A dog catching a frisbeeDuPage County boasts several natural areas, parks, lakeside trails, and other outdoor recreation possibilities. Because of this, it’s no wonder that so many dog owners are anxious to get out there with their intrepid canines as soon as the weather permits.

For many, dog parks, such as Mayslake Forest Preserve Dog Park – a sprawling off-leash, fenced-in wonderland for dogs – are a natural choice. Unfortunately (and you probably know what we’re about to say), some dogs are not exactly prepared for the social occasion.

Whether you have been the dog owner whose (im)perfect pooch has decided to go AWOL, or you have witnessed bad behaviors by both dogs and owners, it becomes clear why well-trained and socialized dogs are much better suited for dog parks.

Before You Go

Although enthusiasm counts, to really ascertain whether your dog is ready for a social situation of this caliber, it’s important to think critically about his or her behavior and social fitness. If your dog has never been trained and lacks an understanding of basic commands, hold everything!

Professional obedience training and socialization is the place to start.

Not only will your dog learn those important commands necessary for safety and behavioral redirection, he or she will also learn how to interact with strange dogs and new people with confidence. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of training your dog before subjecting him to potentially stressful new environments.

If your dog struggles with resource guarding issues or aggression, it’s also important to work with your veterinarian or professional trainer to avoid fights and other possible emergency situations. Avoid the thought that “the dogs will sort it out amongst themselves”. This thinking is unsafe and unfair to other dogs and their owners. Fortunately, most dogs with challenging behaviors, even fears and aggression, can and do respond positively to training and behavioral counseling.

Dog Park Etiquette

Now that you have determined your dog’s readiness for the park, let’s go! You’ll want to grab a sturdy nylon leash or harness, as well as ensure that your dog has proper identification tags and/or a microchip (highly important if your dog ever becomes lost). It’s also a good idea to bring a plastic or collapsible water bowl and fresh water, just in case there is no water available (and to also decrease your dog’s exposure to illnesses).
While at the park, practice the following superstar dog park manners for the enjoyment of all:

  • Pick up after your dog and bring your own back-up waste bags in case there are none available.
  • Don’t be an authority figure on how other dog owners should handle their dogs (no one wants an awkward argument or tension lurking between dog owners).
  • Keep your attention on your dog and avoid staring at the smart phone (it happens to all of us).
  • If your dog is either being a little too “friendly”, too rambunctious, or is bullying other dogs, redirect him to a game or head home. The same is true if your dog is being targeted by an aggressive dog. Best to pack it up for the day than to have an accident ensue.
  • Discourage your dog from rushing up to the gate each time a new dog enters, as this is often intimidating to the new dog and can result in an accidental escape or fight.

Most dogs absolutely adore the dog park experience and can benefit greatly from the social interaction and play. By ensuring your dog is prepared for new sights, smells, and encounters, you encourage a good and safe time for all.

If your dog is still struggling with social interactions or is experiencing anxiety around new dogs or situations, please contact The Pet Experts for an appointment. Through training and positive reinforcement, most dogs can comfortably ease into to this new and exciting dog-filled world.