Proper Dog Park Etiquette

A couple of weeks ago a friend and I took her son and our four dogs to the dog park for a play date. Molly met Tracy's dog Stark more than a year ago, but this was a new experience for our puppies. All the unfamiliar territory was exciting, and they romped all over the large, fenced-in park.

Other dogs and their owners came and went on the other side of the fence. I was pleasantly surprised at how well they greeted everyone else and were on their best behavior. By the time we were ready to head for home, we knew all four dogs (and probably the humans too) were going to have amazing afternoon naps.

Want to make your own dog park experience one to remember - for all the right reasons?

1. Make sure your dog will come when she is called. This can stop a slew of problems before they ever start.

2. Be up-to-date on shots and medicines. It's fun to share toys at the dog park, but it's not fun at all to share health problems.

3. Take a minute to consider your situation. Dogs who are in heat, pregnant or not neutered probably won't be the best companions at the park. Consider the people and dogs you'll be interacting with, please.

4. Get rid of your pride. "My dog would never..." "My dog is so..." "I've trained my dog to..." All of these are the beginning of statements about the owner, not the dog. We honestly have no idea how our pets will react to different situations, different dogs and different people. Lay aside all your preconceived notions and stay on the safe side.

5. Once you get there, be actively involved with your dog. Don't just sit in the corner and let them play. Not only is this much more fun, it can stop dog fights before they ever begin.

6. Pick up after your dog. Bring plastic bags with you, just in case they don't provide any at the park. And since you're actively involved (see #3), you'll be able to clean up immediately. No one wants that surprise while they're playing with their dog.

6. Keep big dogs and little dogs separate. As a Great Dane mama, I understand what tiny dogs look like to big dogs - chew toys. They run, they squeak and they look different. A large dog can unintentionally hurt a smaller dog very easily, so separate them and prevent a problem.

7. Know when it's time to leave. You want to leave the dog park on a positive note. If you see a problem dog coming in, which you'll recognize immediately, be ready to go. If everyone is playing well, that's a good time to head for the car. Go home with happy thoughts - how much fun you had, the other dogs and owners you met and when you can go back again. Then you and your dog can both go home for a well-deserved nap.

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