Dog parks: etiquette on both ends of the leash required
March 14, 2009
Portland is lucky to have more than a few larger, well-maintained off-leash dog parks. They’re great places for your dog to run and socialize, but they’re not free-for-all playgrounds. It’s important your dog and you follow dog park rules, and basic rules of etiquette.
Doug Duncan is a top-notch Portland dog trainer. He’s got all kinds of cool letters after his name that show he knows his stuff (and how your dog thinks). Doug is a CPDT (certified pet dog trainer), CTC (certificate in training and counseling), and an ABBT (member of the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals). Doug and his wife, Meredith, own and run Doggy Business in NE Portland where they provide training, boarding, and playgroups for dogs. Doug has some terrific tips for anyone who uses or is thinking of using a dog park. “Good dog parks are frequented by people who follow the park’s rules,” says Doug. He says most parks post the rules that cover the basics:
· dogs should be social and friendly
· no children under a certain age
· owners must pay attention to their dog and clean up after him/her
Doug has some excellent pointers to help guide you through a positive dog park visit every time you choose to go.
1. Unleash your dog immediately after you get into the off leash area
“Dogs on leash often behave differently than when unleashed,” says Doug. “This is no less true at the dog park. Dogs like to greet one another and check things out. Many get frustrated when they can't do this because they are on leash.”
2. Watch your dog at all times when you're at the dog park
“Paying attention to your dog when you are with him/her is very important at the dog park,” says Doug. “Learning dog body language is also very helpful along with how your dog reacts to certain play styles. Is he scared, happy, uncomfortable, etc? Knowing these things can really help you help your dog through a difficult greeting and can help you avoid situations that may be too difficult or even dangerous.”
3. Keep the park clean
“A clean park is a fun park,” advises Doug. Owners who watch their dogs tend to pick up after them. It's hard to pick up after your dog if you haven't seen him/her go to the bathroom. This is really about good etiquette.”
4. Be friendly to other dog owners/guardians
“If something should happen involving another dog or dog owner, be courteous and friendly,” says Doug. “Getting angry usually doesn't help at all, though it can be very understandable. Getting upset with someone usually makes things worse and creates an unfriendly environment for all of the other dogs and dog owners.”
5. If you end up having a problem with a particular dog or owner, politely address it with the other dog's owner
Doug has great advice for keeping a cool head when things get sticky. “Suggest ways to learn more information about dog behavior, refer to the park rules, and be nice!” he says. “The rules are there to keep everyone safe and they should be followed for everyone's safety. If anything feels uncomfortable or unsafe, take your dog and leave the park.” Doug suggests returning to the park when you feel better about the situation.
6. Recognize when you have a dog, either your own or another dog at the park, that isn't well suited for the park
“Un-socialized or under-socialized dogs often do not do well at busy dog parks,” says Doug. “We're talking about dogs that don't do well with other dogs. Using a dog park for remedial socialization can be a problem. The other dogs at the park are unknowingly taking part in your dog's remedial training. It is unfair to the other park users to use the park for this purpose.” Doug suggests finding a good trainer before you go to the dog park. “Your dog can learn to play and get along with other dogs, and can ultimately be a good dog park dog; sometimes it just takes a little training,” he offers.
7. Most scuffles are short and no one is injured
“The vast majority of canine aggressive displays come in the form of ritualized aggression,” says Doug. “Dogs are more often than not trying to send a message to the other dog to "give me some more space" or "I'm a little uncomfortable here!" instead of actually trying to hurt one another. If your dog gets hurt in a fight, talk with the other owner about what happened in a nice way. Focusing on what dog behavior you each witnessed instead of on blaming any person or dog is much more useful.” Doug suggests that if you feel that there’s a dog at the park who just shouldn’t be there, get a description of the dog, its owner, and the license plate of their car if you can. Make a calm and factual report to your county animal services department.
Now all of this said, there are some dog owners, and some dogs who simply don’t like dog parks. For them, thankfully, there is the doggy play group. In my next article, I’ll give you some tips for picking a great play group for your dog, and I’ll recommend two of my favorite playgroups in Portland.