Going To The Dog Park For The First Time? Take These Steps

Dogs park can be a great place for your dog to get physically and mentally exercised.  While dogs don’t need as much interaction with other dogs as you may think, a little here and there is a good idea and exercise is essential.  Unfortunately, your dog can also pick up bad habits at the park, like fear, aggression, rough play, and ignoring you.  Some professional dog trainers refer to dog parks as “a guarantee of future employment” because so many behavioral problems start at the park.   

Fortunately, there are some simple ways to help prevent these problems. In fact, you can use the joys of the park to your advantage, and practice all sorts of good behaviors while walking through the park. If your dog already has these problems, stop going to the park and consult a professional dog trainer.

When trainers recommend socialization for puppies or dogs, they don’t just mean exposure to other dogs.  You probably wouldn’t let a 5-month-old pup play rough with a group of ten-year-olds, so why put your dog at risk?  Puppies under the age of 6 months should not be in the dog park, especially at peak times.  Proper socialization is positivecontrolled exposure.  If you are ever unsure of an encounter in the park, move along, while the experience is still positive to your dog.

Taking My Dog To The Dog Park For The First Time

The most basic recommendations:

  • Avoid packs;
  • Keep moving;
  • Don’t mix on-leash with off-leash;
  • Don’t bring young children into the park;
  • Be careful with toys;

If you have any young children, you should probably leave them at home.  Many dogs are not socialized around children and you are putting your child at risk.  This is not the way to get Timmy used to dogs!  Your dog may also feel the need to protect young Timmy.  Leave the treats at home, too, so your dog doesn’t feel the need to protect those, either.

Also, before we dive in to steps to take when taking your dog to the dog park for the first time, you may want to get familiar with important facts about dog parks just do get a general idea on what you are getting into.

First Walk through the Dog park

Before attempting to take your dog to the dog park for the first time, it may be a good idea to visit the park without your dog to see if the park is right for you and your dog.  Also, practice calling your dog before you go to the park, so you know he will come when called.

Take these steps

Step 1

Get from the car to the park on leash.  Why on leash?

  • Keep your dog safe from cars.
  • Keep your dog from harassing or attacking other people’s dogs.  Mixing leashed and unleashed dogs can be dangerous!
  • Practice not pulling, using the park as the reward.

 Step 2

Unleash your dog as soon as you get into the park; if possible, while you are still between the two gates.

  • Ask for a sit, using taking off the leash as the reward.  If you don’t think she will sit, don’t ask.  Work on it at home first.
  • Dogs on leash can be aggressive to off-leash dogs, or even other on-leash dogs.  Help your dog to not develop this problem by taking off the leash and not letting her get harassed while she’s on the leash at the park.  If she already has this problem, contact a professional trainer.

Step 3

Grab some bags, or better yet, bring your own from home.  The first thing your dog will probably want to do is eliminate in the park.

Step 4

Keep moving.  Don’t stand around in the field, waiting for your dog to get harassed, unless there are only one or two other dogs there. Yes, only one or two, in a giant field.  You are her guardian and protector.  Use that human brain to protect her from known dangers.

  • In groups of 3 or more (sometimes even 2), dogs will pack up and harass one of the dogs in the group.  If your dog is spending all of his time running, instead of alternating with play-bowing and chasing the other dog, he is probably not playing.  One way to check whether your dog is playing or being harassed is to call him over (or rescue him from the other dog) and wait a few seconds.  Let go and see where your dog goes.  If he heads back to the other dog, and the other dog also heads toward yours, life is good.  They both want to play.  Otherwise, one of them was not playing and it’s time to move on.  If you’re unsure, move on!
  • Some dogs at the park are not good playmates for your dog.  There are bullies and there are dogs with different play styles.  If you keep moving, your dog has a chance to sniff politely and move on. But, if you just stand there, he has nowhere to go.  If your dog seems to like the other dog, and the feeling is mutual, by all means, stay and let them play.  Make sure it actually is play, alternating roles, where one dog chases and the other is chased.  You might consider setting up a play date with your dog’s new friend.
  • Constant boxing play is not a great sign, for most breeds.  If that starts to happen (up on hind legs for more than a few times), move on before it escalates.  It may be fine 9 times out of 10, but that tenth time is what’s going to cost you a lot of money: paying for injuries to your dog or the other dog, fixing the behavioral problems your dog has picked up, or all three!
  • If you see a huge pack of dogs coming down the trail, you might want to take your dog off to the side, or even turn around and head the other direction.  This depends on his personality, and how he deals with other dogs.  To be safe, you should avoid the pack by calmly turning around and heading back the way you came or moving to the side while you walk past the other dogs. 

