Photo: Brian Sweet at Minnehaha Off-Leash Park
A day trip to a dog park is a great way for you and your pup to get outside to exercise and socialize, and lucky for all of us, the Twin Cities has plenty of pooch-specific places for mutts to mingle. However, there are guidelines (some suggested, some non-negotiable) to follow when unleashing your pet in public. Track these tips for off-leash success:
- Know thy dog. While dogs who love canine company thrive in a packed park setting, romping with other pups can be challenging — even terrifying — for under-socialized, skittish, or aggressive dogs. Not sure how your pup will do? Consult a trainer before your maiden voyage. In the event that your dog is acting aggressive or intimidated, call him or her to you for a time-out and some reassurance.
- Pre-screen your park. Scope out a new place sans pup to familiarize yourself with parking, layout, rules, and atmosphere. Different dog parks, days, and times have varying energy levels, from low-key to very lively. Find the park and time that you think will work best for you and your furry pal, and plan accordingly.
- Play by the rules. Most dog parks have posted guidelines about behavior, the number of dogs permitted per handler, and more, so it’s important to pay attention to city-specific rules. Some parks require proper licensing (Minneapolis and St Paul residents can get yours through us and get rewarded!) and an off-leash dog park permit.
- Put good health first. If your pooch is under the weather, take a rain check. Young puppies without all their inoculations should also steer clear. Newbie? It’s a good idea to get a clean bill of health before heading to the park for the first time.
- Pack the necessities. Some parks supply poop bags and receptacles, but many don’t. BYOB(aggies) and pick up after your pet as soon as she’s done takin‘ care of business (no matter the size of the scat!). And remember a water bowl and big bottle of fresh H2O.
- Leave the young ‘uns home. It’s hard enough to keep a close eye on your dog during a dog park play session. Add a rambunctious two-year-old human, and your attention is sure to be divided. Parent pointer: Just because your pooch is great with your child doesn’t mean every pup at the park will act the same way.
- Watch (your) dog. As tempting as it may be to let your pup have run of the place, he or she is your primary responsibility at the park. Keep your eyes off your phone and on your pooch for his safety and enjoyment, and that of your fellow park-goers. Size matters, too — big or small, any pup can get out of line with jumping, barking, and aggressive behavior. Pay attention to yours, and react quickly and accordingly!
- Mind your manners. (And yes, we mean yours.) You want your dog to be on his best behavior, but people can cause problems, too. Save your lunch till later and move those TMI phone calls to a more private locale.
- And mind your beeswax. On that note, nobody likes a know-it-all. You might be best buds with your pup’s trainer, but in most cases, keep your ideas on doggie discipline to yourself. If you see someone who hasn’t noticed that their dog is pooping, a simple tap on the arm and friendly “Is that your dog?” can go a long way towards keeping the park clean without starting a barking match. Got a safety sitch on your hands? Do what you need to but channel your inner diplomat.
- Know when to say goodbye. If your pooch is getting overexcited or overwhelmed and you can’t easily resolve her mood, leash up and leave. Similarly, a too-pooped pup can become agitated, so consider it a cue to go when your pooch has reached dog-tired status.
- Leave the treats at home. Some dogs are food aggressive, while others are on special diets or have allergies, and sometimes the temptation of what’s in your pocket or hand can be too much to take. It’s probably best to keep the distractions out of the picture.
- Make sure your dog doesn’t get any tail. Signs are clear about females in heat, but those of you with intact males should be extra-vigilant when your boys are off-leash, no matter what their behavior is like on home turf.
Above all else, it’s imperative to remain vigilant — of your dog, other dogs, and even other people. If you practice etiquette and keep your eyes and ears open, a trip to the dog park can be a pawesome experience for all.