In a dog park, dogs are off-leash so they can run free and play with other dogs. But before you take your puppy or dog to a dog park you need to make sure your dog is ready.
Everyone who brings their dogs through the gates of a dog park makes a silent pledge that their dog is safe to be around people and other dogs. This means your dogs have received all necessary vaccines and appropriate behavior training so they are not carriers of disease and not aggressive to dogs or persons.
Here are three measures you should take before bringing your dog to a dog park.
Protect your dog from disease. Make sure your dog has all vaccines required for his age and maintain a vaccination schedule according to your veterinarian’s recommendations. Puppies need several vaccines over a period of 2 to 6 months before they should be socialized with other dogs, particularly in a dog park.
Recommended canine vaccination schedule via Canine Journal
Though your veterinarian may have a slightly different schedule, most dog parks post rules against bringing puppies before they’ve had all all their vaccinations.
Train your dog to obey commands
image Dog practices 'down' command with owner
You can’t predict what’s going to happen at a dog park or anywhere outside of your home; there are always surprises. But training your dog to obey you is essential.
Your dog should obey you when she is on her leash, off-leash, and in unforeseen or chaotic circumstances.
Heel. Sit. Stay. Down. Come.
Train these commands on leash, off leash, and off leash with distraction. Train these commands well, and keep reinforcing this training throughout your dog’s life with treats and verbal rewards. They can save her life and save you a lot of heartache.
“Off” is another word that is useful to train, as well as “drop it.” You can use a sofa or chair to practice ‘off,” and a toy for ‘drop it’.
****It is especially important to use visual cues as well as verbal cues to train your dog. One reason is that they reinforce each other. Another important reason is in case your dog loses her vision or hearing, you can use the other method to communicate with her.
When training, use small treats like Charlie Bears, or other treats that your dog likes. Make these treats special for training periods, so he is encouraged to obey. If your dog is hungry, he will work harder, so train before meal time.
When you walk your dog around the block on a leash, he may socialize or not with other dogs. Leashes usually make dogs more protective of their owners and they may growl, bark, or lunge at other dogs. This behavior needs to be controlled before you visit a dog park. Use your walks as a training period.
Your dog should not be pulling on the leash while taking a walk (image)
Dogtime has a good introduction to 7 popular training methods. You should choose the one that suits your personality and your dog’s. Some dog breeds are very trainable, some are not. But, regardless, you need to work hard to train them.
I don’t believe in harsh training. I don’t yell at or scold my dog if he misbehaves. I only use positive reinforcement and that has seemed to draw us closer. Establishing eye contact is one of the most important ways to communicate with your dog. Get eye contact before you give a command; that will let him know that you are ready to give him a command or praise him for a job well done.
Training your dog is a tricky thing. There are many of our own behaviors that can stand in the way. I like this visual I found at SoMuchPetential that kind of sums up the confusion we can create for our dogs.
You may prefer to contact a professional dog trainer to work with your dog or join a class. You can find local trainers and classes online, but check them out on Yelp or through other sources so you know their style of training and whether it's appropriate for your dog or not.
Socialize in a small group of friendly dogs
Once your dog has mastered the main commands off leash, invite a few friends to visit with their dogs for a play date outside of your home, in your yard, or in a small enclosed park. You can go to the dog park when it is not busy and meet your friends. Just keep the group small, so your dog will not be overwhelmed. Dogs of the same size or same breed tend to play well together, so when beginning to socialize your dog, stay within these limitations.
It’s generally harder to socialize an older dog than a puppy, depending on her past life. If she’s adopted, find out as much about her background as you can. If she is shy around other dogs or aggressive, there is most likely something in that environment that has aroused her before, and you will have to train accordingly.
Dogs of similar sizes, ages, and breeds generally play well together. (image)
Although my previous dogs benefited greatly from their visits to the dog park, I had to give up on taking my current dog to the park. He was in a kennel for the first five years of his life and spent his waking hours barking at the other dogs in the kennel. This kind of barking is aggressive barking. Even though I spent hours and hours training him, whether aggression was in his DNA or it was learned, he just didn’t stop wanting to attack smaller or shy dogs. I contacted two professional trainers, but neither one seemed to feel they could handle the problem, maybe because of my pup’s age or ingrained behavior.
As sweet as my dog is with people and even babies and young kids, he can only successfully play with certain dogs, and they come to our yard to play. If your dog is like this, keep him home or bring him to another dog’s home to play, if the dogs are well-matched. Some dogs cannot be socialized enough to go to a dog park.
In Part 2, I go over what's expected of you, the dog owner, at a dog park. Part 3, is focused on what you should look for when seeking the right dog park.