Many adopters want to be able to enjoy dog parks with their new companion. Dog parks can be a great opportunity for dogs to play off leash (especially in a city environment) and to enjoy some social time with their own species. Dog parks can also help high energy dogs to burn off some energy so they can be more relaxed in the home.
At the Center for Shelter Dogs, we offer resources for shelters that staff can share with adopters to manage expectations and help the dog and new owner have a happy, successful partnership. Here are some tips we encourage shelters to give adopters who would like to visit dog parks with their dog.
- Recognize that not all dogs like dog parks! Learn your dog’s preferences for doggy companions and respect his or her space, if needed. Like humans, mature dogs often don’t enjoy rambunctious, adolescent play. Many dogs, especially adult dogs, prefer to have just two or three good dog friends that have similar play styles for structured play dates. Going to the park at off-peak hours can also help a new dog to adjust and not be overwhelmed by large crowds of dogs.
- Stay in tune with your dog during dog park visits. Just because your dog is off leash doesn’t mean that you don’t have to pay attention to your dog. Recalls and time outs can keep your dog connected to you and paying attention. Time outs, away from rough play, can also help to keep play from escalating into over-arousal. Don’t use this time to catch up on your reading or chat on your cell phone. And be sure to work with your dog on a good recall command before visiting dog parks.
- Keep your dog vaccinated and on a regular de-worming schedule. Just like highly populated human areas, dog parks can harbor transmissible diseases from the wide variety of dogs who frequent them. Keeping your dog up to date on vaccinations, including Bordetella, can help reduce their risk of getting sick. Worms can also be prevalent at dog parks so speak to your veterinarian about getting on a de-worming schedule along with monthly heartworm preventative.
- Find a well-set-up and appropriately-sized dog park. Try to find a dog park with ample room for the number of dogs in attendance. There should be areas where your dog can move away from the group and go off on his own if he chooses. Bringing leashed dogs into dog parks can cause trouble. Good dog parks should have double gates that prevent escapes and allow owners to take off their dog’s leash before entering the park. Some dog parks have a trail system which allows dogs and owners to keep moving, cutting down on altercations and tense greetings.
- Avoid carrying food or other high-value items in parks. Food and treats can cause dogs to fight during times that they might otherwise not. If your dog is highly toy-motivated, toys can also become a source of competition and lead to resource guarding in the park.
Watching dogs play can be a great source of joy for many dog owners. Owners can find play opportunities in dog parks, dog daycares, or in small playgroups. Taking the steps above can ensure that the dog park experience is right for the dog and enjoyable for all involved. If your dog is not a fan of dog parks, enjoying a nice walk on a summer evening can be wonderful too!