Dog Park Safety: Three Tips for Dog Owners

Recently there was an article featured in the Ukiah Daily Journal, “Keeping things friendly at Ukiah’s dog park,about the opening of the Running Free Dog Park in Low Gap Park. A big thank you for the initiative and funding to create a much needed dog park in Ukiah. Dogs need socialization and to be able to run freely. However, not all dogs, or owners, have the skills required for this type of an environment. Dog owners need to be educated on how their dogs will behave in a pack and dogs need to be properly socialized. Unfortunately, some people find out the hard way. Dogs can and will use their teeth when needed. It is up to us dog owners to be more prepared and understand that not all dogs are going to get along. Here are three things you can do to make your dog park experience safer for everyone:

1. Avoid “triggers” such as treats and toys:
There are a lot of triggers that can set dogs off, whether it’s a dog on dog or a group of dogs that combines to become part of the pack mentality. “Toys” can be anything from a tennis ball to a stick, which can easily trigger a fight. Giving your dog a food reward (treat) in a dog park with other unknown dogs around can have devastating consequences; resource guarding and aggression can happen in an instant. Dogs have a keen sense of smell and they know when there is food around. There are also rank issues. Every time a dog meets another dog they are gauging each other’s rank. Dogs are pack animals and work under the natural laws of rank, dominant and submissive. This is the only way an animal species can survive and flourish. There are no grey areas in the animal kingdom; it’s black and white. Although the dog (Canidae familiaris) is a domesticated breed, its genetics will always make it a pack animal, and with being a pack animal comes certain behaviors that can be triggered by environment and circumstances.

2. Socialize your dog in a managed environment:
It is essential that dogs run, play and learn boundaries with other dogs. Happy pack in dog yardSocialization is key to having a well-adjusted dog. At Canine Energetics, the kennel-free dog daycare and boarding facility that I own, dogs interact in a supervised pack in our acre-sized fenced yard. This mimics a dog park experience, but the difference is that it a managed environment, where the dog handlers are with the dogs constantly watching what is going on. Our experience helps us to see what behavior is happening or about to happen, and as leaders we step in and stop any unwanted behavior. The best way to get a balanced dog is to give them the opportunity to be in a balanced pack; other balanced dogs are the best trainers for your dog. We provide an environment for dogs and people to relearn inherent skills and take this out into the real world, and into the dog parks.

3. Be a leader:
One needs to be able to show leadership to your dog and other dogs at the park that may be acting inappropriately. You may also need to be able to interact directly with other dog owners to address problems. When you have a deeper understanding of dog behavior you can step in and stop any unwanted behavior. The same or similar behavior can have many different aspects to it depending on what’s happening in the dog’s immediate environment and its mental state. As a leader, you must be present and carefully observe your dog’s interactions. Developing this awareness requires hands-on experience and training, which you can acquire by working with many local dog handlers.
Dog parks provide a wonderful opportunity for dogs and their guardians to socialize and exercise. But, please go prepared, and don’t let it be a place of fear for you or your dogs. If you would like to pop into our dog center for a chat, feel free. We will happily show you a balanced pack of up to thirty dogs all getting along and talk with you about your dog.

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