Arizona dog parks are one of the great dividing issues amongst dog lovers. Some of us enjoy the chance to let our dogs off leash to play with other dogs and socialize, while others are wary of parks for numerous reasons. Regardless of how we feel about dog parks, in any public place with other people and animals, there are bound to be risks, such as dog fights and injuries to both people and canines.
In the wake of current debates regarding dog aggression and owner responsibility, I want to discuss some ways that we can make our dog parks a safe place to play. Even for those who do not take their dogs to parks, these issues are a concern. The truth is, as long as there are dog parks, people will take their pets to them. The more dog bites and attacks we see at parks as a result of human error, the more all of us will be subject to legislation regulating dog ownership for all people, regardless of where we take our pets to play.
These tips for safely enjoying a dog park may just save you or someone you know from facing a lawsuit over a dog bite (whether the victim is human or canine), or from becoming the victim of one.
How to Enter a Dog Park
Most dog parks in the U.S. are set up with a 2-gate system. The first gate opens to a sort of holding area devoid of dogs, and the second opens to the park itself.
Step 1: Approach the first gate. If your dog appears anxious or overexcited, go for a long walk before entering. This helps to calm your dog down.
Step 2: After entering the first gate, unleash your dog and have them sit before releasing them into the park. Remove choke chains, prong collars, e-collars, etc. before entering.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If your dog park has a separate park for smaller dogs away from the park for larger dogs, please choose the appropriate area based on your dog’s size. Your Pomeranian may handle large dogs well, but that does not mean that large dogs can play appropriately with small dogs. A large dog can easily injure a small one by accident; imagine how much easier it would be for a dog with a strong prey drive. Look at it this way: there would be an angry mob if someone let their German Shepherd, Rottie or Pit in the small dog park to play because “they play nicely with small dogs.” Obey the signs and size recommendations.
Step 3: Release your dog into the park. Keep your leash handy at all times in case of emergency. Don’t panic if you see your dog “posturing” with another (hackles raised, ears slightly back, and tail still wagging). In most cases, this is a normal reaction to suddenly being confronted with a strange dog. Obviously, if their behavior gets more aggressive than this, remove your dog and have them sit by you to calm down. Dogs have their own method of communication and can work things out on their own, but your job is still to intervene if things get out of hand. Know the difference between playing and fighting.
Step 4: Pay close attention to your dog and your surroundings. Too many owners spend time looking at their phones or chatting with other owners, and as a result, don’t watch their dog for any signs that they are uncomfortable or perhaps bullying others. If your dog is playing too rough, obsessively chasing or harassing another dog, or showing other signs of aggression, it’s time for you to leave.
Tips for Dog Owners
- Establish a good recall so that you can rely on your dog to come when called.
- If your dog is very skittish or submissive but you are trying to “socialize” them, visit the park during off-peak hours when there are very few dogs present. Some dogs have a tendency to play more aggressively with submissive dogs, which is only going to lower your dog’s confidence and may cause negativity around other dogs. Better yet, set up doggie “play dates” with a friend so that your dog can play with one dog at a time and not feel overwhelmed.
- Dogs do not have to like other dogs. Some dogs are simply not suited to playing with other dogs, and that is perfectly okay as long as you recognize this fact and do not create situations that put you, them, or other people and dogs in danger. Instead spend time hiking, swimming, running or playing ball together as a way of playing (and bonding) with your dog.
- Remember that dogs are not human. Yes, they have their own personalities and feelings, but they are still animals and will act as such. Anthropomorphizing dogs does them a great disservice and completely misunderstands them.
- Spay or neuter, vaccinate and license your dog if you want to visit a dog park. Intact dogs are often a problem in parks even if the dog itself is behaving. Male dogs may fight over an unspayed female, or pick fights with an unneutered male.
Finally, always be aware of the risks when in a dog park. Not only is there a risk of danger to humans and dogs, but there is also the looming risk of lawsuits due to dog aggression. A dog park is a highly stimulating environment for any dog, so it’s no wonder that dog bite lawsuits occur! Don’t be afraid to (respectfully) call out other dog owners for negligent behavior, and leave if someone refuses to control their pet. Legalities concerning so-called aggressive dogs are not only expensive, but they can cost the life of a pet too.
Read all signs posted for the park. While you usually agree to waive the park’s liability for dog bite injuries, other municipal laws will still apply concerning owner liability. Your job as an owner is to keep your dog safe as well as to keep others safe from your dog. The choice of whether you play at dog parks is up to you, but everyone needs to understand dog park etiquette. The rise of responsible ownership is the best way to prevent most dog bites, fights and attacks.