When all those puppy vaccines are done, many owners want to take their puppy straight to the dog park. While the dog park can be a fun-filled romp with other lovable mutts, it can also be an overwhelming or dangerous place for a puppy.
If your puppy has yet to interact with other dogs, or is known to be shy, the dog park should wait. Good social skills are needed to visit the dog park because of the unpredictable nature of other dogs.
Knowing Warning Signs
A well-socialized dog understands warning signs of aggression from other dogs. For example, a growling dog means “keep away.” Puppies must learn these signals, preferably first from friendly canine companions. If your dog is unprepared, then it could mean a nasty bite from an aggressive dog with a short temper.
Think of the dog park like visiting a bar. Most people are friendly, but sometimes you’ll meet a drunk maniac looking for a fight. With experience, it’s easy to avoid the crazies.
Pick a Quiet Time
If you think your puppy is ready for the dog park, then pick a quiet time for a first visit. The middle of the day during the middle of the week is a good time to go, because most people are at work.
Saturday and Sunday mornings are usually crowded. The high energy of so many dogs can be overwhelming for a young dog. If you see the dog park is crowded, come back another time.
Big Dogs and Little Dogs
If you have a small breed puppy, then look for a dog park with separate areas for big and small dogs. While your little guy might be able to hang with the big dogs one day, he has a higher chance of becoming a snack if he doesn’t have his social skills up to snuff.
Your puppy should have good “recall” before going to the dog park, where he will be off-leash. Practice without distractions first. Call your puppy and give lots of treats and praise when he comes to you. Slowly add in more distractions, such as other people and dogs.
The dog park can be very distracting. Excellent recall will help your dog avoid conflicts. Ending a visit is also much easier (and less embarrassing) if you don’t have to chase your dog around to get him back on the leash.
Take Off the Leash
Think again if you want to take your puppy to the dog park and keep him on a leash the whole time. Although this might seem like a good way to keep your puppy safe, it can actually make him feel more threatened by other dogs and lead to a bad experience.
Some dogs are actually known to be “leash aggressive,” meaning they are more likely to attack other dogs when they are kept on a leash. This is most likely due to fear of not being able to protect themselves or run away when approached by another dog.
Toys Can Spell Trouble
If your puppy has a favorite ball, toy, or frisbee, then consider leaving it at home for your first trip to the dog park. Dogs sometimes fight over toys, so it’s best to start simple and then add toys in later.
Most dogs do great at the dog park. Take extra time socializing your puppy before going to the dog park if he is shy or shows any signs of aggression. The keys to socializing your puppy are to go slowly and back off when your puppy is overwhelmed or frightened. This is especially true when you’re heading to the dog park for the first time.