By Nicole Pajer
When my rat terrier puppy first started going to the dog park, he had an incredible fascination with watching other dogs urinate. So much so that he'd stand there mesmerized as they peed and would return from playing with a yellow-stained head. It took Rocky about six times of getting peed on before he realized that he should probably give urinating dogs space to do their business.
Upon conversing with fellow canine owners at my neighborhood dog park, I quickly learned that my adventures with Rocky and his yellow head were just the beginning of some of the laughable situations that dogs have gotten their owners into. While these situations make for fun dinner table conversations, it's important that we learn how common situations like these can be avoided. Here are some tips for improving your dog's etiquette in the dog park.
Dog park problem: Taking a mud bath
"My dog has a habit of finding every single patch of mud she can at the park. I usually do a good job of keeping her away from them; she is very skilled in the "Leave it" command, however, every time I turn my back, she seems to find a new patch of mud. It's so embarrassing to have to be the owner who drags the mud-stained mutt to the water station to hose her off. My car has seen better days too."—Samuel Huang
Dog park tip: It's important that you remain calm-assertive at the park with your dog. Make sure to keep an eye on your dog and not let her wander off unsupervised. It's essential that you establish boundaries and let her know that a mud puddle is off limits. If the "Leave it" command works, then enforce it whenever she starts meandering towards a puddle. This will rid you of the embarrassment of having to constantly hose off your dog at the park and will keep the interior of your car cleaner. (See Martin Deeley's article, Dog Training Tip: Teaching the "Leave It" Command.)
Dog park problem: SQUIRREL!!!
"I took my beagle to the dog park a few years ago and figuring he was pretty pooped after a vigorous play session, I took the leash off for the walk back to the entrance so we could leave. All of a sudden, a very brave squirrel touched ground in the park and off Gibson went, howling like a veteran hound on the hunt. It wasn't long before Gibson and several dogs were running after the same squirrel. I watched as dog owners attempted to call their dogs with no luck. This went on for about a half an hour and none of them stopped until the squirrel squeezed through a hole in the fence and ran for safety."—Mark Lestan
Dog park tip: Before you take your dog to the park, you need to make sure that you have established pack leader status. Your dog will not listen to you in an off-leash setting if you have no authority over him. Also, your dog needs to have mastered the basic commands such as "Come when called," even when faced with distractions, prior to entering the park. It is a good idea to take your dog for a long walk to drain his energy and make sure that he has had a chance to become calm and balanced before you let him loose. Once you have done all of the above, you can trust that your dog will choose you over the squirrel, no matter how tempting the furry little creatures can be.
Dog park problem: "P" marks the spot
"My dog used to "mark" people he liked in the dog park. He wouldn't pee on trees, bushes, shrubs, etc. but if you gave him attention or affection, it was guaranteed that he would mark you at some point before you left. Everyone took it really well since he was so well behaved in every other aspect. Also, once you were marked once, he never marked you again. Such a weirdo."—Lindsay Indirolo
Dog park tip: This sounds like your dog is actually marking its territory, not peeing on people that he likes. Territory marking can be a showing of dominance and is a behavior that should be avoided. When taking your dog for a walk, for example, do not stop and give him the opportunity to mark his territory; keep moving until you decide that it is time to stop for a full bathroom break. Make sure that you have a strong pack leader status established between yourself and your dog so that he doesn't feel the need to prove his dominance, especially on the legs of innocent bystanders.
Dog park problem: The heat is on
"My Lab-GSD was fixed when he was 6 months old, however, I got a lesson in the birds and the bees, when he was about 8 years old and discovered a pit bull female just coming out of heat at a dog park. The owner thought she was completely out of heat, but my dog smelled otherwise. He tried to mount her, and she made a point of communicating "Back off, buddy!" He backed off, did a play bow and she ignored him and walked away. But, my dog persisted. She snapped at him and the owner said, "Don't worry, I can see that he's fixed, and they can't mate." Meanwhile, my dog made a third attempt, and this time the female pit smiled and, both the owner and I learned a bit more about the birds and the bees...neutered males can mate!—Hank Simmons
Dog park tip: While this is a funny story, unneutered dogs should never be taken to a dog park. Since we can't predict the types of dogs that other people bring into the park, it's important that you take responsibility for your own pet. If your dog keeps attempting to mount another dog, you should remove your dog from the situation and take him elsewhere to play in a different area of the park.
Dog park problem: ¡Yo quiero trouble!
"My teacup Chihuahua got in a huge fight with a pit bull and he chased it off. The pit bull was lying on the grass and my Chihuahua peed on it and that set him off! They ran around and fought. When I caught up, the pit bull had its tail tucked between its legs and its owner was quite humbled."—Adam Ayachi
Dog park tip: The owner of the Chihuahua needs to make sure that their dog is properly socialized and address any aggression or territorial issues prior to taking him to the dog park. Only take a calm-submissive dog into the park; dogs that are excited and hyper can easily become a fight magnet. If your dog has issues with larger dogs, make use of the small dog-designated area of the park.
Dog owners need to make sure to keep an eye on their dogs at all times. Even if your dog is well behaved, it's crucial that you maintain your pack leader status during the duration of your visit to the dog park. If you follow the above guidelines, you'll be in for a seamless adventure at the park.