There simply is no better outlet for your dog’s energy than playing with other dogs. Dog parks are a wonderful resource for getting your dog a sufficient dose of daily exercise.
Before heading out to your local dog park, it’s important to plan ahead and know what to be aware of to ensure your dog is safe, and has a great time.
- Puppies under 16 weeks of age should not attend a general population dog park. Dog/dog socialization is of the utmost importance for puppies but this should always occur in controlled settings where you can protect your puppy from bad experiences that could potentially make your puppy fearful. Local puppy socials and puppy kindergarten type programs should be utilized until your puppy has lots of good experiences with other dogs. Once your puppy has lots of good experiences and are well padded, then you may partake in activities at your local dog park.
- Make sure your dog is fully vaccinated. This is for the safety in health for your dog and all other dogs that enjoy the dog park. Minimum vaccinations suggested are Rabies, Distemper and Bordatella. Also make sure your dog is healthy for every dog park visit.
- Educate yourself with a basic understanding of dog body language. Our best avenue for understanding whether our dog is upset or having fun is through our eyes. Dogs growl both during play and when upset, same goes for barking. If you are ever unsure whether your dog is having fun while engaged in play with another dog, remove your dog from the play. If your dog goes bounding back, he was having fun. If not, time to go for a walk around the park and possibly find another playmate. Allowing your dog to feel bullied at the dog park is the quickest road to your dog no longer being a dog park dog – be your dogs hero always. Do not fall into the philosophy that your dog needs to suck it up or toughen up, the price paid later for this is not a desired outcome.
- The safest dog at the park is the dog with a rock solid recall. Practice your recall at home first, then in your own yard, then on a long line in an area with low distractions. These steps should all be fluent before attempting a recall at the dog park. Initial practice at the dog park should occur after your dog has sniffed, played and looking around for what else there might be to do. Practice those recalls often and reward generously! Soon you will be able to call your dog back to you even in full throttle play and everyone will be impressed.
- Keep a close eye on your dog at all times! Many say dogs are equivalent to a two year old child. We would never consider taking our eyes off our two year old at the park…we really should apply this same logic to our dogs at the park. Also watch your dogs playmate. Does he appear to be having fun…if you are unsure, again move along. Safe is always better than sorry.
- If you have a toy size dog, research and locate your local dog parks that have small dog play areas. The risk of injury or death from rough play or predatory drift should be of high concern. Once a predatory attack is in motion. It is just too late.
- Do not hang out near the entrance/exit gates for any reason ever and do not allow your dog to rush the gate when another dog enters the park. This is where the most fights and resulting injuries occur. Best practices are to enter the park and keep walking. If your dog has been cooped up all day, they will be a much better playmate if they have the opportunity to get out some of those ya-ya’s before playing with another dog. Pent up energy is another big cause for dog fights at the park.
- Exercise extreme caution when dogs are engaged in flat out chase games. Though two dogs of equal size can have a great time in a game of chase, more dogs will join in at a crowded dog park. Many dogs love a game of chase and enjoy being chased. Most become overwhelmed and scared when they suddenly realize they have multiple dogs on their tail. If you see multiple dogs chasing one dog or a larger dog chasing a much smaller dog – always interrupt immediately.
- Pay close attention when more than two dogs are playing together. Ensure that two or more dogs are not ganging up on one dog. Even two or more dogs barking in the face of another dog trying to get him to play can feel very intimidating to the dog being barked at. All dog parents should go in and gather up their personal dog to redirect to another game.
- When your dog is playing with a playmate watch for role reversals in play, the same dog is not always on top or the one biting at the scruff. They should be taking turns, one is on the bottom and it shifts to the other. Role reversals and changing up of game is what you are looking for in consensual play on the part of both dogs. Teach your dog to be a good and fair player and you will enjoy many years of dog park fun.
We prefer dog parks with a lot of space and an abundance of hiking trails. Some even have swimming holes, which is a magnificent energy burner.
Looking for a good dog park in Minnesota? Check out this map from Sidewalk Dog to find a dog park close to you, and keep our tips in mind as you plan your next dog park visit.