Dog parks: how to enjoy them safely and comfortably

Dog parks are a popular feature of South African suburbs. They’re green spaces where dogs can enjoy exercise and socialising with other dogs and people.  Dog parks can be wonderful places, but they aren’t meant for everybody. Let’s look at why this is and also review some etiquette.

Dog parks when they’re good

Everyone loves their own dog. Many people love other dogs. Visiting the dog park is a great place to get your dog socialised with other people and dogs and hopefully avoid some unwanted behaviours. Dogs evolved as pack animals and the social aspect can be good for their mental stimulation. You also will get to meet new people, maybe even your future spouse or a new close friend. Most importantly, your dog will also get that much-needed exercise to help fight off obesity by staying active.

Dog parks when they’re not so good

Remember what I said about dogs being pack animals? Well, that can work against them as dogs meet each other for the first time, the potential for dominance aggression behaviour is always possible. Yes, dogs like children might fight on the playground. Fights should try to be broken up by calling your dog or making some noise to distract them which might make it easier to pull them apart. Another downside to these public places is that they can be a breeding ground for disease.  Infectious viruses, bacterial infections, or parasites can all be picked up at the park. Also, dogs will be dogs…and if your dog is not spayed or neutered, then somebody could be expecting puppies in around 2 months.

Dog park etiquette

  • Make sure your dog is vaccinated and is free of fleas. Not only are you protecting your dog, but also everyone else and the public.
  • Spay or neuter your dog! This will help prevent unwanted behaviours which can lead to fights or unwanted puppies. If spay/neuter is not an option, please keep your in-heat dogs away for at least 2 weeks after the visible signs have stopped.
  • Teach your dog simple commands – sit, stay, and come, are three basic commands to ensure everyone has a safe and enjoyable time.
  • Before letting your dog off leash, it can be a good idea to let them meet the other dogs to see how their personalities and initial reactions are. If there are obvious signs of aggression, you still have control while they are on a leash and can pick another time to come back.
  • If you know your dog is anxious or does not play well with others, go at times that are less busy and take a friend who can help should your dog get into a fight. This category might also include a new dog to the family that has not had time to get trained yet.
  • Avoid bringing toys or other personal possessions of your dog which may cause conflict with others. If you bring something, perhaps a new toy is in order so your dog does not feel possessive.
  • Limit your time at the park to no more than 60 minutes. Not only does this let other dogs & families have a turn but it also is a good way to make sure your dog does not get overheated.
  • And lastly, ALWAYS pick up after your pooch!

A trip to the dog park can be a great bonding experience for you & your canine companion.  Just be sure to be safe and courteous so that everyone has an enjoyable time!

Article by Dr Ryan Llera, DVM