the dog owner is responsible, regardless of how misbehaved a child is.
A dog park is a public place, so don’t expect your own cleanliness standards to be followed. Once you choose a special park for your dog to enjoy, keep an eye on her while she’s there. Make sure she doesn’t ‘get into’ stuff, or you might have a sick dog on your hands.
9. Is there a pond or water feature in the dog park?
Most dogs love water. If there's a pond or other body of water in the park, this will be a factor you will have to consider. No one drains or cleans these ponds and, who knows, what's living in them. If you do bring your dog to a water pond, make sure you scrub him down as soon as you can.
10. Most importantly, are the park rules accessible to everyone?
There should be a sign at the entrance of the park listing park rules. That way everyone has, or should have, the same expectations about appropriate behavior at the dog park. In reality, this may not be the case. It's the people who don't follow rules that make dog parks an annoyance, rather that a pleasure. I have no advice as to how to handle these persons; I usually just leave.
And here's a tip for you: When you're at the dog park, don’t place anything on the ground that you don't want peed on! I've even seen dogs peeing on people's backs while they're siting on the ground. (psst! My own dog was one of those dogs....)
If there are other tips you would like to add to this list, please share them with our readers below in the Comments Section.