After all the chewed shoes, little accidents and clumsy behaviors, you probably know by now that raising a puppy requires long, patient hours of love and training. With some advance planning, you can set the stage for a fun, stress-free experience when you take your canine friend to the dog park for the first time.
When to Visit the Dog Park
When your dog is developmentally ready:16 weeks is ideal for a puppy to grasp dog park dynamics. Many older dogs welcome and show sensitivity to a younger, less aggressive puppy just learning the ropes, but may feel overwhelmed or threatened by a rambunctious adolescent dog.
When your dog is healthy and vaccinated: Protect your pup from contagious threats. Get your dog vaccinated to avoid him catching something you never want him to have.
When your dog is tagged: A collar and tags shows other dog owners you’re responsible, and offers an extra safety and identification measure when your puppy’s outdoors.
Set Proper Boundaries
Build upon your training: Call his name from across small rooms, then work up to calling him through the house. If you have a fenced-in yard, perfect! But if not, get creative with the safe spaces and conditions where you train.
Establish response to the “come” command: When your puppy’s command response is strong, you can feel confident he’ll come to you if dog behaviors and interactions escalate at the dog park.
Position yourself as “pack leader”: In a space with lots of different personalities, make sure your puppy knows you’re in charge. Practice leading the way, rather than your puppy leading you. Exert confidence and calm, so your puppy mirrors your mood and understands that your commands come first.
Create Ideal Conditions
Plan a walk beforehand: Bringing a wound-up puppy to a park can create a scenario of chaos, may invite disobedience and can lead to a stressful visit.
Keep it simple: A couple poop bags and yourselves is just enough gear for your visit. Food or dog treats may distract other dogs. Leave the fetch toys at home. Bring a tennis ball if you like, but know that other dogs are likely to join your dog in trying to fetch it. Having less stuff frees your attention to focus on your puppy.
Understand proper dog park etiquette. The Association of Professional Dog Trainers has a good rundown of do’s and don’ts for visiting parks, and PetMD offers some tips as well. First-time pet owners will want to brush up on the basics.
Know Where To Go
Scout out a good park: In the beginning, small, fenced-in parks are great for first time park visits.
Notice the dynamics: Observe park activity during peak evening and weekend hours to get to know the dogs and owners that play there. The same dogs often frequent the same parks. Are the dogs friendly or do you notice aggressive or tense pack behaviors? Do owners pick up or leave their dogs’ messes behind?
Pick a comfortable place: Visit the park alone beforehand to eliminate stress when you bring your pup. Observe park surroundings and visitors. Is it secluded or open? If you drive there, know where to park. Do you feel comfortable with the people there? If you don’t feel at ease, your puppy won’t either.
Responsibly bringing a puppy into the world is a tough, round-the-clock job, but if you go in as a well-prepared and confident guide though his first dog park visit, you can make this a milestone experience toward a fun-filled activity you both love!