Meeting up in the park with some doggy chums is the highlight of the day for many canines. It’s a chance to play chase or fetch, check out the top sniffing spots, enjoy a spot of wrestling, or just hang out with some four-pawed pals – and for their devoted humans to catch up with each other.
For dogs who know each other well, there will be a familiar greeting ritual, usually involving a brief sniff and some wagging tails before it’s time to get down to the serious business of playing. However, if you and your dog are new to the dog park pack, it’s important that introductions are made carefully.
Don’t let your dog just barrel in to an existing dog group as this is likely to spell trouble. Keep your dog on a loose lead and at reasonable distance from the other canines. Depending on the personalities involved, they may each have differing views on what the arrival of a new dog will mean. Are they a new playmate? Are they a threat?
Stroll slowly around the perimeter towards the humans in the group. Introduce yourself to the other owners and ask them about their dogs, while letting your dog observe. Start with brief introductions of around three seconds to allow for some investigative sniffing, before casually backing away. Spend some time just letting your dog and the other canines get used to each other’s presence.
When dogs are feeling threatened, their stress response is fight or flight. While on a lead, they can’t choose flight, so fight is the only option – which is why a dog may feel compelled to growl or snap at another dog who they feel is invading their safe space
Don’t allow the sniffing introductions to go on too long as this can make things tricky for your dog. While she is on the lead, which is the safest approach when meeting new dogs, she doesn’t have many options if she’s feeling uncomfortable. When dogs are feeling threatened, their stress response is fight or flight. While on a lead, they can’t choose flight, so fight is the only option – which is why a dog may feel compelled to growl or snap at another dog who they feel is invading their safe space. If your dog does this, don’t tell them off – it’s just their way of saying ‘I don’t like this, I’m scared’. Just move your dog away and calmly reassure them that everything is OK.
Assess the situation
You may want to repeat the observation/quick sniffs process a few times before you take the next step and let your dog join in. A lot depends on your own assessment of the situation – and your dog’s personality. If the group is small, with friendly, relaxed dogs and welcoming owners – and your dog is sociable, without being pushy, then they are likely to fit in pretty quickly.
However, if any dog in the group shows signs of aggression, or your dog is obviously not feeling comfortable, this group may not be the right one for you. Some dogs find the high energy of group dog play just too stressful, preferring to play with a select friend or two. It’s important that you take time to see what’s a good fit for your dog and tailor sociable play activity to suit.
Keep a close eye
Even close doggy friends have the occasional tiff, but it’s your job as a dog owner to keep a close eye on what’s going on to ensure things don’t escalate. Some dogs love to chase each other, doing circuits (usually to see who can outrun the Greyhound or Whippet), but don’t encourage groups of dogs to run as a pack, as this could quickly get out of control.
If things are getting a little heated, a great way to calm everyone down is to try some ‘sprinkling’. This is simply scattering some small treats on the ground and encouraging the canine group to use their noses to find them. Most dogs love this challenge and will quickly become engrossed in the activity.
Be very cautious if children are present – never let your dog chase children and, unless they’re used to small people and have an impeccable record, it’s safer to put them on the lead. Some children have absolutely no awareness that it’s not OK to go up to a strange dog and give them a cuddle.
Toys and treats
Lots of dogs enjoy chasing and fetching a ball – but be prepared to lose a few – they’re dogs after all. Other canines will enjoy tuggy toys, but if tension builds up over who’s got who’s toy then put them away to avoid scuffles. Always have treats to hand to reward your dog when they come when you call them. This can be quite an achievement for them with so many exciting distractions – so, give them lots of praise when they come trotting back to you.
Health and safety
There are, of course, basics that all dog owners should follow, which include always carrying poop scoop bags, picking up and depositing in the dog waste bin. Bring water and a bowl to ensure your dog stays hydrated – all that playing can be thirsty work! Also ensure your dog has access to a shady spot so they enjoy some time out away from the sun. Never take your dog to the park if they show signs of illness or if they’re in heat.
Follow this advice and you and your canine pal will be the most popular members of the park dog club!
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