How to go to the dog park

Dog parks are a good way to give your dog some freedom off leash, and most of your off leash opportunities in Columbus are in dog parks. But there are always risks when multiple strange dogs are off leash together. You don’t know anything about the behavior or vaccination background of the other dogs, and you can’t assume other people have control over their dog (in fact you should assume they don’t). Here are five tips to keep your dog safe at the dog park.

  1. Don’t go. Dog parks are an easy way to give your dog off leash exercise, but they aren’t a safe option for all cases. Don’t take your dog to a dog park if your dog has been in your household less than four months, has any history of not getting along with other dogs, or doesn’t come when you call when off leash. Instead, try some of these suggestions for exercising your dog without a dog park.
  2. Unleash your dog in the airlock. An airlock is the double gated entry way between the park and the parking lot. Like boarding a spaceship, one dog at a time! Wait until anyone in the airlock has left before you enter. A key ingredient for safe dog to dog interaction is the dog feeling able to increase distance between them and another dog. When dogs are on leash, they know their retreat options are limited and they are more likely to bark or lunge in an attempt to clear others out of their personal bubble. The same dog, if off leash, might just walk away. If you don’t feel comfortable or in control with your dog off leash, contact a trainer before taking your dog to the dog park.
  3. Stay away from choke points. This is for the same reason as unleashing in the airlock. Close quarters make dogs feel cramped and limit their escape options, increasing the possibility they will resort to barking and lunging to protect themselves. Try to time your entrance to the park when no one else is loitering near the gate. And don’t linger there yourself, keep moving until you’re in an open area.
  4. Keep moving. Even untrained dogs tend to stay near their people. Staying on the move helps dogs regulate their own excitement level and incorporate breaks in their play. When dogs play without taking breaks, they can become overaroused and get out of control. Have you ever seen kids playing at a human playground, and one child is playing too rough? The other children aren’t having fun anymore, and even the child bullying under the guise of “rough play” isn’t really having fun either. Wrestle, sniff, explore: all three are necessary ingredients in good dog play!
  5. Leave valuables in the car. Even if your dog never guards food or toys from you or other dogs in your household, they might feel possessive about their stuff around unfamiliar dogs. And you don’t know anything about how the other dogs feel about things they think should be theirs. Use extreme caution when bringing food or toys into the dog park. The new sights and smells to explore are usually enough to entertain your dog. If what you really want to do is play fetch, see 5 Ways to exercise your dog without a dog park.

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