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Five tips for a fun and stress-free visit to the dog park

Expert advice on a successful visit to the dog park—for you and your pooch

Two black dogs play with a white ball on the grass

Off-leash dog parks are a great place to give your pet some fresh air, exercise and an opportunity to interact with other dogs. But you need to make sure that your canine will behave.

Here are five dog park tips from experts to ensure a stress-free and fun experience.

1. Make sure your canine pal is old enough to play

Your puppy may be too young to be around other dogs or susceptible to certain conditions without proper vaccinations, so get the go-ahead from your vet first. “This helps to ensure that they’re not likely to contract an illness from other dogs using the park or any diseases that may be on the ground,” says Vanessa Powell, co-founder and chair of Off Leash East Hants Society Dog Park in Elmsdale, N.S.

2. Practice good behaviour at the dog park

The dog park is an exciting place with lots of other dogs and people, which is a distracting environment—but it’s also a great place to work on the fundamentals. Before you go, make sure your pup understands basic commands. “Your dog needs to be able to come when called even if they’re in the middle of playing with other dogs,” says Catherine Hudson, owner of My Bark Avenue Academy, a dog obedience school in Warkworth, Ont.

They’ll also need to understand—and follow through with—“leave it,” which means to ignore something—like a food wrapper or another dog’s toy, Hudson adds.

Owners can practice the “stay” command by doing it for a minute at a time while everyone else is playing and moving around, Hudson says. This is one of the hardest directions for a dog to learn, and the more you practice it in busy environments, the better your dog will be at it.

3. Leave the treats at home

Try different ways to keep your pup’s attention at the park. If other dogs smell treats on you, it could trigger your dog to protect you or the food you’re holding.

Hudson suggests using praise instead. “I teach my dogs that the word ‘yes’ means I am pleased with them,” she says. “It’s something I can say at a distance and it gets the same response as though I just gave them a food reward. All your dog wants to know is that you are happy with them.”  

4. Don’t allow rough play

A group of small dogs play on the grass of a park

Always keep your eyes on your dog and stay within 20 to 30 feet of your pet at all times. It’s important that your dog doesn’t get out of control no matter how much fun it’s having.

The behaviour of the dog is very much the owner’s responsibility, Powell says. “If a dog shows any aggression, they’re expected to be removed from the park immediately,” she says.

But even if the situation escalates quickly and verbal commands aren’t working, never grab the collar. “Your dog could easily think you are the other dog and you could be bitten by accident,” Hudson says.

5. Keep your leash handy

A leash is the only surefire way to control your dog. When it’s time to go or if things are getting out of hand, pop the leash back on and you’re in control again. Make sure the leash is secure when you’re walking to and from the car or back home.

Before heading out to a dog park, check with your municipality to see if they’re open in your area at this time. If they are, follow the safety protocols set out by public health officials, such as maintaining a two-metre distance and wearing a mask.

Protect your pets

Accidents can happen at the dog park or anywhere else. CAA’s Pet Insurance can help with the cost if something happens and your dog needs to see a vet. Speak with a licensed CAA Insurance Agent at 1-866-757-2922 to find out what’s covered and receive a complimentary quote today.

And if you need leashes, collars, toys or other items for your four-legged family member, CAA Members save 10% in-store and online on select items from Ren’s Pets.

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Image Credits: Unsplash/Mathew Smith, iStock/felixmizioznikov