Step 5

Play and train with your dog.  You’re there to have fun with your dog, so enjoy the time you have together. 

  • The dog park is not a great place to teach new cues, but if your dog has already worked around distractions, you can use the park as a place to practice even more.  If your dog is fairly good at understanding the sit and stay cues, ask her to sit and stay, move as far off as she will be successful at, then release her and ask her to come, while you take off running.  Your dog will love it.
  • You can play fetch, but be careful.  Don’t set your dog up to chase a ball into a group of other dogs.  This will only encourage him to growl at other dogs over his toy.  Only play fetch when there are no dogs in the immediate vicinity and at most two other dogs around. 
  • Ask him to sit or lie down or anything else that he knows how to do (in this highly distracting environment) before you throw the toy.  The park is a great place to practice your training.  When only a few dogs around, I like to ask my dog to sit and stay, walk a way down the path, then release him and throw the ball behind him.  That helps make his stay steady.
  • If your dog’s idea of a good time is stealing others’ toys, be careful!  That sort of thing is going to get him in a fight.  If he is harassing another dog, just move on!  It might also help to practice a cue like “Leave it” at home, gradually building it up to the high-stakes stuff at the dog park.
  • Throughout the time at the park, call your dog to you occasionally and tell her what a genius she is.  If you have a toy, that’s a great time to bring it out.  If you practice calling your dog five times while you’re at the park, she won’t be so unwilling to come at the end, when it’s time to go home.  You might even go back to the gate, call her, and then pull out a toy and play fetch again.  Be sure there are not a bunch of dogs around you when you try this, or you’ll be setting her up to get mugged by the other dogs.

Step 6

If at all possible, you might want to avoid hosing your dog off at the end of the time at the park, unless she enjoys it.  At the very least, don’t actually call her to you for this, or you’ll be punishing her for coming when called!

Step 7

Clip yur dog’s leash on near the gate and take him back to the car on leash.  In the car, he should be crated or in a safety harness.  Be sure the harness can actually hold his weight, which will range from 2,000 to 5,000 pounds in an accident.  Most of the harnesses sold in pet stores hold a lot less than that, so choose yours wisely.  

Don’t Forget Leash And Positive Reinforcement

There are different ways of teaching your dog proper behavior. The two main types used today is leash and reward training, also called “positive dog training”. The positive way can contain different rewards, goodies to eat is common, or a favourite toy to play with for a while, and then we have the clicking device, usually called “clicker”.

If you are owning a problem dog, a young one or an older one that hasn’t been properly trained before, a leash might be necessary. If you have a puppy that only needs the basics in behavioral manners (and remember, all dogs should be properly raised from the start, then you will save yourself a lot of trouble!) rewards are usually enough. If you want to teach your dog different skills, like tracking or fetching things for you, rewards may be necessary. A leash will not do it for you in that case.

Leash Training

To train your dog with a leash will take some guidance for the trainer as well. You have to be sure that you do this right, otherwise, it will do absolutely no good and will only annoy your dog or even hurt it. You will use the leash for correction of problematic behaviors, and you need to be consistent, so it won’t just distract your dog. You would want to use the leash mainly unwanted behavior, such as lashing out at other dogs, bikes, skaters, or whatever it might be that is exiting your dog. There is plenty of information on how to effectively leash train, so do some research on it first, and you will surely come to terms with your problem.

Positive reinforcement or reward training

The rewards you use for teaching your dog good manners with this technique can vary. Some frolic or dog biscuits are common, but it can also be a toy, that you will let your dog play with when he has done something good. The basics are to reward your dog for positive behavior and neglect negative. The goal is to train your dog without having to touch it. If you have a healthy stable dog, and you start to work with it properly from the beginning, you will hopefully never have to go to harder forms of discipline, like the leash might be.

In this category, we can also add the so-called click training. Clicker training is good if you are having problem to verbally instruct your dog, trouble finding the right voice for effective attention and so on. And of course, if you don’t want to use food as a reward for training. Many dog trainers and owners have taught their dogs with success, with the click training device, so it’s really something to look in to.

When taking your dog to the dog park for the first time remember to start working with your dog right away, also ensure sure that you have the proper skills for it. If you find it hard to learn it on your own, there are plenty of courses you can take. Just remember to be consistent and to keep doing it for as long as you have your companion.

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