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Learn Dog Park Etiquette 101

Introducing the GOOD Guide to Smart Living with City Pets. This series, brought to you by GOOD in partnership with Purina ONE®,explores howpet...

Introducing the GOOD Guide to Smart Living with City Pets. This series, brought to you by GOOD in partnership with Purina ONE®, explores how pet owners can keep city pets happy, healthy, and balanced, so that pets enjoy being part of their community as much as their owners do. Check out more stories at GOOD Pets.

The premise seems simple enough: let your pet exercise by playing with friends in a fenced-in canine fun zone. But what if the other dogs (or their owners) are annoying? Or if your pooch just sits and stares at you? Here’s how to maximize your local park’s potential or convince your city officials that you need one.

Sniffing Out Your Local Spot

All parks are not created equal, according to the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). A decent one should have a few key features: clean-up materials (poop bags and cans), drinking water and shade, and enough space to avoid crowding. Primo parks will also have separate entrance and exit gates with two-gate systems (to avoid the possibility of unleashed dogs escaping), visual barriers like hills or trees, no 90-degree angles in the fence, special enclosed areas for small dogs, and even agility equipment.

Creating a New One

A local dog park definitely has its benefits. “I’ve been going every morning, rain or shine, for almost five years,” says Maddy Novich, an organizer of the New York City Greyhound Meetup group who adopted a retired racer named Sagan. “As a result, I’ve met a lot of wonderful fellow dog owners. We’ve created our own community to help each other take care of our pups.”

If you have the time and interest in rallying to build a park, the American Kennel Club suggests that you start by assembling a core group of activists who can help you organize a public meeting to build support. Post notices in local pet stores and vet offices. Next, write a mission statement that stresses the benefits to dog owners and the community at large. Choose a site—keeping in mind all the features you want your park to include—and then talk to those who live in neighboring lots to make sure you have their approval or can address their concerns. Next, determine how much it will cost and create a plan for maintenance. At that point, you’ll have a thoughtful proposal to put in front of your parks department and local government officials.

Make Sure Your Dog Actually Wants to Be There

“People don’t ever want to hear, ‘Your dog is not a dog-park candidate,’” says Renee Payne, a certified professional trainer and dog behaviorist in Brooklyn. “But sometimes it’s true.” She suggests seeing how your dog behaves to determine whether he’s actually enjoying himself. If he’s constantly picking fights or doing things like obsessively guarding a stick, it’s a displacement activity. “I liken it to a person sitting alone at a bar and texting furiously because they’re uncomfortable,” she says. If your dog seems afraid and stays glued to your side, she suggests working in a controlled group setting—perhaps a small obedience class—to help socialize him. But don’t ever force a dog into a situation that makes him nervous.

Leave the Toys at Home

“Years ago, the New York City dog parks used to say ‘no toys’ in the posted rules,” Payne says. “And this was for good reason. This isn’t your backyard, and dogs aren’t designed to share with each other.” While you can’t force everyone else to follow this rule, you can prevent your own dog from getting possessive about his things.

Same Goes for Your Cellphone

Katenna Jones, director of educational programs at APDT, says she’s constantly seeing owners in dog parks who aren’t paying attention. “You must intervene if your dog is being a bully or becoming overstimulated,” she says. The same goes if he is the one being bullied or starts to show signs of stress or fear. Payne agrees: “If you see a troublemaker, just leave.”

Visit your local dog park. Click here to say you'll DO it.

This is part three of five in the GOOD Guide to Smart Living with City Pets

Illustration by Zoe-Zoe Sheen

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