I'm a sucker for dog parks. Lacey loves them. She loves taking off into a wide open field and finding the perfect ball to play fetch with. She loves taking the ball to every human in the park so they can each have a turn throwing it because that's just good manners. She loves throwing herself into the grass and rolling around in pure joy.
All while I stand guard, leash in hand, ready to leave at a moments notice.
There's a lot of debate about dog parks and I agree with both sides. Dog parks can be really dangerous- there are a lot of people that either aren't watching or aren't understanding what their dog is up to. This happened to us just recently. As I was taking the dogs toward the gate to leave a couple entered up with their extremely excited dog. They thought the young chocolate lab barking in Lark's face was cute when it was really a rude puppy demanding play in a way that was making Lark uncomfortable and causing a tense situation.
To enjoy the park and get the most out of your experience for you and your dog you have to become your dogs advocate. Lark couldn't do anything about the lab except bark back. I had to translate for her and ask the owner to call their dog away before Lark decided to stop relying on me to help and act out on her own. I had to be the bad guy ruining the lab's fun so that my dog stayed safe and comfortable.
From my experiences I've devised a little cheat sheet of dog park tips that have kept my dogs and I safe:
- Watch your dog and figure out what they enjoy and don't enjoy about the park. Lacey likes fetch and chase and she hates wrestling or tackling. Lark likes greeting dogs but doesn't have any interest in them after that.
- Make sure the other dogs match or respect your dogs play style. If I see a bunch of rowdy dogs in the park I keep walking right past it and take the dogs for a walk instead.
- Less is more. The less dogs in the park the better control you have over any situation. Fights are more likely to happen in overcrowded parks. I personally will only go when the park is empty or next to empty and leave if more dogs show up.
- Keep moving. As soon as you enter start moving away from the entrance. Dogs are excited when they first get in the park and you want to keep away from that initial burst of YAY NEW FRIEND.
- Don't just watch your dog. Please watch your dog. But also look at the other dogs from time to time to make sure all body language is staying soft and playful. And if anything feels wrong or off...
- GET OUT. The second you don't feel right or your dog gives you a funny look or dog that you don't like the looks of you should be heading out the gate. It's better to cut a dog's time at the park short than have it end in a bite.
It took me a while to learn to be my dog's advocate. Unfortunately that led to some bad situations for Lacey that could have been prevented by me being a better bodyguard and saying no. From now on I am their secret service agent, translator, and advocate.