Dog Park Etiquette: Cozy Afternoon With A Wuff Experience

By Barbara Douglas

Did you ever notice that if you blow a tiny puff of air in a dog’s face he turns away, but the first thing he does in a moving car is thrust his face out of the window?

Dogs are inscrutable beings. Sometimes frustrating, but always completely endearing, dogs are, for many, the very best things in life.

Dog parks – the numbers of which are increasing now as dogs become an even greater part of our lives – are wonderful little places of social intercourse for our endearing dogs and their two-legged companions. In Connecticut alone, you’ll find official and not-yet-official (pending approval) dog parks in Avon/Simsbury, Branford, Bristol, Easton and Weston, Essex, Fairfield, Granby, Greenwich, Groton, Hamden, Harwinton, Milford, New Canaan, New Haven, Norfolk, Norwalk, Norwich, Old Saybrook, Ridgefield, Rowayton, Southbury, Southington, Stamford, Stonington, Southington, Torrington, Vernon, West Haven, Westport, and Wethersfield.

Even a tiny little spit of land adjacent to a ball field, beach, or playground, set aside and maintained by a town – is a great resource for dogs and their grateful guardians.

But somehow, the basic rules of sharing legroom at a place like a dog park is lost to some dog owners – and even some parents, who think the dog park is an extension of their children’s play space – leaving the rest of us to wonder how long it will be before something good is again spoiled by a few bad eggs.

It shouldn’t be rocket science, this notion of sharing space. But as it is with dogs, plain old bad behavior often turns good times into bad times.

  • Let’s break the ice with a nod to bodily functions. Amazingly, some dog owners believe that they don’t have to pick up their dogs’ poop at the dog park. They’re wrong. If we let our dog parks depreciate into fenced-in toilets, it will be no time at all before the public takes notice. Soon after, there will be calls for greater restrictions at dog parks. Eventually, dog parks and the dogs that frequent them will become the center of some sharp debate. Let’s just circumvent that and pick up the poop.
  • It stands to reason that whatever you bring into the dog park, you should take out. Bottled water, water bowls, toys, and tennis balls that we carry in should be carried out. It may be a nice squeaky toy for another dog to play with, but it becomes trash when it’s left behind: another eyesore that gives folks a reason to kvetch.
  • Kids and dogs go together like peanut butter and jelly. Except when the kids are unsupervised and out of control. On one unforgettable day at a local dog park last summer, a couple brought their little boy along and set him loose on the dogs there. The child was chasing the dogs and grabbing their tails. Mom and Dad thought it was downright cute. It wasn’t. The dogs were stressed and the threat of a fear-provoked dog bite had everyone on edge. After a couple of minutes of this nonsense, one smart dog owner spoke plainly to these parents. They didn’t like it, but they needed to hear it, and our dogs deserved unthreatened playtime without being goaded.
  • A much-loved (and often expensive) dog toy may be a part of play at the dog park, but it’s not an item up for grabs. If my dog pockets another dog’s toy, as dogs will do, I make sure it’s returned to its rightful owner before we go. It’s part of good parenting, after all.

We stopped visiting the Hamden dog park altogether after local teenagers got it into their heads that driving past the park and launching bottle rockets at visiting dogs was a droll way to pass the time.

There are likely many more examples like these that dog park enthusiasts can cite. Bottom line:  Dog parks will thrive and continue to grow in numbers only if we concede some simple codes of conduct.

We’re lucky some smart town leaders give us and our four-legged friends these playgrounds to call our own. Let’s make it so they – and we – don’t regret it. n

Barbara Douglas lives in Guilford with her “pack” of two-and four-legged family members. She is a certified canine Reiki practitioner and frequents dog parks.

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