10 tips for dog park safety

Local dog parks offer recreation and socialization for canines and their owners. These facilities, often fenced for safety, allow dogs to run free and play rough-and-tumble games together. Although most dogs romp and play pleasantly, a dog park can quickly turn dangerous for humans and hounds. How can dog lovers prevent such hazards?

Practical precautions prevail, when it comes to dog park safety. Here are 10 basic tips for diminishing dangers at the pet park.

1. Check out the dog park before your dog's first trip.

Pet owners may be familiar with dog parks in their hometowns, but it pays to stop by before taking pets to play. This advance security step is particularly important while traveling, when human handlers may visit a pet park for the first time.

This initial inspection offers an opportunity to check fence lines, drinking water availability, parking options, and other facility features.

2. Keep your dog current medically.

No pet should be allowed to interact with other canines at the dog park without up-to-date immunizations and vaccinations. Worming, flea, and tick treatments are also prudent. A sick or parasite-infested dog can easily spread his condition to others during play.

3. Train your dog first.

Basic training in voice commands and simple hand signals must precede the first trip to the dog park. A dog should come when called before he is turned loose among others of his kind.

Many pet owners use remote-controlled collars as added insurance for dog park excursions.

4. Leave toys, treats, and tots out.

Balls, flying disks, and other dog biscuits can incite fighting among excited canines. Smart pet owners keep playthings and picnics out of the dog park.

Little kids may not be strong or savvy enough to steer clear of rough dog play. It's safer to reserve dog park trips for pets only, rather than trying to babysit at the same time.

5. Avoid peak dog park times.

Dogs grow rowdiest in herds. Wise human handlers visit dog parks during less crowded times, at least for their first trips. Weekdays are ideal, as dog parks are popular on weekends, holidays, and evenings.

6. Observe the dogs at the park as you arrive.

A watchful pet owner sizes up the tone of the dog park quickly, even before stepping through the gate. Do any dogs appear aggressive? Are suspicious-looking people lurking about? For personal and pet safety, it pays to peek at the park and the parking lot before entering.

7. Watch your dog vigilantly.

Although dog lovers tend to socialize at the park, the shrewd master keeps an eye on her own pet. Dogs telegraph their intents by barking and body language, and a keen handler can spot a fight brewing.

Ideally, the dog park user takes one canine per visit, unless she takes human assistants or no other dogs are present.

8. Know the difference between dog play and fighting.

Not all growling, tumbling and nipping are outright aggression. Dogs may play rough. Still, educated canine handlers spot trouble before it escalates into danger.

Still, for safety's sake, young puppies don't belong at dog parks, These fragile tykes are particularly vulnerable to larger, aggressive canines. It's better to wait until puppies are several months old and have completed early immunization series before taking them to the dog park.

9. Don't jump into a dog fight.

The most affectionate dog can become fierce when instincts kick in during a fight. Many well-meaning dog lovers have suffered critical injuries, simply trying to break up dog fights.

Experienced dog trainers work in pairs, grabbing the hind legs of fighting dogs to separate them. A safer method for most is to blow bike horns or spray battling dogs with water misters.

If injuries occur, dog handlers must exchange names and phone numbers, in case follow-up is needed after medical attention is sought. Bite-and-run injuries should be reported.

10. Be flexible.

Caring pet handlers are willing to leave the dog park early, if the scene becomes unsafe for animals or people.

These simple steps can keep humans and dogs safer at the park. Of course, one final reminder is in order. Any dog park visitor does well to watch her step!

More from this contributor:

Dog Do's And Don'ts For Pet Parks

Easy 5-Step Guide to Introducing Other Dogs to Your New Puppy

Crazy Canines: Five Reasons Dogs Chase Their Tails