Behind every misbehaving dog is a negligent owner
By Chandra Orr
Copley News Service
There's always one - that wild dog that barks at strangers, jumps on the other dogs, tries to mate with every female in sight and generally makes life at the dog park unpleasant for everyone.
But, we can't fault the dog. Behind that crazy canine is an owner who just doesn't seem too concerned with the unspoken law of the land.
"Your pets in the park are no different than your children in the park. There are rules, spoken or unspoken, to make the experience a safe and enjoyable one," said veterinarian Diane Levitan, director of the Center for Specialized Veterinary Care in Westbury, N.Y.
Generally, dogs must be licensed per state statute, be current on all vaccinations and wear a collar and tag at all times. Owners are encouraged to monitor their pets, pick up after their animals and limit roughhousing.
But dog owners should be prepared to abide by the unspoken tenets of dog park etiquette, as well.
"The dog park is one place where joy and happiness prevail," said Linda Anderson, co-author of "Angel Dogs: Divine Messengers of Love," ($14, New World Library). "When people are on their best behavior by being calm, relaxed and in control of their dogs, everyone can enjoy this wonderful break from day-to-day work and responsibilities."
KNOW THE BASIC COMMANDS
From dogfights that break out due to rough play or aggression to potentially dangerous and unsavory snacks found on the ground, there are plenty of dangers at the dog park.
Your dog's response to the four basic commands - Come! Stay! Stop! Drop it! - can mean the difference between a fun afternoon and an emergency trip to the vet.
"Dogs should know sit, stay, leave it or any command that keeps them from joining a bad situation - but by having a well-trained dog, you can prevent most bad situations from happening in the first place," said Richard Delgado, owner of The Woof Pack, a professional pet-sitting service in Fremont, Calif.
Proper training also saves you from yelling at the dog or otherwise venting your frustrations in public, which can frighten others.
"The most important thing your dog should know is that the handler is the boss," Levitan said. "The dog that looks at you, hears you and runs the other way to chase a child or small dog is not the ideal park dog."
MAKE SURE YOUR DOG IS HEALTHY
Watch for sudden onsets of coughing, diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, urinary accidents or changes in appetite. If you think your dog might be sick, keep him at home until you see a veterinarian.
"On the remote chance that your dog is contagious, you must be considerate and have concern for the safety of the other pets in the park," Levitan said. Because other dog owners may not be as diligent or as courteous, be certain that your dog is current on all vaccinations. It's the law in most states and it will protect your pooch from contagious illnesses like parvovirus, distemper and the canine flu.
PICK UP AFTER YOUR POOCH
Most dog parks have rules against leaving your dog's droppings, but this is one rule that's worth repeating.
"People want to be able to bring their dog to a clean park, so pick up after your dog," Delgado said.
Stock up on plastic baggies, pay close attention to when your dog does his business and pick up after your pooch. It's the law in many cities, but it's also just common courtesy.
LEAVE THE FOOD AT HOME
"It might seem like a great idea to bring a treat for your dog, but this can cause other dogs at the park to go ballistic," Anderson said.
Instead, find an alternate way to praise and reward your puppy's good behavior in public, like a favorite toy or an indulgent neck rub.
If you absolutely must bring food - for your dog or for yourself - keep it well wrapped to minimize temptation and never share food with someone else's dog without asking permission.
DON'T BE RUDE
You are ultimately responsible for your pet's behavior, so pay attention to cues from others.
"A dog park is not a place to bring your dogs, let them loose and forget about them," Delgado said. "You need to monitor their activity and make sure they're not causing problems."
If another dog or person seems uncomfortable around your pup, move to a different area of the park.
If someone voices a concern about your dog, don't dismiss their words or become belligerent. Remain courteous and take steps to rectify the situation. Above all else, if your dog becomes aggressive, apologize to the offended party and leave the park immediately.
? Copley News Service
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