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A Short Guide to Your First Visit At The Dog Park

Dog parks are potentially a great spot for you and your pet to mingle and make new friends. Check out our guide to safe dog park visits before heading out with your pup.

first day of dog in the park

As they grow in both proportions and personality, your puppy may require more room to roam than your home or yard can provide. If you’re lucky enough to live near a dog park (and statistics suggest you are), this could provide the perfect spot for getting rid of excess energy. Dog parks are great places to bond with your pet and mingle with local dog owners, but there are a few things to keep in mind before heading out.

dog-playing-in-the-park-of-dogs

What exactly is a dog park?

Dog parks are expanses of land (usually between a quarter of an acre and 50 acres) where dogs can run and play freely under the supervision of their owners. Amenities and ground rules will vary based on the particular location.

When are puppies ready to visit the dog park?

While you may be eager to visit your nearest dog park, don’t be tempted to take a young puppy out right away. Wait until they’ve had their last vaccinations and then wait a few more weeks, when puppies are around 15 to 16 weeks old. As well as protecting pups from infectious illnesses, vaccinations help the larger dog population achieve herd immunity. At the very least, your puppy should be vaccinated against Rabies, Canine Parvovirus, Canine Distemper, and Infectious Canine Hepatitis.

Once your puppy is fully vaccinated, it’s best to start visiting the dog park before they hit adolescence at about six months of age. Mature dogs in the park will be more tolerant of “bad manners” in a puppy or adolescent than an older dog.

Are dog parks suitable for any dog? 

While all dogs are generally welcome at dog parks, they’re not suitable for every dog. If your puppy is very timid, they may never adapt to the freedom of the park or the number of other dogs there. The stress of the situation could eliminate any of the positive effects of socialization and exercise. It could even be dangerous to bring nervous dogs to the park if anxiety makes them unpredictable or aggressive. Their behavior may even incite aggression from other dogs. Signs that your dog is feeling nervous include yawning, panting, possessive behavior, or growling and barking at other dogs. 

If your nearest dog park is full of German Shepherds and Rottweilers and you’ve got a Yorkie or a Chihuahua, you might want to postpone your visit or stick to a small enclosure. While all breeds of dog can get along, it’s best to introduce your pup to the park when it’s mostly full of similarly sized pets. 

Preparing your pup to visit a dog park

Meeting lots of people and dogs in one place can be overwhelming for a young puppy –  especially if you’ve only just started socializing them. Before their first visit to the park, introduce your dog to one or two of their canine peers while walking around your local neighborhood. Alternatively, you could arrange some puppy play dates with your dog-owning friends and family members.

Your dog should have the hang of basic commands before you hit the park. Practice makes perfect, so give these a try at home and around the neighborhood first. 

Dog parks are on the rise. According to The Trust for Public Land, dog park construction has increased by 40% since 2009.

Introducing your dog to the dog park

Some dog parks are simply fenced-off spaces while others are members-only areas with special access points. It’s best to look for parks that are clean and well-maintained where ground rules are enforced and you keep a watchful eye over your dog’s behavior. Try using an online tool to find a dog park near your home. Visit it alone before bringing your pup along. Is the fencing secure? Do the dogs and owners look relaxed? Once you’ve found a suitable dog park, introduce it to your pet in several stages:

dog-walking-in-the-park
  • Stage one: Keep your dog on the leash and walk around the perimeter of the park so they can see, smell, and hear what’s going on.
  • Stage two: Try to visit when the park is quiet and keep your initial visit short. If you can, walk to the park so your puppy has used up some energy on the way.
  • Stage three: If you’re confident that your dog is familiar with the recall command and you can trust them off the leash, give it a try. 
  • Step four: As you move around the park, try to keep your dog’s attention focused on you so that they don’t get involved in any “turf wars.” Play with them instead of scrolling on your phone or chatting with other dog owners. If your dog becomes nervous or over excited, it’s time to leave

What to bring to the dog park

When it comes to park etiquette, the number one rule is to clean up after your dog. Make sure to bring plenty of poop bags with you on every visit. Most parks also require that owners carry a leash with them, even if their dog will be unleashed throughout their time at the park. Leashes need to be at the ready should a dog need to leave for any reason. Collars with ID tags are also an essential part of responsible, safe pet ownership. You might also want to take:

  • Treats: If you’re doing some training in the park, make sure you have an ample supply of treats for positive reinforcement. 
  • A ball or frisbee: Don’t bring along a favorite toy (since there’s no guarantee you’ll get it back), but a cheap ball or frisbee could make a trip to the park especially fun.
  • First aid kit: Having a small animal first aid kit in your car is always a good idea. Talk to your vet about administering first aid related to common accidents and injuries and make sure to consult professional medical attention in the event of health emergencies.
  • Towels, blankets, dog wipes: If it’s wet and muddy outside, you’ll be glad you’ve got a canine clean-up kit ready in the car.

Is it OK to visit a dog park every day?

If you’ve found a dog park that works for you and your pet, there’s no rule that says you can’t go every day. Dogs, however, enjoy variety and excitement just as much as their owners do. Given a choice, most prefer to play with just one canine companion and this isn’t always possible in busy dog parks. Think about organizing a dog play date with a pal from the park to provide a bit of variety to their routine.

Visiting a busy dog park every day can lead to over-socialized dogs. They’ll grow to love other dogs so much that they’ll strain at the leash and bark every time they encounter one during their daily walks. This will be frustrating for them and annoying for you. A good rule of thumb is that for every hour your dog spends at the dog park, they should have at least two hours playing and socializing with you and your family at home.

Dog owners positively adore dog parks. Studies by the National Recreation and Park Association have found that 9 in 10 owners believe dog parks have benefits for their pets.

Dog parks offer plenty of potential benefits, but they’re not without their downsides. Even the best behaved and socialized pets can become nervous around new acquaintances. Problems can also arise when owners neglect to adhere to established park rules. Unmanaged waste and unvaccinated dogs, for example, can spread illnesses. Feel safer at the park and at home with Animalia pet insurance. Get a pet insurance quote today


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