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Monday, July 21, 2014

Dog Parks - How Do We Prepare For Our First Visit?

From the mailbag:
I would like to know how to introduce my 5 month old Collie puppy to a dog park. I have never taken a dog to a dog park before and our town has a new one. Any help would be appreciated.

There are several reasons I would not go into a public dog park. Below are a few initial considerations:

Does your park have a small dog or puppy side and a large dog side?

Does the park have air locks for safety (when one gate opens, another stays closed to reduce the chance of a dog slipping out).

Is the fence tall enough to prevent your dog from jumping over?

If the answer to any of the above is no, I would not use the park.

Also, I would not use the park if you dog has shown any fear, aggression or reactivity issues.

If you do decide to go ahead and use the park, the first thing I would do is get a behavioral assessment from a certified, skilled, force free trainer or behaviorist.  Search for trainers here.
The trainer can help you decide if off leash play with strange dogs is something your dog would enjoy and/or if your dog might frighten other dogs.

Next, I would ask the trainer to provide a few calm dogs for a play session (in a secure, private area) to see how your dog does. Start with one then add in one or two more. If things go well with the trainer's calm dogs,  you might ask the trainer to help watch a play session between your dog and friend's/family member's dogs (in a secure private location).

Also have the trainer help you to understand dog body language, calming signals, stress signals, signs of a fight about to start, etc..  A good starting book is Turid Rugaas's Calming Signals.

Next go to the park alone.  Visit at different times of the day.  Notice the most busy and least busy times of day.  Watch the dogs and how they play. Are there any bullies or aggressive or reactive or scared dogs? Are there humans mistreating their own dogs, touching other people's dogs without permission?  Are there any dangers at the park - dogs wearing chokes and prongs? Dogs wearing leashes? People tossing food? Debris on the ground?  etc..
In general just decide if the park is a safe and comfortable place for your dog.

If you decide to go, pick the quietest time of day (consider weather as well - don't go when it's too hot).  Go with a friend who can be an extra set of eyes and ears. If your dog seems the least bit apprehensive, leave.  If any dogs harass your dog or if any other problems arise, leave.

If things seem to be going well, stay about 10 minutes and leave.

Then you can slowly increase time with subsequent visits. Be prepared to leave at any time.

Stay tuned for more on dog parks. Future posts will be here.

Also see:
Visiting The Dog Park

Here is clip from a DVD by Sue Sternberg on dog to dog engagements.

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