GraceThis is a pretty hot topic for many humans; it’s got all the experts stumped too (even I don’t know which way to go on this!).  Are dog parks good or evil? Does your dog really like the dog park; how can you really be sure? Are all the other dogs nice; how can you really tell? Are all the other PEOPLE nice; how can you really tell?

Truth is, there’s a lot you all leave to chance when we head to the dog park, so lots to think about. Dogs who are well-adjusted, socialized, even-tempered, self-confident and have a decent education seem to do really well at the dog park. They can spot a trouble-maker a mile away and keep their noses clean, and just take advantage of the opportunity to run and play in the open spaces.

Other dogs don’t always do so well. Dogs who are a bit shy, or who don’t have good social skills can get really hinky at the dog park. Although I turned out alright, I didn’t have a great upbringing and my social skills are just not all they could be (What side of the dog bowl does the napkin get folded on? What paw do you shake with first? I can never get this stuff right!). So being in a big crowd of strange dogs isn’t always my cup of tea. When we go to the dog park, I tend to play fetch with my brother a lot and don’t get too involved with the group. When I start to feel weird or geeky, I can always hang with Barbara and pretend I’m taking a break.

Of course, there are some not-so-nice dogs at the dog park, dogs who want to take your tennis ball away, or nip at you or knock you down or (shudder!) hump you. Most of us wish those dogs would just stay home.

For most of us, though, a trip to the dog park can be a nice way to spend a little time now and then, and if you people just remember a few things then we can all have a good experience:

Keep it short! Some people think that if a half hour in the dog park is good, then 2 hours is fabulous: wrong! Enough is enough, people! By the end of that first hour, most of us are pretty well stick-a-fork-in-me-I’m-done with the whole experience. I’m physically exhausted, mentally drained and socially soaked; there’s no point in going on. And by that time, I’m starting to get a little bit edgy, so if someone was ever going to get on my nerves, the time is coming!

Just like people, when we’re in the middle of a social situation, we keep going past our limits and can get pretty stressed. Help us end the party on high note and beat it before we’re beat!

Keep moving! Some people go to the dog park and well, park themselves. When the people all clump up, then so do the dogs and that kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? We love the wide open spaces to run, but we’d like to enjoy that time with you, too. For those of us who need some help with our manners, having our human nearby to keep us out of trouble is a great back up plan. For us ‘fraidy cats, having mom or dad nearby to help us deal with the rude dogs and bullies makes us feel like a million Milkbones. So get off your duff and throw us some tennis balls or a Frisbee, maybe play a game of keep away or just enjoy exploring all corners of the park together. Don’t forget to scoop my poop!

Keep an eye out! If your dog is scared, come and help out. You can tell he’s scared if his head is down, his ears are back, his tail is tucked. If your dog is trying to make herself small, rolls on her back, piddles or keeps trying to get away, this means she is NOT having fun and needs some help. Walk on over and show some support, shoo the rude dogs off, show them who her mom or dad is.

If your dog is a bully or a jerk, then don’t let them keep that up either! Nobody likes bullies or jerks whether they’re human or dogs. You can tell your dog’s a bully if he keeps insisting on playing with dogs who only seem to want to get away. Bullies and jerks push other dogs around, take their toys, knock them down, hump them (how embarrassing!), growl and nip. If your dog starts acting like a bully or a jerk, get him out of there; get a leash on him and lead him quietly to another part of the park where you can have a quiet chat. Once he settles down a bit, let him try again. If he won’t quit, take him home and sign him up for a good manners class!

Don’t ever let me catch you saying “Let them work it out”, or I’ll have to bite your leg!

Keep a balance! Some people think that a couple of hours 2 or 3 times a week (or more!) at the dog park is all we’ll ever need to meet our exercise and social needs; that’s so not true. That’s like saying you’ll meet all your needs hanging out at a neighborhood bar every night. We need structure, education and one-on-one time with you. Dog park does not replace training classes (which we love!) or long leash-walks with you (which we love!) or car trips to nowhere (with a drive-thru hamburger or ice cream treat thrown in for good measure). But, if you want dogs (and not you!) to be the most important influence in my life, then take me to the dog park, day after day after day….

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