Alright, I wish I was writing this because I have the most perfectly trained, obedient and courteous dog. But, I don’t!!!
I own a Wolfhound cross named Zephyr, who at times (frequently) is that obnoxious and extremely ‘pesty’ dog running rampant at the dog park or beach. He literally has no idea about personal space, and even if he did, I honestly don’t think he would care.
Don’t get me wrong, he is a giant sook and super nice to humans, but thrives off pissing other dogs off. I wish I didn’t have to admit it, but I do.
Imagine a super skinny, lanky, wolfhound cross that looks like Sirius Black when he morphs into a Werewolf and you will have a pretty good image of Zephyr. His nice nature is quickly overridden by his bounces, and what seems to be uncontrollable spurts of energy. When he goes bounding up to a dog I can almost see the danger signs flashing above the other dog owners head.
If he were a human, he would be that friend that likes to stir the pot, get in your face, and who you only see in small doses… we all have one!
I absolutely love him to bits, but this has been a constant source of motivation to continue training, but at seven years of age, it’s safe to say he is not going to ‘outgrow’ it. To his defence, he is AMAZING to walk on the lead… my 3 year old can even walk him.
This got me thinking about all of the scenarios that I have been in where I acted quickly to prevent an unnecessary situation, as well as the ones where other pet owners have not noticed my ‘signals’ to keep their dog away.
I have a rude dog… I know I do, so I take precautions and steps to reduce upsetting the puppy park balance. But why doesn’t everyone? I always thought everyone knew the doggy etiquette rules, but apparently not.
WHAT IS DOGGY ETIQUETTE?
The best place to start is the actual meaning of Etiquette:
“The customary code of polite behaviour in society or among members of a particular profession or group”
Now, I am not oblivious to the fact that we are talking about dogs, I do not expect tea parties and slobbery kisses for every dog you two walk by, but when I am talking about polite behaviour, I mean from both the dog and his owner.
Doggy etiquette is almost an unwritten language between dog owners so we understand what is and is not acceptable at the dog park or beach. It wasn’t all that long ago that dogs were commonly kept in the backyard for the majority of their lives, whereas, nowadays I am excited to say that for most of us our dogs go everywhere. Making it even more essential to understand the rules.
ASSESS YOUR DOGS ‘RUDENESS’ LEVEL
Here comes the fun part. Let’s assess your dog and own up to his rudeness level… just kidding! But, I have made a fun way for you to see what areas your dog could improve. These are key points that have the potential to cause some upset to the etiquette balance at the dog park.
Can you guess what score Zephyr got? He scored a 4 out of 5, does this make him a bad dog… NO! He is a gorgeous dog, it just means that the training continues, for both of us. I need to learn just as much as he does.
I wanted you to know that if your dog scored the same as Zephyr or higher, don’t feel like you are a bad puppy parent. Every dog has its own personality and as a pet parent, we grow and learn what works for each of us and what doesn’t.
The list above is what I have witnessed over time, both with my dog and others.
WHAT ARE THE RULES FOR PET PARENTS?
Knowing our own rules is just as important as knowing what situations your dog does and does not handle well. As the owner, we need to think one step ahead and try to assess the situation, and potential risks before our dogs do.
Here are the key rules for pet parents taking their dogs to dog parks, beaches, campgrounds, or anywhere else they want to socialise them in:
Pick up any poop!I know this is gross, but it is a must. The number of dog-friendly areas are reducing and they will continue to if residents in the area complain about poop left behind.
If the other dog is on a lead, do not let your dog go up to him without asking his owner first.This is a HUGE one that I see go wrong all the time. If an owner has their dog on the lead there is generally only a few reasons:
- He does not recall well
- He does not mix well with other dogs
- He is in training and having your dog bound up will not help the training one single bit
If your dog is on a lead because it does not mix well with other dogs, avoid walking him on the lead in an off-lead area.This is also surprisingly common. If you walk your dog on the lead in an off-lead area you are basically waving a flag of attention to all of the other dogs. Avoid these areas until your dog is ready.
If your dog becomes aggressive, put him on the lead and leave the area.
Putting him on the lead gives you control, and leaving the area will allow him to calm down. By this point, adrenalin will be bouncing off his vein walls and the only way for him to calm down is to remove yourself, and him, from the situation. Use a treat or toy if you need to distract him.
Talk to the other owners.We want our dogs to mix and socialise so don’t stand at either end of the park like a grade seven disco. Have a chat and relax, and if your dogs play well together organise another ‘playdate’.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE RULES ARE DISREGARDED?
Like teachers have been preaching for the last fifty years…. “If one person breaks the rules, then they ruin it for everyone”.
In a non-stalkerish way... there is always somebody watching! If there is constant disrupt in a dog-friendly area people are going to notice, and if the local residents around the dog-friendly area are being affected by it, or find it to be littered with dog poop then they are likely to complain. It is every dog owners part to protect the small areas we have that actually allow our dogs to feel free and well, ‘just be a dog’!
It is much easier to close a dog-friendly area than it is to open a new one. Always remember that when you are out mingling. As with everything, if people do not like something they will look for ways to remove it, and there are unfortunately plenty of people that would like to see less ‘dog parks’ and have more ‘just parks’.
I have spoken with parents about the importance of having these areas, and even ones around playgrounds so that children become aware of how to interact with dogs. I think it is very important that children are taught from a young age how to interact with dogs, along with what is, and is not appropriate, even more so if there is no dog in their household.
HOW TO GENTLY REMIND OTHER PET OWNERS OF THE RULES
This can be a hard thing to do at times, but remember that the responsibility of that dog-friendly area depends on the dogs and owners visiting it.
Many owners are simply unaware of the common rules, let alone the individual rules of each dog park.
If you are faced with this situation, try to make it as positive and comfortable as possible. As adults, we do not like being told what to do, we had enough of that during our childhood.
Walk up to the person with a smile and start a conversation about something other than the rule that has been broken.
Once you have received a happy response you can bring up the park rules. Start with something like… “I am not sure if you are aware….”, or you can always go the easy way out and use an example, like “Did you see that owner not pick up their dogs poop, I wish we could all look after the area better”.
Worst case scenario is they end up with a small chip on their shoulder, but at least you know that next time there is a high chance that they will remember the conversation and pick it up.
Dog-friendly areas are all about fun, play and socialisation… all we need to do is keep it simple and remember that, along with doggy etiquette and some simple owners rules.
This gorgeous little pup is beyond excited to see the dog park. It's a cute video, enjoy!
If you have any feedback or questions that you would like to share, please reach out to me. I would love to hear from you.
Founder & Veterinary Nurse