While it's true staying safe and happy at the dog park is mostly a matter of common sense, that doesn't necessarily mean the process is easy, or that it's okay to be careless. The truth is if you want to bring your pet to a place like this, you must follow simple yet important rules to ensure your safety, the well-being of other pet-owners, and most of all, the health and happiness of the animals themselves. These aforementioned rules can be boiled down into three basic areas.
1) Be prepared: Your considerations here must be two-fold - your thoughts have to be on your dog and the other animals you're certain to encounter at a dog park. This doesn't mean you need to feel anxious - it just means you must take proper precautions to ensure you and your pet are ready for a new experience, as you would with anything else.
Before going to the dog park, your dog must be spayed/neutered, up-to-date with all relevant vaccinations, and absent fleas, mange or other contagious conditions. It's important to keep your dog healthy, but it's equally important to keep other animals out of harm's way. Avoid bringing sick animals to the dog park.
Avoid bringing untrained, young dogs that haven't yet been socialized to other animals, too. Part of your preparation for casual play at the dog park is to take your dog to obedience classes - they should be socialized properly before trips to the dog park. This will ensure your ability to control your dog, despite the many strange, exciting new animals and people it will unquestionably encounter.
Lastly, bring accessories to ensure your dog's comfort, safety, and happiness. Toys and treats are welcome at the dog park, but ensure treats are given to your dog away from other animals, so as not to arouse any jealousy or other problems. Depending on a particular park's rules (likely to be posted at the park's entrance), you may also be expected to bring bags to remove your dog's waste. Other obvious, vital implements are standard - leashes, collars, etc., etc. - but should not be neglected.
2) Be respectful: Other aspects of visiting the dog park involve interaction with other humans. Mostly this section can be boiled down to maintaining your common courtesy for others, but there are various things it's important to remember.
Follow the posted rules at a dog park - the space doesn't belong to you, and it's a privilege for you and the dog to be there. In addition, treat others as you would have yourself treated - don't lecture them about their dogs' misbehavior or appearance, and make sure that if your dog is causing problems, you quickly remove the animal.
If any children are present, take the utmost care to ensure their safety. Regardless of your dog's temperament, this means keeping your pet leashed around kids, and your eyes firmly on the dog at all times. Even a minor loss of control in this regard could cause serious safety issues for humans and dogs alike.
3) Have fun: While you must remain focused on your dog and respectful of others, it's important to remember the whole point of a dog park is to let your pet have fun - exercising and experiencing social time with other animals. There's a lot for you to consider, certainly, and such is part of being a good dog owner, but if you can, take a second and remind yourself of the simple joy your dog's taking in frolicking around the park, interacting with other happy, healthy, safe dogs.
Carleen Coulter writes for several pet related sites, including the dog costumes site Dog Costumes Now and it associate fun facebook page, Canine Cosplay, where you can share photos of your pets in costume.
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