7 Tips for the Dog Park (No.1, Stay Off the Phone)

by Borderstan.com April 12, 2011 at 9:00 am 1,459 8 Comments

Borderstan, DC Dog Parks, Luis Gomez Photos, Shaw Dog Park

The Shaw Dog Park is one of three in the area. It has an area for larger dogs as well as a space for small dogs. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Editor’s note: Borderstan welcomes Tori Tyree back with her weekly column on you and your pets. She is the owner of Walk of the Town, a dog walking and pet sitting company. Tyree has been working with animals most of her life — caring for them in animal hospitals, training dogs, volunteering at zoos and the Washington Humane Society, and counseling customers about pet nutrition.

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From Tori Tyree

The dog park can really be a wonderful place to bring your dog so she can run around and socialize with other dogs and people. However, going to the dog park (local parks listed at bottom) is not a free pass for owners. You should never think of it as a chance to eat lunch or talk on the phone.

In other words, you must be alert and engaged for the sake of your dog — and the other dogs and people in the park. Here are seven dog park tips to remember so that every dog stays safe, including yours.

Forget the Phone. The majority of the problems I see at the park are the result of owners who are completely disengaged from their animal. This is a big no-no. You shouldn’t do it, and if you see a lot of other people doing it, it should be a signal to skip the park that day.

Know Your Dog. Is your dog the dog that gets ganged up on when she goes through the gate? Or is she the one that gangs up on the shy dog? Does she sometimes get territorial about toys? Is she outgoing or would she prefer to hang out with you? Knowing these important signals will help you determine if the dog park pack she is about to encounter is the right fit for her temperament. Always remember that dogs together are a pack and they will take on pack behavior when interacting. Your dog is not your child!

Scan the Scene. Are there only big dogs running full speed but you have a dachshund? Are owners paying attention? Is there a tennis ball that your dog is going to be convinced is only for her? Is it calm or hectic? Remember: it’s okay if your dog isn’t perfect in every situation, you just have to recognize the potential situations. So you’ve determined the scene is a good fit for your dog… now what?

The Gate. Dog parks generally have two gates at the entrance, an outer and an inner gate. Once you are inside the entry area between the two closed gates and, take your dog’s leash off. You then have two responsibilities. The first is to make the inner gate wide open so she doesn’t feel cornered. Dogs love to greet here and it may be too much too quickly. Make the space for her to get inside without be surrounded or trapped by other dogs already in the park. Your second responsibility is to clear the gate quickly — get your dog in the park quickly so she can run away and play. Hesitation from you or your dog will cause other dogs to sense anxiety, which is the worst thing that can happen. Be confident and things will run a lot more smoothly for your dog.

Watch All the Dogs. I often look for dogs whose bodies become still and rigid, or there’s intense eye contact from the dogs. This is usually a tense situation and it may mean that a dog feels threatened and may want to fight another dog. I try to combat these situations with silly noises. For example, think of a rapid kissing sound — don’t laugh it works. Usually this distracts a dog and she will go do something else; what was once a tense moment is almost instantly forgotten.

Don’t Create a Problem. The other day I saw a man pick up his dog off all four legs and spin him around in the air. The other dogs came running over and were jumping in the air to get to him. Essentially this man just made his dog “prey” and caused every other dog to become frantic. His dog may love this game at home, but it is not appropriate for the park!

Be Prepared to Leave. Sometimes everything is going great, but then a new dog comes in and changes the dynamic. Or maybe your dog is what changed the dynamic. Don’t take it personally — it just wasn’t the right mix. Leave before a situation becomes dangerous! Remember: you can always come back another time.

Local Dog Parks

There are three public D.C. dog parks close to home in the Dupont-Logan-U Street area.

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