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Robin and I were in Miami last weekend performing some maintenance on a Dog Guard Out of Sight Fencing® system that was installed over ten years ago.  They had planted some new trees in their back yard and had cut through the perimeter wire.  We fixed the break pretty quickly and asked the owner if there was anything else we could assist him with.  He said “I am not sure if you can help, but I want to take Teddy, my new boxer, to the local dog park.  I am not sure the best way to make sure it will be all OK.  Do you have any suggestions?”  He also mentioned that Teddy was about 8 months old and had never been to a dog park or had been around many other dogs and people.

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Since we are also dog trainers, we can always help in this matter.  We are never great fans of dog parks because most people do not properly prepare their dogs for the experience or properly manage them when they are there.  We have seen many cases where owners take their dogs to a dog park and the dog becomes exceedingly frightened and even attacked.  This experience can often follow the dog for life; making them aggressive and fearful around strangers and other dogs.

The most important thing that you must understand when taking your dog to a dog park, or any outside location, is preparation, management, and observation.  The goal is to always have your dog feel safe and understand that you are his caregiver and will always keep him safe.  You must slowly introduce your dog to the variables that will be involved in the situation, show consistency in your actions, act on any problem the moment it occurs, and understand your dog’s ultimate boundaries.

Here are the steps that we recommend to introduce your dog to a dog park:

  • PEOPLE: There will be people at the dog park and people coming and going from the parking lot to the dog park.  You must make sure that your dog is fine with that.  Make sure that your dog behaves well around people.  He shouldn’t jump on them or show any inappropriate actions.  If he misbehaves, place a leash on him and guide him back as soon as he begins to misbehave or overadrenalize.  You can practice this in your front yard or inside your house.  Once your dog does not pay attention to others, take him for a short walk (three or four houses up and down the street) when other people are out.  Try to have it during a time when there are no dogs.  If he starts to adrenalize or give too much focus to the other people, have him sit and focus on you.  Continue this until your dog “doesn’t give too much attention to others”.
  • DOGS AND PEOPLE: Now we are going to ramp it up a little. Take your dog out for a walk as we outlined earlier.  Now I want you to walk when there are people and other dogs.  Repeat the above process.  If your dog becomes to adrenalized or inappropriately focused, step away from the path of the other person/dog and then have your dog sit & focus on you.  If he is still a little overadrenalized or doesn’t give you focus, take a few steps farther way and out of the path of the approaching person/dog.
  • EXCITED PLAY: Now it is time to make sure your dog is socialized with the excited type of play he would experience in the dog park.  Have a play date with another dog (obviously you know the other dog and owner) in your back yard.  Keep the leash on both dogs.  Let them play to their hearts’ content.  Throw toys for them to catch and leave goodies in the yard for them to find.  If you see any overly avert acts, step on the leashes and direct them away.  Let them calm down and then release them again.  Continue this until they can play and interact without escalating to any overtly aggressive posture or act.
  • SOARS: Make sure that there are no soars or “painful to the touch” parts on your dog’s body.  This could easily invoke a snap or bite if another dog begins to physically play with him.  Inspect your dog for soars. Rub his ears and paws.  Slightly push on all his joints.  If he whimpers or snaps, have him checked by your Veterinarian before you think of going to the Dog Park.
  • CHECK THE DOG PARK OUT: Go on line and check out the local dog parks in your area.  Are there any bad reviews?  Are the facilities run down and dirty?  Are there different areas for big and small dogs?  Is there an area just for puppies?  Pick two or three that look interesting and then visit them.  Go by yourself when you would normally think of taking your dog.  Sit on a bench outside the dog park and just observe.  The big question that you must ask yourself is “Is this the environment in which I would want my dog to play?”  If the answer is no, scratch that dog park of your list.
  • DRY RUN WITH YOUR DOG: Now that you have narrowed it down to one or two dog parks, it is time to “ask your dog what he thinks”.  Take your dog to the dog park at the same time you had previously checked out the park alone.  Make sure that the activity at the park is similar to what you had observed on prior visits.  DO NOT GO INTO THE DOG PARK.  Sit outside of the fence on a bench with your dog.  Walk around the edge of the dog park about 100 feet away from the fence.  Slowly circle the park and get closer on each pass.  If your dog starts to show any fear or aggression, move away from the fence, have him sit and focus on you.  Continue this until you can walk within about 10 feet of the fence and your dog is calm and you can easily gain his focus.  Have him sit several times as you are circling the fence.
  • READY TO GO IN: If everything is fine up to now, it is time to attempt to enter the dog park.  This time, go at a quiet time when there are very few dogs at the dog park.  Bring a friend and his dog with you.  Have your friend and his dog enter first.  Make sure your friend’s dog is still wearing his leash.  It is not being held by your friend.  Now, bring your dog to the gate.  Have him sit and be calm.  Now, slowly enter the dog park and drop the leash.  Your friend’s dog will probably approach first and greet.  Your dog now “has a wingman”.  Let them roam and greet other dogs.  If there is any fear or aggression, step on your dogs leash and guide him away.  Repeat this with your friend and his dog for several visits.
  • RAMP IT UP: Now that your dog has made several successful dog park visits during quiet times, it is time to add more dogs.  Go at increasingly busy times until you reach the time that you would normally bring your dog.  You might want to bring your friend and his dog every once in a while just for consistency from the prior experiences.  If you see that there is a point of activity that your dog can no longer handle, he is trying to say that he has reached is natural comfort level.  Do not try to force him into a situation where there are just too many dogs.
  • GENERAL SAFETY RULES:
    • Never stay too long at the dog park. Your dog can become overly tired or over heated.
    • Never bring his favorite toys to the dog park. This could cause possession aggression and rapidly escalating fights.
    • Never feed him at the dog park.
    • Take him outside the fence when you want to give him water. You don’t want the other dogs trying to “steal a sip” and cause a problem.
    • If you feel any dog is becoming overly aggressive or an owner is not behaving responsibly, that is your queue to leave. Don’t get into a confrontation, it’s not worth it.
    • Finally, just use your common sense. Remember that the entire purpose of the dog park is to allow your dog to socialize with other dogs and bond with you.  Some dogs just aren’t “dog park dogs”; and that is fine too.

The most important thing is that we don’t put our dogs in harm’s way or have them loose confidence in us.  Having a great dog and lifelong companion is easy if we do the right thing.  Please contact us by going to  Dog Fence Training Help.  We have more dog training, dog safety, and dog fence information at Best Out of Sight Fence Trainers Miami South FloridaDid you know that we are professional dog trainers?  Get more information by going to Home Dog Training South Florida.