It’s not always easy to find a place for your dog to run and play when you live in a densely populated neighbourhood. When on-leash and on-concrete options won’t do, leash-free zones—also known as “dog parks”—become the go-to spaces for many dog owners in Canada’s urban and suburban areas.
With the ever increasing urbanization of rural areas, dog parks remain a reality for many owners, as it’s better to take Fido to a dog park for 30 minutes to let off some steam, rather than have him chew a hole in your door, reduce your sofa to shreds or help with your interior decorating in some other imaginative way. Therefore, keep the following tips in mind:
1- Start your dog off right
. Being a responsible dog owner means that your positive dog park experience begins long before you actually enter the park
. Starting with a solid foundation, it is up to you to keep your dog healthy and up-to-date on vaccinations. If your dog should display any sign of illness of any sort, it would be better to take a trip to your vet’s office than to a dog park. Dog parks have often—and not always without reason—been maligned as a hotspot to pick up infectious diseases, so do your part to be the change.
2- Set your dog up for success
. It is also your responsibility to have a reasonably well-adjusted canine companion, particularly if you are living in an urban or suburban area
. Take your puppy to basic obedience classes, and do lots of on leash socialization with unfamiliar people and dogs. Consider participating with your dog in the CKC Canine Good Neighbour Program
, to ensure your dog can perform basic exercises and demonstrate good manners in everyday situations. The importance of positive experiences in a controlled environment cannot be stressed enough. Remember that socialization and training are not a one-time quick fix, but an ongoing process throughout your dog’s life. Actually, on that note, your journey as a responsible dog owner is an ongoing one, too, so always seek out and engage in opportunities to continue your education to be a better dog owner.
3- Know your dog
. Not all dogs are the same; different breeds may have altogether different styles of communication, both with other dogs and with humans, and beyond this, just like with people, each dog is an individual. Learn to read your dog’s behaviour
. The better educated you are on the nuances of your breed and your individual dog, the better equipped you will be to assess situations and how your dog might fare in them. For example, if you have a dog with a high prey drive and notice some small dogs that could easily be mistaken for prey zooming around your local dog park, your knowledge of your dog should bring you to the realization that such a situation would not be positive for you, your dog, the other dogs or their owners. Knowing your dog means knowing your dog’s limitations and knowing when to walk away and return on a different day or at a different time when conditions might be more favourable
for everyone involved. In the case that a seemingly or initially “good” interaction should begin to go south all of a sudden (hey, it can happen!), recognize that the fun is over and promptly remove your dog and yourself. If your dog is unable to use the park, try jogging with your dog or have your dog run alongside a bike instead.
4- Communicate with other dog owners
. Though not necessarily obvious, perhaps the most important aspect of successfully using your neighbourhood dog park is to stay connected with other users. Avoid staring at your mobile device while at a dog park, so that you can keep an eye on your dog, those around it, and talking to other owners as you walk around
. Talk to them about their pets’ health, their training routines, where they go to socialize on leash and anything else that strikes your fancy. If you have some information that you feel might be beneficial to them, share it and encourage them to share their experiences with you. Offer a bag if you see someone is in need or ask for one if you need and always, always clean up after your dog. Oftentimes, certain “groups” will frequent the dog park at particular times of the day or on particular days of the week. You might find that you and your dog click better with one group than another, so stay connected and check in to ensure that the “group” is going to be at the park when you plan to arrive. Open and ongoing communication not only helps you to have a more positive user experience, but also helps build a greater sense of community, responsibility and, ultimately, stewardship towards the park and towards other users and their dogs. Needless to say, this lies at the heart of a great dog park experience.
Dog parks have the potential to be wonderful, positive spaces, beneficial to our dogs and ourselves. However, remember that they are entirely what you make of them, and what you encourage others around you to make of them.