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She suggests planning smaller doggie play dates to help with socialization. “It’s better to take them someplace where you know the other dog is good with puppies,” she says. You can also attend puppy classes where you know the area has been disinfected and “people are skilled at watching for behavior and can help make sure that your puppy doesn’t end up having a bad experience.”
On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll want to think twice about bringing a senior dog or a dog with a health issue to the park, too. For an older dog who’s always loved the park, Dr. Flynn suggests going at a quieter, off-peak time. You should also consult your vet to see if your dog is healthy enough to go.
Dr. Flynn says behavior at the dog park is often an overlooked area of concern. “It’s really the responsibility of all owners to monitor their dog’s behavior and see if their dog is uncomfortable,” she says. “People, while well-intentioned, don’t recognize that their dog is maybe too exuberant, too pushy. All too often I’ve heard of situations where somebody says that their dog is rough with puppies at the dog park or their dog doesn’t like small dogs, but they still take them to the dog park. I think if you are an owner of one of those dogs, it’s better to find other places to get the exercise for your dog that she needs, rather than putting other dogs at risk.”
She explains that bad experiences can have lasting effects, making your dog hard to walk on a leash because she’s become scared of or aggressive with other dogs. Dr. Flynn recommends scoping out the park a few times without your dog to see what the environment is like and observing how closely other owners watch their pets' behavior. She also says it’s a good idea to keep moving while you’re at the park.
“The gates tend to be an area where people are congregating, so I think if you can, walk right past everybody as fast as possible into a less busy part of the park and then sort of circle back to the busier area once your dog has gotten some of her energy out,” Dr. Flynn says. “They kind of get exposed to the dogs as you’re moving through.”
If you own a small dog, it’s safest to stay in the small dog area, if your park has one. She noted she’d be willing to drive past two other dog parks to reach one that has a small dog area.
Overall, dog parks can be a wonderful social experience for your dog (and you), as long as you take precautions and stay alert.
“Any time that you’re there, if you feel uncomfortable for any reason, whether it’s that your dog is being a little rough or you feel that another dog is being a little rough with your dog, just head out,” Dr. Flynn says. “Just go ahead and leave, maybe try it another day... rather than risking a bad situation or them learning bad skills.”
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