Summer is the best for spending time outside with your furry friends. With Grand Rapids becoming a more dog friendly city, there are a ton of things to do in the city and surrounding areas. Plenty of dog parks and beaches and patios at restaurants that allow you to bring your companion. Dog parks can be a bit tricky though, and often times are not as picturesque as what you see above. Both Holly and I have had run-ins at several dog parks that have not gone so well, so we decided to do a bit of research on etiquette, warning signs and how to get yourself and your pup out of some not so safe situations.
First, basic etiquette. Though there are variations of what you should do as a responsible pet owner at the park, they all come down to the same principles as what’s outlined by the American Kennel Club:
Should your pet show signs of illness or contagious disease, don’t bring them to the park.
Don’t bring a puppy less than 4 months old, a female dog in heat or an unneutered male.
Always have an eye on your dog. Don’t allow your dog to be aggressive with others and vice versa.
(This one’s pretty obvious) Pick up after your dog.
Don’t bring food for yourself or your dog. You don’t know if there’s a dog in the park with food aggression. Or a person with food aggression, that could be more dangerous.
Bring a portable water dish for your dog, the water bowls at the park carry the risk of communicable illnesses.
Keep your small dog in the designated small dog area even if they “play well with others”. This does not mean others play well with them and… well, physics.
Bring your own ball if your dog likes to play with them - again going back to shared toys/water bowls and communicable illness - but be prepared to lose it.
Don’t let your dog run in a pack, dogs are pack animals and they will no longer need you. Just kidding, they’ll always need you, but they tend to get over stimulated when running in packs and this can spark aggression.
Understanding the situation at hand:
Sometimes, people assume that the dog park can be used as a substitution for a walk. Their dog has been home all day alone and they take them right to the dog park - where is all of that energy going to go? They may just run around or play fetch, or they may zero in on your pup. The dogs may be hyper-aroused and it could ignite a fight (see what I did there?). It’s best to try to keep your dog away from others like this, but if impossible and you’re unable to go to the small dog side or another on leash play area outside of the park, it’s best to leave for your dog and the other dog’s safety. I know, it seems unfair but dogs are just like kids and have their days sometimes.
Keep an eye on the situation and stay alert while there, often times you can prevent a fight from ever starting just by reading another dog’s temperament. It’s also important to know your own dog’s temperament like the back of your hand so you can gauge when things might be getting out of hand. Is your dog normally very vocal? Make sure those barks don’t turn into snarls because that means someone is unhappy with what’s going on, even if the other dog is still being playful. Watch their bodies for further signs of an issue. If they’re relaxed and tails are wagging they are having a good time. It’s when their bodies become rigid and/or the hair on their back is sticking up that an issue arises.
If a fight does break out with your dog and another, it’s best not to panic. Dogs pick up on our emotions and that could further intensify the situation. Try distracting them by calling their names, or a loud noise to startle them apart (stomping, clapping or banging water bowls together). Do NOT try to reach for either dog’s collar - dogs will bite instinctively (as we may love them like our own family, they are still animals) and could put you in harms way and you’ll be unable to assist your dog if you’re injured. Another way to break it up without getting between the dogs or getting physical is to use water - either a spray hose or a water bottle you may have on hand. The dogs should walk away after, wet, but unscathed. If you’re still having trouble or none of these things are available try being resourceful. Is there a piece of plyboard or cardboard nearby that you can use to separate the dogs? Or maybe a blanket? Dogs typically won’t continue to fight if they’re unable to see each other.
A fight between someone else’s dogs? Keep yours at a distance, distracted. Some dogs may become hyper-aroused seeing other dogs fighting so it’s best to keep them distracted and away from anything going on. Only intervene if someone else can keep your dog at a distance and no one else is attempting to break the dogs apart (even then, proceed with caution).
Most parks have rules clearly outlined and posted just outside or as you walk in. Sadly, not everyone is considerate and not everyone obeys the rules. But with this information it should hopefully be easier to spot and prevent possible issues!
Be safe and have fun in the sun with your pup this summer! Always feel free to email us with suggestions for future topics or any questions you may have about your pup specifically.