Why is this boy happy?  He just arrived at one of his favorite places.  The Leash-Free Dog Park.  He’s ready to mingle, make friends, run amok, catch up on the gossip, and roll in stinky.  

Off-leash dog parks are a wonderful recreational outlet for dogs. The opportunity to run and play with other dogs in a securely fenced environment is a valuable tool in their social development.  

I’m a big fan of leash-free dog parks.  It’s a great way to learn dog behavior and discover your own dog’s personality.  For instance, our boy prides himself on being the fastest in the park.  He challenges all willing dogs to a race and they streak like lightning through three acres of park.  Our boy always wins. 

Until the greyhound.

When the greyhound started to out run him by a mile, our dog came to a screeching halt, flattened his ears, tucked in his tail, and hid behind us until the greyhound left the park.  It was a crushing blow.

And then there is the sweet and pretty female terrier mix.  She is the darling of the park.  Everyone loves her and she is gracious to every dog – except ours.  She rebuffs his friendly advances with a sharp bark and kicks dirt in his face.  Our dog has tried for three years to make friends with her, to the point of crawling and whining for just one, friendly little “sniff”.  

The first thing to do is to check with family and friends and find the park that appeals to you.  Once you find that park and make your first visit…

Follow The Posted Rules.  They are there for a reason.  Following each park’s individually posted rules and regulations will help keep dog parks open and available to all dogs. Failure to obey the rules can result in your local park being shut down, or worse, cause a serious accident that could have been prevented.

Some common sense rules and tips:

  1. Remove your dog’s leash.  Yeah, I know, sounds silly but it is an off-leash park.  Some dog owners are hesitant to let their dog run free around other dogs that they don’t know well.  Keeping your dog on his leash can really stress him out.  And if you’re the least bit nervous, your dog can sense that right through the leash.
  2. Owners must clean up after their dogs.  To prevent transmission of parasites, reduce odor, and promote general cleanliness.   Besides, it’s just plain annoying to step in poop.
  3. Dog owners must be in the park, within view, and be able to maintain voice control of their dogs at all times. This encourages dog owners to seek some level of training for their dog and promotes appropriate dog behavior. 
  4. Dogs with a known individual history of dangerous behavior are not permitted in dog parks. This discourages aggressive behavior. No dog should be excluded based solely on breed.
  5. Dogs must be removed from the dog park at the first sign of dangerous behavior toward people or other dogs in the park. Responsible dog owners must teach their dogs that such behaviors are unacceptable.
  6. Dog owners must have a leash in hand at all times. This enables the dog owner to remove a dog from the park for any inappropriate behavior.
  7. Small children should not be brought into the dog park. Small children can be harmed inadvertently by a playful dog. Chasing may be viewed as a threat to a dog, and running away from and high-pitched screaming may trigger hunting instincts in a dog.  Most parks have age restrictions.  Bottom line, dog parks are for dogs
  8. Dogs should be leashed while entering and exiting the dog park. It is important for safety and legal reasons to obey leash laws whenever your dog is not in the boundaries of the dog park.
  9. Puppies and dogs must be properly inoculated, healthy, and parasite-free. This protects all dogs and promotes responsible veterinary care. For puppies less than 4 months of age without full vaccination protection or socialization, going to leash-free dog parks is not a good idea.
  10. Dogs must be licensed. This promotes rabies vaccination of dogs and their licensing as required by law.
  11. Do not bring food into the dog park. Fights may occur over food, and dogs may get sick if they eat foods that are not part of their usual diet.  Don’t think that hiding food in your purse or pant pockets is going to go unnoticed.  Trust me.
  12. Have the phone number of the dog park authorities handy.  It can be the local police or park ranger.  You never know when you need to call them over an issue that cannot be resolved between dogs or the owners.  Me and some of the other patrons of my local park have twice called our park rangers on parents that brought in their babies in strollers.
  13. Do not bring your female that is in heat.  Nuff said on that one. 

Leash-free dog parks are a great benefit to dogs and their owners.

  1. Promoting responsible dog ownership such as proper vaccinations, training, licensing, etc.
  2. Socialization and exercise for dogs which leads to a healthier dog in both mind and body.
  3. Bringing dogs and owners together in neutral territory, which can reduce fear and aggression in dogs.
  4. A chance to learn “dog language”.  Dogs have their own rules.  Sometimes what appears to be aggression between two engaged dogs is really a little rough and tumble play.
  5. A chance to pick the brains of other dog owners.  Get advice, share ideas, and learn about other breeds.

Not everyone is a fan of Leash-Free dog parks.  While there are benefits, there are also concerns.

If your dog is small and/or shy, he may feel intimidated by large groups of larger dogs.  Dogs sometimes know when another dog is less confident and may chase or pester that dog.  

When dogs play and are running and jumping in groups or packs, there is always potential for the activity to get out of hand and fighting may occur.  Dogs may also fight to establish dominance. 

Some owners just don’t control their dogs.  Sad but true.  

There is potential for your dog to pick up diseases.  It is up to the owners to make sure that their own dogs are healthy before taking them to an off-leash park to mingle and play.  DO NOT take a dog to an off-leash park at any time with an illness that can be transmitted to other dogs.

For more valuable information about using Leash-Free Dog Parks, visit these sites.

ASPCA on Dog Parks.

The Fun Time Guide For Dogs.

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