Picture this: A magical early morning, the sun is shining, there is a gentle breeze blowing, and your pups can barely contain their excitement, because you are almost at your destination – the dog park (or in our case, a lovely park that is frequented by many a dog). You hop out of the car, clip on the leash and off you go. As you are completing the first loop, you spot a woman and her larger dog near the entrance. Since your dogs are not particularly fond of others, you put them on a short leash and place yourself between them and the other dog. Then, to your horror, the woman proceeds to unclip her dog’s leash allowing her dog to approach you. Your dogs are getting anxious and growling, and they are starting to turn on each other. Like a well-rehearsed scene, you and your partner each swiftly pick up a dog, breaking up a potential fight and hold them out of reach of the intruder. All the while, the woman just stares at you with a big smile saying, ‘He’s friendly! He won’t bite’, oblivious to the fact that your sweet, little dogs have turned into rabid beasts in your arms. By this stage you are fuming, partially deaf and no amount of death glares and replying, ‘my dogs are NOT friendly,’ deters the crazy woman.
Scenes like this have happened to us on one too many occasions and I am sure that many of you can relate as well. Lack of consideration, or even ignorance, can make walking your dog in public places very stressful and may even lead you to avoid certain places all together. Read on for some top tips for dog park etiquette.
If You Like It, Put A Leash On It!
Your dog should always be on a leash unless you are in a dedicated “off leash” area, and even then, only do it if your dog has excellent recall and is voice trained. Calling out ‘its ok, he’s friendly’ does NOT make it alright. Many dogs are on a leash for a reason; they may be reactive, scared, nervous or even deaf. Dogs, like people, need personal space and having it invaded (even by a friendly dog) can heighten their insecurities and cause them to react in a negative manner.
I also recommend not using a retractable leash. These are perfect for walking in wide open and secluded spaces, but not populated areas where you are likely to encounter other people, dogs and cars. Retractable leashes make it difficult to restrain and control your dog, if the need arises, so rather stick to a conventional 1,2m material leash.
There is a very popular system used around the world using different colours to signify different health or behavioural issues; be it aggression, deafness, blindness, nervous disposition or in training, to name a few. There are 8 colours with the following meanings: red- caution, orange- no dogs, green- friendly, white- deaf/blind, bright yellow- up for adoption, light yellow- nervous, blue- in training, purple- do not feed. Owners can either attach a coloured ribbon to their leash, or use a coloured bandana, or even colour coded collars and leashes with large, embroidered writing on it to alert people to their dog’s particular issue. This system is very effective as the colours are visible from a distance and provide advanced warning to others.
While it is not widely adopted in South Africa, many pet parents are aware of this system and are turning to it more and more.
Scoop The Poop
I know, I know, it’s a dreadful job and no one likes doing it, but it really is a must. And you have to do it EVERY TIME. It just takes one person not cleaning up after their dog for the next person to come by and think, well if they didn’t have to do it, neither do I. Before you know it, it is dog poopageddon and it really is as scary as it sounds. I suggest attaching a poop bag carrier to your leash so that you are never caught unawares, disposing of the package in the nearest bin.
Whether you have a small Yorkie, or a small horse disguised as a Great Dane, remember to SCOOP THAT POOP!
This might seem like a no-brainer, but I have witnessed countless interactions that prove otherwise. Before unleashing your dog on some unsuspecting person in the name of socialization, first ask permission. The same applies before approaching and petting another dog. People, especially children, assume that they can pet my dogs because they are small and just come charging in, not realizing that my dogs have not been exposed to children and are prone to snapping.
Always ask permission and teach your kids to do the same.
Taking your puppy to a park might seem like a good idea, but the reality is that you could be exposing them to a variety of threats, especially if they have not had all their vaccinations. Parvo is a real danger, and your puppy can become infected with the virus through direct contact or through contaminated faces (another reason to scoop that poop!). If you would like to socialize your puppy, rather attend a puppy socialization class.
Assume The Worst
This might not be a conventional tip or even apply to everyone, but, if like me, you have semi reactive dogs who can be slightly unpredictable in their behaviour (I never quite know which dog he will like, or if the person walking by will offend him), assuming the worst is a good mind set to have. For me it means putting my dog on a shorter leash and placing myself between my dog and the other person. This ensures that I have my dog under control and creates a buffer, thereby protecting both my dog and others.
Additionally, this lets me assess each situation as it arises, and I can either permit the interaction to take place or avoid it all together.
In the words of Aretha Franklin R.E.S.P.E.C.T. It is as simple as that. Having respect for the park rules, the environment, fellow dog walkers and other users of the park will go a long way to ensuring that everyone can enjoy the communal space.