Photography by Lara Blair
March 5th, 2014

There is no question that living in Portland sometimes makes it a bit of a chore to get dogs out for the exercise they need to be happy.  As much as we want to ask them to walk themselves they never seem to want to do that, so we go with the next best thing – the dog park!  There, dogs of all sizes and ages can romp and play and tire each other out.  After 20 minutes, all are exhausted and ready to return home. In an ideal world, all dogs, and people, for that matter, would naturally know how to get along with one another, interacting in random, constantly changing social groups without a run-in or conflict. We know, however, that this is just not possible. There will always be different social dynamics, different temperaments and different play styles (yes also in both humans and animals). There will be some dogs that are naturally more social and some that are on the shier side.  There will be some that are extremely energetic, and others that slowly sniff their way from end of the park to the other. There will be the markers who live to pee on everything, and ball chasers who only see their owner and the ball….or perhaps another dog’s ball.  There is a lot going on!  For many dogs, being at the dog park can be a fun, happy place to be, but it’s not the case for every dog.  In order to have the most positive experience, here are a few tips: 

whiskey-bow

Play  Watch how your dog is interacting with other dogs.  Just because she’s interacting with another dog at the dog park doesn’t mean she’s playing and having fun.  If your dog is spending all of her time running from another dog, there’s a chance she’s not playing.  Are the dogs alternating in their roles of chasing each other?  That’s good, but if your dog is just chasing or just being chased, this is a sign it’s not comfortable play and she might be stressed.  Play bowing and mirroring behaviors are generally signs that your dog is having a good time with her friend.

Balls and Toys  To some dogs, playing fetch is all that matters in the world.  My dog Boone most definitely falls into this category.  All he wants to do is chase the ball at the park.  We generally avoid traditional dog parks because he doesn’t really care if there are other dogs around.  Introducing a ball or a toy into a dog park can also bring out guarding behaviors in dogs- yours or someone else’s. 

Other Dogs  The whole reason to go to a dog park is because you want your pup to interact with other dogs, which can be great!  It can also be stressful, because like people, dogs have distinct and individual personalities. Watch for bullying behavior and avoid allowing packs to form, even loose ones.  If you see either of these happening, just move away with your dog.  Also, avoid opportunities where a leashed dog will encounter unleashed dogs.  The one on the leash may feel trapped and become aggressive.  

You  While you’re at the dog park, remember that you’re in charge of your dog and you are her protector.  Staying alert and present will help make for a happy experience for your dog.  Move around the dog park, so your dog has a chance to move away from a dog or situation that might be making her uncomfortable.  You are her safety zone and if you’re standing next to a meanie, your girl won’t have anywhere to go.

Puppies We highly recommend keeping your puppies at home, especially if they’re four months or younger.  In addition to potential health risks, there is the potential of having a negative experience.  And as we all know, a negative experience when you’re young can stick with you for life.  So wait until your dog is a little older and more mature before taking them to play with the big dogs.  

If your dog just isn’t a dog park dog, that’s OK.  It’s better not to force it.  Expending energy while stressed isn’t necessarily a good thing.  A nice walk with you could be just what she needs to get some energy out and be the best thing for her well-being and happiness.  And of course, as we all know, there is nothing better than a happy, content, tired dog!!

 

 







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