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 ARTICLES > Puppies > Puppies
  Puppies  Article:
Article By: Niki Elliott        Publish Date: 2007-03-10

Taking your puppy to the park – etiquette and safety tips.
By Niki Elliott

Many of our handlers have expressed a concern about taking their new puppy to the park, and often this fear is due to bad “park etiquette “ on the part of owners of whose dogs have not been shown how to behave to-wards other dogs. Not all dogs are friendly towards other dogs or puppies, and yet their owners still allow these dogs to run free and hold their breath when their dog is approached by another dog.

There are a number of points you can work with before introducing your puppy to the park. Firstly enrol in a puppy class where the socialization with other puppies is monitored closely. This will give you the opportunity to see how well your puppy deals with meeting and greeting other pups. If he is very nervous and fearful of other puppies he will be totally overwhelmed in park where there are bigger dogs. If he is a bit overconfident, he might get into trouble with older dogs. Seeing his behaviour in puppy class allows you to work on these behaviours before introducing him to a place where he might be physically or emotionally affected.   

At Puppy School it is usually only necessary that your pup has had his first vaccination but before going to a park, make sure that your puppy has had his full set of vaccinations and is up to date with his worming protocol. In some of the parks there are piles of faeces lying around, a breeding ground for disease. Some dogs that visit are either not up to date with their vaccinations or have never been vaccinated.

When you are ready to introduce your pup to the park, spend a few minutes watching the other dogs and how they are playing and interacting with others. If the dogs seem to be too rough in their play or are intimidating other dogs, come back some other time. Be careful of taking your puppy to the park when it is very hot. Puppies can overheat very quickly.

At Puppy School you will have been taught how to get a solid “WATCH” and “RECALL” from your puppy. These are essential “tools” for you both in the park, especially once you have removed his lead. Have some really yummy treats and, if you have been Clicker training your puppy, your clicker handy. Start right from the moment you arrive, asking for a behaviour and rewarding it.

Have your puppy on lead and take care when entering the dog park gate. Other dogs tend to crowd around to greet arriving dogs. This jostling and crowding can be quite intimidating to puppies and may result in your puppy being terrified and never wanting to return to the park. This is often the place where fights break out.

Introduce your puppy, on lead, to the other dogs gradually – allow him to greet other dogs while he’s still in the separate entry area, if this is available at your park, or let him sniff around the fenced boundary. When you go up to another dog, ask the other owners if you may introduce your pup to their dog. Do not assume that every dog will like your puppy.

It is advisable not take your small children or babies in prams to the dog park at first. Get the feeling of the atmosphere in the park before you attempt this and allow yourself time to become confident in handling your puppy in these circumstances. Dogs and children can easily frighten one another and bad things can happen to either of them in the blink of an eye. Supervise your puppy. This is not the time for you to be distracted talking with other owners. You must be monitoring your puppy’s activities to be sure he isn’t behaving badly and other dogs are not behaving badly toward him. This is another reason not to take young children – you can’t adequately supervise both the puppy and kids at the same time. Be particularly watchful of small dogs around big dogs. Don’t let big dogs frighten or threaten small dogs. Aggression between big and small dogs is especially likely to result in injuries to the small dog.

Don’t take any toys to the park your puppy is not willing to share. While treats are a great way to reward good behaviour, be careful about giving them to your puppy when other dogs are nearby. If your puppy can’t tolerate other dogs crowding around her wanting to share the goodies, treats may not be a good idea.

Avoid grabbing your pup’s collar when he is playing or interacting with other dogs. Such tugging can sometimes trigger threats and aggression toward nearby dogs. This is where your recall is extremely important. Quite often, if you can’t get your pup to pay attention to you, simply walk away and chances are that your pup will see your retreating back and run after you.

If your puppy seems to be fearful or is being “bullied” by other dogs, don’t let him stay, thinking he will “get over it”, that he will learn to “stand up for himself”. Chances are greater his behaviour will get worse. Don’t let other dogs threaten or scare your puppy. If they won’t leave, then you should leave.

If your puppy is being a bully, being threatening or aggressive or just seems to be overly excited, remove him from the park, either temporarily or permanently. It is not fair to put other dogs at risk. Make the safety of other dogs and people as high a priority as the safety of your own.

Be knowledgeable about dog body postures, communication signals and social behaviour. You should be able to recognize stress, tension, fear, play, threats and aggression. Know the difference between play (which can be very active and sound violent) and real threats. Know when to intervene and when to stay out of an interaction among dogs. This should be covered in your Puppy Classes but if you feel inadequate, learn more before taking your puppy to a park. Harm can come to your puppy if you under-react as well as over-react.

Recognize that by taking your puppy to a dog park, you are accepting a degree of risk that your puppy may be injured or may injure another dog. Don’t be naïve and think that a dog park is a safe place for your dog to be around other dogs. This may not always be the case.

PLEASE pick up after your dog. You don’t want to step in another dog’s poop anymore than someone else wants to step in your dog’s mess. Woolworths is selling a “Poop Bag” dispenser and some Vets keep a similar product as well. Really handy to have one attached to your lead, so you don’t leave the bag in the car!

Niki is a TTouch Practitioner for Companion Animals and  gives regular puppy classes. She can be reached at niki@ttouch.co.za

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