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    Play Nice! Introducing Your Dog to the Dog Park for the First Time

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    Off-leash dog parks are fun spaces for your dog to run around and play, meet and socialize with other dogs and just have a good time overall. They can also be fun places for owners, as well, giving you a chance to let your pup run free while playing games with it and chatting with other dog owners.

    If you’ve never taken your dog to a dog park before, the process may seem simple. All you need to do is show up, let your dog loose and leave when it is tired, right? Not exactly.

    Going to a dog park for the first time can tell you a lot about your dog and its temperament, especially if it hasn’t been around a lot of other pets before. You can’t just take your dog to the dog park and let it loose immediately, hoping for the best. Some training and preparation are needed to ensure a safe and fun environment for everyone.

    What to do before going to the dog park

    Before you even head out to visit the dog park for the first time, make sure you do the following things.

    • Make sure your dog is healthy and vaccinated: Unvaccinated dogs should not visit a dog park filled with other dogs because they could catch or unknowingly spread a dangerous disease to other visitors. This includes young puppies, which are usually not fully vaccinated until they are a few months old. If your dog has a disease, don’t put other dogs at risk by exposing them to it. Also, avoid bringing your dog to the park if it hasn’t been spayed or neutered, since this can cause a host of behavioral issues.
    • Train your dog to come to you on command: Teaching your dog to “come” is instrumental in mitigating potentially dangerous situations if the dogs at the park are in a conflict. It also ensures that you can calm your dog down if it’s too excited or get it to leave much more easily.
    • Scope out the park beforehand: Before you go, you’ll want to investigate the park you plan to visit for yourself and know what kind of people and dogs frequent it. Check the size restrictions for the park to ensure you’ll be following the rules. If you have a small dog, look for a park that has a separate enclosure for small-sized pups to ensure its safety.
    • Verify your dog is ready for the park: Make sure your dog has the right kind of temperament to visit the dog park. Dogs that are very skittish and fearful of other dogs will most likely be distressed by a large pack of dogs eager to play. Dogs with a more alpha, “bully” demeanor may also not be suitable for the dog park.

    How to act while at the dog park

    Once you’ve prepared for your visit to the park, it’s time to head out for the first time. This experience can be both exciting and overwhelming for your dog, so make sure to follow these tips.

    • Don’t let your dog loose immediately: The dogs inside will likely get excited by the new smells and experience, which can quickly overwhelm your pup. Instead, many dog parks have fences or doubled gates that allow you to introduce your dog to the other dogs at the park while maintaining a barrier between them. Then, when your dog is let loose in the park, the other dogs will already be used to its smell and be calmer.
    • Don’t let your dog run wild or get too intense: It’s common for dogs to get extremely excited and boisterous when taken to their first dog park, but this behavior could be too much for the other dogs and may even lead to a dispute. Keep a close eye on your pup and call for it to come if it’s getting over the top. Walking or running with your dog before entering the park is also a good way to help your pup blow off steam and get a little calmer before going in to meet the other dogs.
    • Watch your dog consistently: While it’s okay to chat with the other dog owners, don’t turn a blind eye to your dog’s behavior. It’s your responsibility to reel your pooch in if it starts acting in an undesirable or unsafe way. Also, don’t bend the dog park’s rules. The rules are established to keep everyone safe, and breaking them is not only inconsiderate, but could pose a safety risk to your dog or others. Don’t be afraid to leave if the situation seems unsafe or inappropriate for your dog or the other dogs.

    By following these tips, you and your dog should have a great time at the dog park. After the first instance, these tips are still very important, but the more you go and the better friends your dog makes, the more smoothly these trips will be.

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    Dr. Janice Huntingford

    Pet Wellbeing's own Dr. Jan has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years. Since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, she's founded two veterinary clinics and lectured extensively on pet herbal therapy, nutraceuticals, acupuncture, rehabilitation and pain management.

    Dr. Jan has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities, helping us to formulate all of our supplements. She is an essential part of Pet Wellbeing.

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