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Natural Awakenings National

Sizing Up Dog Parks: Tips for Taking Your Canine Out to Play

Jan 01, 2008 03:00AM ● By Paul Owens

Many cities and towns offer wonderful dog parks that give Fido and Fifi a safe place to release pent-up energy and get healthy exercise as they run and play with dozens of other dogs. More, they have the chance to learn appropriate dog-to-dog behavior with canines of all ages, sizes and temperaments. Also, people enjoy being outdoors with their dogs, socializing and meeting new friends.

But along with the advantages of taking your best friend to his or her own special park come potential problems. Although most people are respectful, polite, responsible and interested in the welfare of all animals—including the two-legged kind—unfortunate situations can arise that may cause the injury of humans or animals and cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Fortunately, most of these problems are preventable.

The trick is to know your dog and stay observant. Even in the midst of innocent playfulness, your dog could be injured. Some dogs are more physical than others and rough play can result in unintentional injuries. Other dogs have never learned appropriate dog etiquette due to the lack of proper socialization in their youth, and their pushy behavior can trigger fights.

If your dog exhibits fearful behavior or becomes too rowdy as he interacts with other dogs, the best thing is to interrupt the dogs before any dogs or people are injured, and simply leave the park. Always err on the side of safety. It’s better to stay at home and work on behavioral problems with the counsel of a qualified trainer. Meanwhile, the dog can have a jolly time going for walks or jogs with you and playing games like fetch and hide and go seek.

When you arrive at a dog park, check out your dog’s comfort level. Not all dogs like to visit dog parks. It is important to read his body language, especially when he’s shouting, “Get me out of here!” This is especially true of older dogs, who may not be interested in socializing with other dogs and prefer to interact solely with their humans.

Sniffing out the right dog park takes only a bit of good old-fashioned common sense as you act responsibly and keep a watchful eye on Fido or Fifi. It’s always best to first visit alone and talk with people there. Safe parks have two factors in common: people will not put up with aggressive dogs, and they look out for one another.

Next, make sure there is a separate area for small dogs, and that the park is clean and has water available. Check to see if there is a ranger who oversees activities. It’s rare, but it says a lot about an area’s safety. Food and favorite toys can cause problems, so leave them at home.

And, finally, just have fun!

Paul Owens is the author of the books,
The Dog Whisperer: A Compassionate Nonviolent Approach to Dog Training and The Puppy Whisperer: A Compassionate, Nonviolent Guide to Early Training and Care. He is featured on the dog training DVDs, The Dog Whisperer: Beginning and Intermediate Dog Training and The Dog Whisperer, Volume 2: Solving Common Behavior Problems. Visit for more information.

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