Dog playing outsideThis spring, Chicagoland experienced a heartbreaking outbreak of Canine Influenza, and all the experts agreed that, in an effort to minimize exposure to dangerous and contagious bacteria, dogs should not visit the dog park (among other places). While the alert was most definitely justified, and we continue to be concerned about the flu, the decreasing rate of infection indicates that we are not combating an epidemic.

(Cue the collective sigh of relief: whew!)

Does this mean that Fido can’t have any fun this summer? Of course not! With some extra safety precautions – and a watchful eye – you can still plan on visiting the dog park together. Learn how to protect your pet with our dog park safety and etiquette guide below.

Positive Exposure

Socializing your dog is one of the most important things you can do as a pet owner and socialization throughout your dog’s life can reinforce proper behavior and learned commands. Regular visits to the dog park can actually create a friendlier, happier, and more trustworthy companion.

When you facilitate opportunities for your dog to encounter other dogs and people, he or she learns how to:

  • Appropriately respond to stimulation
  • Develop confidence
  • Cope in unsettling or confusing situations

It’s highly recommended to expose a puppy to good, lasting influences during the sensitive period, but it is best to do this in an environment where you know that the other puppies have been vaccinated since puppies are more at risk. Dog park safety rules typically restrict puppies younger than six months old.

One Track Mind

If your dog is new to the dog park scene, bear in mind the following dog park safety rules:

  • Bring your dog his or her own water bowl, and provide lots of fresh water
  • Regular preventative care will help your dog to repel fleas, ticks, and other parasites while at the dog park and prevent your dog from spreading or catching these pests
  • Be up to date on all vaccinations (there is a canine influenza vaccine that we’d be happy to discuss with you)
  • Certain parks require that you apply for, obtain, and properly display a permit prior to entering the premises (not a bad idea)
  • Dogs must display a current rabies tag
  • It’s recommended that visiting dogs be spayed or neutered
  • Off-leash areas are clearly marked; if you don’t see one, make sure your dog is leashed
  • Training to ensure rapid response to basic commands prior to the dog park is advised
  • Promptly clean up after your dog
  • Only having small treats for training purposes is acceptable; leave other toys or treats at home

Dog Park Safety

You must remain with your dog in the dog park enclosure, and watch him or her closely for any displays of fear, aggression, or other signs of misconduct. Please don’t force your dog to engage with others, and be willing to call it day if it’s not working out. Remember:

  • If your dog is looking relaxed, growling, chasing, wrestling, play-biting, and pouncing, never fear, these are all signs of good play behavior
  • Play can escalate quickly and you must intervene if your dog is bullying another dog, or vice-versa (we hope all owners of dogs do this!)
  • If your dog appears tense, stiff, or rigid, it’s break time

You’ll see rules posted for dog park safety at the entrance to any off-leash area, such as DuPage Forest, Greene Valley, or Springbrook Prairie. Following dog park safety rules shows that you are a responsible pet owner, and that you care for other visitors’ experience, as well as your own.

Dog Parks and Our Community

Citizens and local government officials recognize the value of socializing dogs. The results are seen (and heard) in less accidental damage, behavioral issues, or neighborhood noise, but it’s also fun and educational for pet parents to meet other like minded members of the community. All of this, plus adhering to dog park safety rules, creates and promotes appropriate canine behavior and etiquette.

If you have any questions about dog park safety, or concerns about canine influenza, please don’t hesitate to call the Pet Experts at Springbrook Animal Care Center.