Using the Park

    Off leash does NOT mean out of control.
    One rule at the dog park is that owners must have control of their dogs at all times. Train your dog in basic obedience. Important commands include "leave it" and "come". Many dog training instructors teach with positive reinforcement methods that make training enjoyable for both you and your dog. Start now to help your dog to become dog-park-ready. Check out the list of dog trainers should you need help, possibly pairing up with a neighbor who may have some of the same issues you are experiencing or you may decide to do it yourself with an instructional video and some practice.

    Remember not all dogs are party dogs:
    Some are shy, some are older; some may have physical limitations, some just prefer to be alone. Please respect the needs of all dogs and discourage your dog from behaviors that commonly trigger conflict, such as charging, ambushing and stalking; bullying; mounting (humping); and incessant barking and pestering. Charging, ambushing and stalking are predatory behaviors. They are always provocative and may be especially threatening to an unfamiliar dog. Please call off your dog in these situations. Do not allow your dogs to crowd the entrance areas of the dog park. This will help to avoid setting the stage for problems to occur.

    Bullying, incessant barking and pestering are behaviors that trigger conflict.
    Some dogs like to bully other dogs. If your dog is one of these types, leash up and move to another area in the park. Remember, our dog park has plenty of room. If your dog persists in bullying other dogs, leave the dog park. Sooner or later your dog will learn this behavior ends the outing and spoils the fun. Incessant barking and pestering of other dogs is rude. This kind of attention-getting behavior can make the other dog or dogs become annoyed or anxious. This can escalate to a more serious encounter. Always call off your dog and move away.

    Rambunctious play:
    Many dogs LOVE rambunctious play, but some do not. Learn how to tell the difference. If your pooch keeps going back for more, it is probably play. Common social behaviors include wrestling, chasing and pouncing. Bouncy, inefficient, joyous movement distinguishes these play behaviors from the corresponding 'lock and load' predatory behavior. Growling and mouthing are also common. Growling or snapping usually occurs when another dog is pushy or violates personal space by getting too close too fast. This is a normal and often justified reaction to a rude or persistent dog.

    Herding behaviors:
    By nature herding breeds are neck, heel, or butt 'biters'. The biting behavior is nippy and mischievous in nature but rarely harmful. However, it should be stopped if it is threatening or annoying to another dog or owner. Learn to read your dog and avoid situations that are stressful. Keep moving. In general, we encourage you to try not to overreact to rambunctious play, but do not be afraid to speak up if you are concerned. The experienced dog park folks at ROMP suggest saying it this way: "This isn't working for me and my dog. Please call your dog away."

    Humping (Mounting):
    This is a common and normal dog behavior that is unrelated to sex or mating, but is an instinctive behavior for establishing rank. Humping is generally unacceptable at the dog park because it often escalates into more combative interactions. If your dog is the humper, calmly call it off and move to another location. If your dog is the humpee, do not overreact. Simply ask the other dog owner to call their dog off. If the other owner does not respond, calmly approach the dogs, clap your hands, make noise, or body block until the other dog stops. Leash your dog and move to another area of the park.

    Playing fetch with your dog at the dog park can create competition for space and toys. It is unrealistic and unfair to expect other people and dogs to work around you. Favorite toys brought from home often pose a particular problem. (This is MY toy.) Please limit playing fetch to places or times when the dog park is not crowded, or simply leave this game at home.

    Doggie hierarchies:
    Remember that, by nature, dogs tend to create hierarchies in social situations. At the dog park, these hierarchies change with every new dog and every new day. Some days you are up and some days you are down. Dogs know this, so do not be overly protective. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between normal social behaviors and something more serious or potentially problematic. But if your pooch keeps going back for more, it is probably play.

    Leashed vs. Unleashed:
    Did you know that mixing leashed and unleashed dogs creates tension and often causes trouble? Use a leash only as a temporary form of control in the dog park. You must have your dog on leash as you travel to the entrance to the park. Once you get through the first gate of the double-gated area and close the gate behind you, you can let your dog off the leash to go through the second gate.

    Dog Fights:
    The facts of life at the dog park are that even the best-trained dogs are not always on perfect behavior. Though serious fights are uncommon, they do happen. It helps to know in advance how to respond to fighting dogs. Do not reach in to separate fighting dogs without attempting some form of distraction. Our park is equipped with air horns on each side of the park that are very effective in distracting dogs during a confrontation. Jackets and water bottles are good to use as distraction tools. By squirting water in the dogs face or covering it with a jacket, you can distract the dogs long enough to separate them. Once separated, leash up and move to another area or leave the park for another day. Above all, always take responsibility for the actions of your dog!

    One of the most common training problems owners have with their dogs is that the dog will not come when called. Training a dog to come when called is often referred to as a recall. There are countless examples of how owners train their dogs not to come by unintentionally punishing the dog when it does come. Every time the dog is called to engage in an activity that the dog does not enjoy he is learning that the command 'Come Here' is bad news. For example, some owners call their dog when it has misbehaved and then punish it. Dogs are always learning whether we intend to teach them or not. Owners must learn to incorporate positive training into the life and daily routine of the dog. Until the dog is reliably trained to come when called, he should not be let off leash.

    Park Etiquette:
    Martha Mathews, one of the founders of the Dog Park in Tellico Village, referred us to an excellent article in the September 2006 issue of The Whole Dog Journal. The article is called "A Bark in the Park: Rules of Dog Park Etiquette and Deportment for Dogs and Their Handlers" by Pat Miller. (See for the specific article.) It contains a lot of valuable information, especially for those who are new to dog parks, touching on creating a park culture, appropriate dog behavior and human behavior, common dog park rules and dealing with inappropriate behaviors at the park. It also addresses two important issues: small children and puppies.

    Small Children:
    Small children are not allowed inside the dog park. Since dogs that are running fast can sometimes even knock down an adult, imagine what could happen to a toddler. Another source we have read points out that many small children are directly at face level with a dog, a sometimes frightening position for little children. This is why in our Rarity Bay Dog Park one of the rules is that no children under age 12 may be in the Park and that all minors under age 18 must be accompanied by an adult. We further recommend: A) Never leave young children alone with any dog in any situation, even if it is your dog. B) Keep your children away from unfamiliar dogs. C) Never allow children to play or sit on the ground when dogs are present. D) Keep children close and quiet when visiting any dog park. Actions and movements by children can trigger a dog's instinct to chase and bite. E) Remember that you are visiting a dog park with your children; it is not a playground.

    Miller also states that owners should keep puppies under the age of four months at home. They are not fully immunized yet, so are at a higher risk for contracting diseases. In addition, puppies are very vulnerable to being traumatized by the inappropriate behavior of another dog. Having a bad experience at the dog park early in the life of a puppy can affect the dog for the rest of his life. Give him time to grow up a little before joining in the fun at the park.