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Master Dog Park Etiquette

Alaina Brandenburger
Sept. 11, 2012

Mind your manners with these 7 etiquette tips for dog owners, dog walkers and pet sitters heading to the dog park.

When you own or care for a dog, it is imperative that your pet gets enough daily exercise and socializing. For the past few years, more and more dog parks have been popping up in neighborhoods across the country, making it much easier for owners to let their furry friends run and play. While dog parks can be a fun way to meet your human and canine neighbors, know that they're not for every pup. "Surprisingly, there is only a small percentage of dogs that actively enjoy going to a dog park," says Veronica Boutelle, who is certified in dog training and counseling and is the owner of dog*tec, Inc. "It really isn't for all dogs. There's a perception in the general public that any dog might want to go to a dog park, but many dogs don't enjoy them."

Dog parks are often best suited for younger dogs, who are generally more social and enjoy interacting with other pups. If your dog is a social butterfly, read on for some expert tips on following doggy park etiquette and putting your best paw forward.

  1. Make Sure Vaccinations Are Up-to-Date
    While some dog parks are strict and require proof that dogs have current vaccinations, some are not monitored very closely. Kristen Burton, a member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) and owner of Your Best Friend Pet Sitting in Pennsylvania, advises, "It's important to be aware that other visiting dogs at the park may be behind on their vaccinations, which can pose serious health risks for other dogs and pet parents." Do your part to keep other pooches safe and make sure your dog is current on his vaccinations.

  2. Know That Size Matters
    In large groups, big dogs and small dogs should be separated. Even if you have a dog that is comfortable around big dogs and enjoys playing with them, it can still be dangerous for dogs of vastly different sizes to play together. Look for dog parks that have a small dog area, as "Many cities are realizing that small and large dogs need to be separated," says Boutelle. "If you have to take him to a park that doesn't separate, try to go at times with very low volume, keep him near you and do not allow chase and wrestle games with larger dogs."

  3. BYOW (Bring Your Own Water)
    Much like children tend to get sick more often when they are around large groups of other children, dogs can also get sick when in groups. You can help keep Buddy healthy by bringing your own water and bowl. Angela Wilcox, principal at dog training service Leashrly Life advises, "It's always good to have water on hand. I would avoid having your dog drink from a group bowl at a dog park, as a disease known as giardia (most commonly transmitted through water) is easily spread and can cause illness from any dogs that drink from the same bowl." Keep a bottle of water and a bowl with you or in the car, and give it to your pooch when he seems thirsty. For convenience, many companies make collapsible travel dishes for pups.

  4. Protect Your Pup From Rays...
    As with humans, the outdoors can pose some health hazards for your pet. If you have a short-haired or white dog, make sure to give her sunscreen. According to Wilcox, "Be sure to put it on prior to any extended play time or walks in the direct sun. Many dog parks are out in the open and have full sun, so you want to do your best to keep them from getting sunburned."

    So far, Epi-pet is the only FDA compliant dog sunscreen. If you can't find this product, make sure that you carefully research available options, as some are toxic if ingested. "Try to keep your dog indoors during peak sun hours, which prevents both sunburn and heatstroke," Burton says. "Sunscreen can also help protect your dog from sunburn -- as long as it's non-toxic, PABA-free and free of zinc oxide. " Look for sunscreen that has an SPF of more than 15.

  5. ...And Creepy Crawlers
    Between all of the fleas, ticks, bees, wasps and mosquitoes that live in dog parks, your dog can end up with lots of stings and bites. Burton cautions, "Protecting your pet from bug bites and stings can be a difficult task. There are various mosquito repellents available, but it's important to be aware of the pesticides, as many can be harmful to pets. Herbal mosquito repellent is an option, but its effectiveness is debatable, as it is lacking the dangerous pesticides that are most effective on bugs." But don't worry, you can safeguard your pet from bug bites. Discuss flea and tick prevention options with your vet to learn what's best for your four-legged friend.

    Bees and wasps can be trickier. They "often hide in areas with tall, overgrown grass, the same tall grass where Fido is likely to stick his nose and go exploring," says Burton. "Keeping a credit card handy to scrape out a bee stinger (never tweeze or pull, as that will squeeze more venom into the dog) can help after a dog is stung." As Wilcox also warns, "dogs may stir up a bees' nest, so you want to keep your eyes open to see if there are nests around." If you or your dog gets stung numerous times, see your doctor or vet immediately.

  6. Be Responsible
    Even if your dog is not normally aggressive, there is always the chance that she may bite another dog or a person. Overstimulation may cause a dog to play nip, or it may induce stress so he feels threatened. If your dog does bite, Boutelle says, "Take responsibility, exchange information, offer to pay any medical expenses, and follow up." She also recommends paying attention to your dog's body language and behavior. "If your dog is actively avoiding other dogs at the park, that's a sign that they may not be enjoying it. Be aware of any sign of your dog is showing an eagerness to exit the park. Don't force fun on a dog, let them choose their own fun," says Boutelle.

  7. Clean Up
    Last but not least, always clean up after your dog. Be sure to bring pick-up bags and always have enough on hand to be prepared. It's everyone's responsibility to keep the park clean!

Regardless of the season, it is fun to go play with your dog. Exploring different dog parks can keep you both you and your pup fit and healthy, and it's a great way to expend excess energy. So pack up your leash, a canteen with some water, a bowl and some clean-up bags and head down to the park!


Alaina Brandenburger is a freelance writer living in Denver, Colorado. Her work can be found here.

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