In South Africa, we don’t have designated dog parks; instead dogs share our parks and fields with kids and sports. We dog owners need to be extra considerate as our free running dogs can frighten children and interfere with ball games. Inconsiderate owners who don’t “scoop the poop” can make us very unwelcome. Even dog lovers don’t like to stand in doggy doo!
South African dogs spend most of their lives cooped up behind high walls, so a daily outing to the park is essential for physical exercise as well as mental stimulation. Dogs are social animals and they really benefit from the opportunity to hone their social skills. Meanwhile you get to meet the other dog owners in your area.
To make sure your park experience is a good one for you and your dog, here are some tips to consider:
1. Get control first! Your dog needs to be trained to come when called before you let him play off lead as once he discovers that you can’t make him come back until he feels like it, you can whistle! Young puppies should not play off-lead until they are at least 4 – 5 months old and they also need a very reliable recall. Don’t even take your new pup to the park until he has had all his shots. When puppies get tumbled by bigger, older dogs they can become very fearful.
2. Dress for the occasion. You are likely to be jumped on and covered with muddy paw prints. Shoes with traction (no heels) and a warm jacket are the order of the day.
3. Choose the right size dogs for your dog to play with. Small dogs can easily be intimidated by larger dogs and can even be hurt accidently if stepped on or rolled by a larger dog. Some larger dogs can also see small dogs as prey if they are running across the field.
4. Leave the treats at home. A pocketful of treats might be useful for your training but can sometimes cause fights. Also best not to bring your own food along as not all dogs have good “table” manners!
5. Don’t take your eyes off your dog for a minute. If your dog is super friendly, you still need to keep him in your site all the time. You are responsible for everything your dog does and accidents can and do happen. Your friendly dog might run off to join a ball game or knock over a toddler. You can also not predict what other dogs may do. Rough play can easily turn into a fight and multiple dogs increase the possibility. If your dog gets a bit out of hand, call him back to you (or fetch him) and make him lie quietly next to you for a while until he has calmed down.
6. Prevent fights and squabbles. If your dog is quite boisterous, you need to watch to see that he isn’t intimidating any other dogs by mounting or pinning them. He might be playing but the other owners might not see it that way. Even the friendliest dog might have one or two dogs that he doesn’t get along with. Rather leave with your dog before things turn nasty. If your dog is being rolled and pinned and his body language says that he has had enough (tucked tail, pinned back ears), it is also a good time to leave.
7. Make yourself welcome. The park is a great place to make new friends as doggy people are drawn to other doggy people! Always carry poo bags to clean up after your dog. No one likes the dog owner who pretends he or she didn’t notice their dog making a poo!!
8. Keep an eye on your human kids. Little kids can easily be barrelled off their feet when dogs are playing. It can also be quite intimidating for children who are not familiar with large groups of dogs to be in the midst of a group of playing dogs.
With a bit of common sense, your visit to the park can be wonderful experience for you AND your dog.
Take your dog out to the park today!