Periodically we hear tragic cases of a dog getting hurt or injuring a child at an off leash dog park. Many housing units and cities offer these “bark parks” as a way for furry family members to have a little much-needed exercise and to promote responsible pet communities.
But it’s important to understand that while these parks can be a great place for doggies to socialize and exercise, an enclosed space with unfamiliar animals does carry some degree of risk. Irresponsible owners may bring unhealthy animals with transmittable diseases, and there are some pets that lack social skills when interacting with other pets.
For some advice from the dog trainer’s point of view, we asked Leonard Letoto with Sit Means Sit Hawaii to give us his tips to ensure a safe, stress-free play experience.
“First of all, I always recommend that people get their dogs trained before they take them to a dog park. One of the worst pieces of advice I hear people give to others is to take your dog to the dog park to get socialized,” said Letoto.
There are many ways to see if your pet plays nicely with others before setting them off leash with unknown animals. A first step if you haven’t raised the animal since puppyhood and don’t know how they behave around other dogs is to try bringing your pet to an on leash pet event. Use this opportunity to observe your animals’ body language around other dogs and pay particular attention to any signs of aggression.
Because of poor early socialization, abuse, previous dog fights, fear issues or other reasons, your dog may not play well with other dogs. If you find yourself faced with a dog that isn’t too nice to other dogs, consider enlisting the help of a professional dog trainer. Or consider accepting this reality about your animal and just take proper precautions to ensure your dog is safe and other people’s pets are safe from your dog attacking.
Many well-adjusted family pets live a great life without socializing with other dogs, or only on leash in a supervised environment. For these pooches there are multiple ways to still enjoy the great outdoors. You can explore the outdoors with a scenic hike, take Fido for a leisurely bike ride, or partner with the dog for a challenging run.
It’s more important that your pet develop a healthy bond with you than to risk their safety and the safety of others by forcing them to interact with unknown dogs.
If you do decide to visit an off-leash park, Letoto gives these tips to help ensure safe doggie play:
1. Stand outside the park and observe. Try to match up owners with their dogs. If you can’t, something is wrong. Dog owners should be paying attention to their dogs enough so that it’s obvious which dog is theirs.
2. Once inside the park, WATCH YOUR DOG. It is not social hour. Keep your dog in view at all times. Feel free to talk to other park patrons, but adjust your position if necessary so that you can keep an eye on your dog. Dog fights can start in a fraction of a second and your attentiveness can mean the difference between preventing an altercation or thousands of dollars in veterinarian bills.
3. Don’t be afraid to put a leash on your dog just in case. A leash provides another means of restraining your dog and/or pulling it out of danger if need be. Putting a leash on your dog also portrays you as the type of person that intends to prevent trouble.
4. If you feel another dog is crossing the line, talk to the owner about it. Tell them that your dog doesn’t necessarily like to be played with the way their dog plays. Be prepared for some people who may be offended. It doesn’t matter if someone is offended or not. Better to hurt their feelings than do nothing and a dog ends up getting hurt.
5. If all else fails, leave the dog park and come back later. The dog park will always be there.
A supervised dog playing nicely with other pooches is a positive experience for the pet and the owner. The owner gets to watch the pet’s silly antics as their beloved friend frolics with dogs and the pooch gets to burn off excess energy. Just make sure you’re a consciousness and responsible pet owner. This way, you’ll help prevent tragic accidents while still enjoying outdoor fun in the sun.