Wellness

8 Dog Park Safety Tips

01/10/2017 02:30pm ET | Updated January 11, 2018

1. Pick the right dog park for you and your pet. Ideally, an off-leash park should have:

o A double-gate entry, secure fencing, and posted rules of conduct
o Centrally located, well-stocked poop-bag dispensers and trash cans
o Separate areas for large and small dogs, and plenty of room for dogs to run
o A sheltered area, preferably with seating
o Dog-friendly water fountains

Before you bring your dog into the fenced area, take a few minutes to scan the activity in the park. If there are too many dogs, inattentive owners, aggressive animals, or piles of dog waste lying around, I recommend finding another park, or returning when the situation is improved.

2. Unless your dog is medically exempt from receiving rabies vaccinations, be sure to keep her rabies tag up-to-date or titer your dog. (But be aware most parks don't accept rabies titers.) If your dog, heaven forbid, should bite another dog or a human, you'll be required to prove his rabies vaccination is up-to-date or there could be some very unpleasant consequences for you and your pet.

3. Make sure your dog is consistently responsive to basic obedience commands like come, sit, stay, and leave it. This will help you control her in a potentially dangerous situation.

4. Bring necessary supplies with you, including:

o Your dog's leash
o Poop bags (the park may not provide them or the dispensers could be empty) and fresh water (in case there are no drinking fountains)
o Your cell phone to make an emergency call if necessary
o Something to break up a fight between dogs, such as an animal deterrent spray or an air-horn

5. Be vigilant. It's not necessary to be on high alert every time you visit the dog park, but it IS important to be observant. Don't let your dog inside the gate if there are other dogs gathered there. Wait until they wander off before opening the gate and removing your dog's leash.

Keep an eye on your dog, but also be watchful of other dogs around him - especially if they appear overly excited or aggressive. If your dog reacts with fear or seems overwhelmed, call him back to you or go to him and extract him from the situation. Add your local Animal Control number to your cell phone contact list.

6. If the dog park you visit doesn't have a separate small dog area, be extremely careful of big dogs around little ones. If your dog is large, don't allow her to frighten or intimidate smaller dogs. If your dog is small, I recommend you find a dog park with a separate small dog area. Aggressive dogs come in all sizes, but a small dog has a much better chance of surviving an act of aggression by a dog his own size.

7. Know the difference between play and aggression in dogs. A playful dog bounces around, wags her tail, and generally looks relaxed both in posture and facial expression. A dog that is showing aggression often has a stiff stance, raised hackles, a closed mouth, and is hyper-focused.

If your dog and another dog begin growling at each other, remain calm and don't yell. Call your dog back to you with a basic command and move to another spot away from the other dog, or take your pet out of the park if you or he still feels threatened. If your dog winds up in a fight, don't grab his collar because you could get hurt. Instead, use your deterrent spray or air horn to break up the fight.

8. If your dog is being threatening or aggressive to other dogs, or even if he's just acting overly excited, your safest option is to remove him from the park and visit on another day. It's unwise to assume your dog, even if he's normally passive, will never attack another dog or human. Unfortunately, it happens, and what I often hear from the dog's owner is, "But he's never done that before!"

It's important to know your dog's temperament and moods. It's also important to realize that you can't with complete certainty predict his behavior 100 percent of the time.

Is Your Canine Companion Just Not a 'Dog Park Dog'?

Many dog trainers and behaviorists believe it's normal for an adult dog to NOT play nice with strange dogs in a dog park. Wild dogs aren't social in the human sense. They're social in that they live cooperatively in packs, but it's more about preservation and procreation. Dogs in the wild don't run around looking for other dogs to be BFFs with.

So don't use your pet's behavior at the dog park as a gauge of his sociability. Adult canines aren't wired to mix and mingle with large groups of strange dogs, so think of socialization in terms of exposure to other dogs and people through directed activities.

Dr. Karen Becker is a proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian. You can visit her site at: MercolaHealthyPets.com

Her goal is to help you create wellness in order to prevent illness in the lives of your pets. This proactive approach seeks to save you and your pet from unnecessary stress and suffering by identifying and removing health obstacles even before disease occurs. Unfortunately, most veterinarians in the United States are trained to be reactive. They wait for symptoms to occur, and often treat those symptoms without addressing the root cause.

By reading Dr. Becker's information, you'll learn how to make impactful, consistent lifestyle choices to improve your pet's quality of life.

For more by Dr. Karen Becker, click here

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