Pittsburgh Pirates Pup Night

It’s baseball season, and going to the game doesn’t always mean having to leave your best friend at home. Major and minor league teams all over the country are holding special events where you can bring your dog to a baseball game, including fun promotions and partnerships with local animal shelters.

For some teams, it’s one or two games, but others do more, like the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are holding 10 Pup Nights this season. They’ve been doing it for a decade, and offer more than just watching the game — attending fans get goodies like bandanas, dog bag dispensers and collapsible dog bowls with the team’s logo. The Pirates also host shelter dogs in the hopes of getting them adopted.

"It is an awesome experience," says Cassie Wilkinson, Director of Group Sales and Hospitality for the Pirates. "We have everything from Chihuahuas to Bullmastiffs that come, and a lot of people have made close ties to other dog owners."

How Does It Work?

Various teams set up these events differently. You’ll generally be in a separate area from dogless patrons, but beyond that, the specifics vary. At the Pirates’ stadium, they use a special event area. "It provides a private space for the dogs to walk around on their leashes and interact with other dogs, as well as view the actual Pirates game," Wilkinson says. The team provides water and a dedicated potty area.

At other stadiums, you might sit in the regular seats in an area set aside for the event. At Bark in the Park, held by the Kansas City Royals, you each get a seat: Every reservation includes one human ticket and one dog ticket, so you have enough space. There are also places you’re allowed to walk around with your dog and vendors you can visit, so you don’t have to be stuck in your seat for the whole game.

For these events, expect to sign a waiver and perhaps provide proof of vaccination when you buy your ticket. Even if you’re not asked for this paperwork, it’s still important to make sure your dog is current on his vaccinations and parasite control any time he may be exposed to other pets. And, while you’re keeping safety first, remember to pack fresh water for your dog, plus sunscreen for light-colored, short-haired or hairless dogs. Watch your dog for signs of overheating, and be prepared to take him into the shade if necessary.

Is This for You?

Is your dog up for going out to the ballgame? First, remember that this is going to be an on-leash event, and many dogs react differently to other dogs on leash and off leash. "Just because they do well at the dog park doesn’t necessarily mean they will do well in a situation on leash with a lot of other dogs," says trainer Mikkel Becker.

Pittsburgh Pirates Pup Night

So, consider how your dog does when meeting other dogs on leash, and whether any initial excitement settles down quickly. Of course, all of the dogs will be with people, so your dog also needs to be comfortable with people of all ages and sexes. Ballgames also involve loud noises — music and cheers — so think about whether your pup can handle it if everyone jumps up and shouts at an exciting play.

Socializing, or Not

Remember that as well as being on leash, you may sometimes be in tight spaces. "When a dog is meeting another dog in a smaller space, that can be a lot more stressful," Becker says. "Our dogs need space to use their body language to communicate with other dogs when they’re meeting them."

So, don’t allow greetings unless there’s room for the dogs to circle and back away, if needed, and for the humans not to get leashes tangled. Try to keep a loose leash, because tight leashes can make for tense greetings. If you’re in regular stadium seating with your dog, when someone needs to get by, you may want to get up out of your seat and move into the aisle, instead of making them squeeze past.

And remember: It’s always fine to just walk by politely without stopping to greet. "It’s a misconception that a dog needs to greet every dog they pass by," Becker says.

Are We Having Fun?

Be aware of the signals that your dog is uncomfortable. Know his normal tail height, and don’t assume that a wagging tail means a happy dog. "Be wary of a high, tight, fast tail wag," says Becker, which can mean a dog is likely about to react in some way. "A happy tail wag is more of a wide, sweeping motion, slightly raised but not really high." A slightly lower tail than usual sometimes is just appeasement behavior, but if the tail starts to tuck or lower, the dog might be afraid or uncertain.

Pittsburgh Pirates Pup Night

A happy dog’s mouth is relaxed and loose. If you can see the whites of the eyes or the pupils dilated, it may mean your dog is stressed. And, yawning doesn’t always mean your dog is tired — or bored of the game — but rather, it can be another sign of stress.

And, while ballgames are almost synonymous with hot dogs, remember that foods and toys that your dog values strongly can cause conflict among canines. If you’re bringing a chew or toy for your dog to entertain himself, maybe don’t bring his absolute favorite. "Some dogs get growly and protective when they’re around those really valuable things," Becker says. "So maybe don’t have that toy there at the game."

Learning to Chill Out

If you want to be able to watch the game, your dog needs to know how to chill for a while. It’s actually a useful skill for a dog to willingly lie calmly for an extended period of time. "You could consider training your dog to do this on a certain blanket or mat that you can take to the game," Becker says. Start training a long down on the mat at home, then practice in the yard, a patio, an outdoor cafe or the park, and gradually extend the time.

With this or any behavior you expect of your dog, make sure he’s comfortable with it in a more challenging and long-term situation. If he’s not good in crowds, with other dogs or with loud noises, an event like this isn’t the place to work on it. "This wouldn’t be the place to go and try to fix problem behavior," Becker says.

So, make sure the situation will be well within your dog’s comfort level, because if he’s not happy, you won’t be either. If you think your dog is a good candidate to visit the ballpark, then stay safe, keep our tips in mind and root, root, root for the home team!

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