Like many millennials, my partner and I decided to adopt a pandemic puppy.
And although she's the greatest gal in the world, Cricket needs her playtime. So, we started bringing her to our local Brooklyn dog park nearly everyday early on, before we moved upstate — now, we've started bringing her to our new local park, where she's already met a few friends. But if you only just recently adopted a pup, you may be wondering: should I bring my dog to the dog park?
The dog park isn't for everyone — dogs or humans. In fact, many trainers discourage it (The New York Times even wrote a 2020 piece describing the downfalls of every dog park).
But if off-leash socialization is something your dog is truly comfortable with, and if they are (mostly) well-behaved, dog parks could be a wonderful asset to your life as a pet parent. Still, though, there are a few things everyone should know — regardless of how "perfect" your pup is.
Good recall is crucial.
Like kids at a playground, tussles can be inevitable. And from time to time, dog parks attract some seriously weird people — that's why it's crucial that your dog responds to their name, the word "come," or however they've been trained to come back to you. Bring along some treats, but make sure you're treating them without other dogs around, to ensure they don't get protective of their resources, or you.
Consider keeping toys out of the mix.
Even though your dog may not be protective of toys, other dogs might be. So if you're dying to play fetch or tug with your pup, maybe wait until you get home.
For now, let the ups chase and tackle each other, sans tennis balls or rope toys.
If your dog seems perpetually uncomfortable, maybe the dog park isn't for them.
If your dog is constantly lashing out at others, cowering in the corner, or has its tail between its legs at the dog park, you may be trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Maybe taking long walks, playing games of fetch, or even setting up one-on-one playdates would be better for your pup. It's pretty easy to tell if your dog is overwhelmed at the park.
And take note: if you're constantly on edge, too, your dog will feed off of that — just saying!
Keep an eye on your dog at all times.
Again, even if your dog is an absolute angel, there are so many dogs with a wide range of backgrounds. And though it may be tempting to hone in on your phone or get lost in a conversation with fellow pet parents, it's important to keep an eye on your pup at all times, in case of any fights, or even if your pup is begging another pet parent for treats.
You don't want to be that inattentive pet parent that everyone secretly resents.
Remember treats, water, and poop bags.
Like human beings, dogs can get hangry, or they can get dragged into naughty behavior — whether that means they're digging, humping, or getting aggressive.
That said, bringing your own treats is crucial. Just don't dole them out to other dogs, without asking if they are allowed to have one. You don't know every dog's dietary restrictions.
Bringing your own water is also important, because like us, dogs need to stay hydrated. Especially if it's warm, your dog is bound to get thirsty, and not every dog park has a water fountain.
And above everything else, BYO-poop bags! Leaving your dogs crap in the dog run is a serious party foul.
If it's too hot, limit your time.
Even if your dog park has ample shade, take into account how hot it is, before you plan to stay at the dog run for too long. If your pup is working up a sweat by running and wrestling, they're definitely going to get hot — and it's worse with a natural fur coat.
During the summer, look out for signs that your dog is overheated.
If your pup isn't fixed, consider waiting on bringing them in.
At the park, things can get weird if your dog isn't spayed or neutered. Male dogs tend to act more aggressively, and oftentimes, it can attract aggression.
Likewise, dogs who aren't spayed can get snappy, and if they're in heat, they can get pregnant. Avoid having your pup get in a fight — or knocked up — by just getting them fixed before you plan a trip to the park. You'll thank us later.
Know to properly de-escalate situations with your dog.
As previously mentioned, even if your dog is perfectly nice and well-trained, dog disagreements can still take place.
That said, it's vital that you know how to properly de-escalate situations. Putting your hands directly into the mix, or stepping in between two fighting dogs, can put you in danger. It's best to train your pup to respond to their name, or if that doesn't work, you can pull away using their harness, so they can take some space from the scuffle.
And just a reminder — don't take out your frustration on other pet parents. Unless someone is being totally negligent, abusive, or inappropriate, any possible discrepancies can stay between the dogs.
Don't exacerbate the situation, or tell others how to train their dogs. It isn't worth your time, and TBH, nobody likes a smart ass.