Off-leash dog parks can be the most relaxing of places or hell on earth depending on the dogs (and owners) who show up on any given day. Designed to be a place where dogs can run and play together, free from being leashed, one vicious, out-of-control dog can quickly turn a good experience into an unwanted, and sometimes expensive, nightmare. Let’s clarify something: having the name “off-leash” does not entitle any owner to bring their un-socialized, vicious dog to the park and let it roam free, knowing it is a case of when, not if, a dog fight will occur.
So to make a trip to the dog park an enjoyable experience, what should happen? To me one of the most important items on the list is to know your own dog. Is it trained to respond consistently to a recall command? Is it friendly around other dogs? Does it jump up or growl at people it doesn’t know? The answers should determine whether your dog stays on-leash or be allowed off-leash. Are there areas of the park where it would be wise to put your dog back on leash to avoid any surprise encounters, for example, blind corners or paths/ roads that cut through the park? This may sound too much like common sense but owners should always be aware of where their dogs are. Humans often don’t do themselves any favours by being locked into their cell phones and being oblivious to what their dogs are doing or where they are. Enjoy the experience of being with your dog and put the cell phone away for the duration of the visit to the park.
It always amazes me when people choose to cycle through an off-leash dog park and then get upset when a dog chases them. Dog 101 will tell you that most dogs like to chase moving objects. Please refrain from cycling. The other concern I have is young kids running and screaming in off-leash dog parks, often attracting the attention of dogs who interpret the kids’ actions as a trigger to chase and play rough and tumble. I understand the practical aspect: parent wants to combine child walking with dog walking. Two birds with one stone, right? If you decide to do this, please be vigilant at all times to avoid unwanted attention from an unknown dog. Too often dogs are blamed for incidents caused by non-thinking humans. It’s called a DOG park for a reason.
Another aspect of protocol is cleanliness: pick up after your dog! Apart from the potential health risk to other dogs, people don’t want to be forever stepping over poop or, worse, stepping in it. Many dog parks even provide bags for people to use so there is no excuse for not picking up your dog’s poop.
Lastly, if dog parks have gates, please ensure that, once you’ve moved through the gate with your dog, you close the gate securely behind you. Don’t assume the gate will close itself. Many dogs have been lost or put themselves in danger by gates not being properly closed in a timely manner.
A walk with your dog can be a very rewarding, relaxing experience. Think of others and we can all enjoy the great outdoors in a dog park.