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Think of dog parks as happy hour

Utica Park in Frederick, MD
Utica Park in Frederick, MD

I think dog parks are great. Many trainers and animal control professionals don't agree because dog parks are a source of complaints and incidents. But so are bars that have Happy Hour. I think Happy Hour is great, too.

Think of your friends who don't go to Happy Hour. Maybe they don't have 9-5 jobs so it's just a question of convenience of time and location. Maybe they don't drink or they manage a tight budget. Maybe they don't like crowds. Dogs are no different. There are just some dogs who won't like the dog park no matter how you dress it up.

Then there are those who only like Happy Hour at a particular bar with a particular crowd. This probably describes most people and most dogs. If your friends are there and the music is good, the dog park or happy hour are just fine but one annoying newcomer who tells you his life story, slaps you on the back a little too hard, or hogs your regular table might cause you to feel a little more territorial than usual.

I'm using this example to help the dog owner who says, "He just wants to play" so she can picture how she feels when some guy "just wants to dance"--with her. Also if you are the owner of the wallflower, protect her from that guy, Okay? And if you live with the space invader or a trained military partner, think before you arrive at the most crowded time of day in a new park. Oh, and if you have the tiniest dog alive, perhaps stay out of the large dog off leash area.

Even if you have a cool character with great social skills consider teaching a few cues you can use at the park.

  • Check your equipment and supplies each time you plan an outing. If the dog park usually supplies water and clean up bags, great. But leash repair or grooming tasks should be done in advance.
  • Get to know the park by checking out its rules and busy hours. Attend at the times that best suit you and your dog.
  • Know the local emergency numbers such as animal control and a nearby vet. Even when things go well you may need assistance for minor events.
  • Teach your dog to stop on cue while running. When other dogs bully in the dog park it can cause a gang to form. If the target dog stops running, the game stops, too.
  • Keep your dog's license and rabies information with you, just in case. Your dog can be accused of instigating or injuring another and this paperwork efficiency shows you are a responsible owners, especially to the eyes of law enforcement personnel.
  • Never take more dog or dogs than you can handle.
  • Ask your dog to check in with you WITHOUT leaving the park a few times every dog park session. There's no better reward for coming when called than more fun after. You don't want to teach your dog not to come by leaving if he does so.
  • If another dog is out of control, protect your dog by getting him out of the situation. There may be no point in confronting the owner but other dog people can benefit from your example. Your dog will see she can trust you.
  • Special consideration for sight hounds. Although many dog owners will misunderstand a basket muzzle on your dog, if you know tiny dogs frequent this park, know for sure your dog can handle it, or use a muzzle anyway. Think of it as a chance to educate others who ask.
  • Remember, the dog park is for dogs. There are some children who can handle going along but you can't control the other dogs at the park.
  • If you are planning to go to the park so your dog will be busy while you catch up on text messages or eMails, consider hiring a dog walker. Inattention at the dog park is dangerous and you won't know who to blame.

Dog parks and Happy Hour have their value. Just be sure you consider what that is for you or your dog.

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