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Dog Park Etiquette   

Dog parks are designated, fenced off sections in public parks which are for the use of dogs to run and play with each other off leash.

Dog parks are a relatively new concept in Ireland only emerging about eight years ago.  Users of the parks are divided in their opinions of them.  Here is my advice to those using them:

  • The fencing isn’t always fool proof.  If you have a dog known to clear fences or a very small dog who might be able to squeeze out through gaps, make sure you have built up a very strong recall (a recall is when the dog returns to you on command when off leash) before you take them to the park.  Have a look at the fencing when you enter and make a judgement call.

  • I would advise all owners to remove their dog’s leash when they enter the park.  I have seen owners hold onto the leash but mixing off-leash dogs with on-leash dogs is never a good idea.  The dog on-leash can’t run away from the off-leash dog approaching them if they feel uncomfortable with the situation.  This leaves them with just one option:  aggress in order to make the other dog go away.   If you are nervous about letting your dog off leash but are determined to try him in a dog park, perhaps you might be more comfortable dropping the leash and letting it trail behind him.

  • Good dog parks will have a separate small dog section and a big dog section.  It can happen that smaller dogs can simulate prey animals to larger dogs and it can sometimes trigger a dormant predatory response from the larger dog (often to the absolute shock of the owners as their dog may have never shown any aggression towards other dogs before).  In raucous play scenarios, try to avoid mixing big and small.

  • If you are uncomfortable with the play you are seeing - break it up.  Immediately.  Don’t be swayed by the dog park local sage who insists “it’s all just play”.  Perhaps it is, however, if you aren’t comfortable with it, or you suspect your dog isn’t, don’t be embarrassed to insist that the play is broken up.   Alternatively, try a 'Consent Test'.  Break up the play and part the dogs. Keep hold of the more boisterous dog but release the 'victim' (for want of a better word).  The dog will either run away or bounce back to the dog you felt was playing too rough.  If your dog goes back it is a good indication that he was not afraid.   

  • Likewise, if you have a dog with a propensity for boisterous (albeit harmless) play, pay close attention to the how the dogs he plays with are reacting.  You might know it is play but if the other dog is unhappy with that intensity of play - break it up.  Indeed, even if the dog looks perfectly happy but his owner expresses concern or looks worried, break it up.  A person’s dog is often their pride and joy and everyone needs to be comfortable, even if you feel they are over reacting.

  • Each dog will have his own play preference.  A dog who likes boisterous play isn't a bad dog but it's important to make sure he is not matched with dogs uncomfortable with that exhuberance.

  • It goes without saying that if your dog is fearful or aggressive towards humans or other dogs he shouldn’t be taken to a dog park.  This is the best thing for his own welfare as well as that of the other park users.

  • Water is not provided in dog parks so it’s a good idea to bring some with you, though be prepared for some of it to be mugged by the other dogs!   All that running around is thirsty work.  If your dog is a resource guarder (a dog who freezes, snarls, growls or even bites when he is approached while in possession of something he values, in this case the water) it would be a good idea to remove him from the park before you give him a drink.  

  • Finally, pick up after your dog.  There is nothing more frustrating than returning to your car wearing a little something extra than you left with!

Dog parks aren’t for everyone and they aren’t for every dog either.  If you have a happy, well-adjusted dog who enjoys playing with other dogs – a dog park is a fantastic resource.  Not only does it provide good strong exercise with minimal exertion from the owner, it also provides social and mental stimulation for the dog. 

Dog park advice
Dog park advice
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