How can I tell is a dog park is safe for us to enter?

It’s just not possible to guarantee that there will never be skirmishes. Dogs can be playing nicely one moment, but then get overexcited or overtired– and that can lead to a fight.

Still, there are ways to increase your chances of a safe dog park experience, such as:

• Visit the dog park for the first time without your dog. Are the dog park’s rules posted in a prominent spot? Do visitors follow them the rules—picking up, watching, not bringing young children in the park, etc.) Do the grounds look well-tended? Are there separate enclosures for small and large dogs?
• Police the park, politely but firmly. It’s up to park visitors to make sure everyone follows the rules. People should not be afraid to ask an owner to come back another time or control their dog if there are problems.
• Get involved. Join the dog park’s association, help out during clean-up days, or donate money to keep the park in great shape. Many attribute the success of their parks to the overall feeling of pride.
• Be prepared for doggie skirmishes. It’s just bound to happen.
• Know the difference between dog play and fighting. Not all growling, tumbling and nipping are outright aggression. Dogs may play rough, but be on the lookout for rigid tight bodies, low, slow tail wags and intense stares.
• Don’t bring very young puppies, because they are particularly vulnerable to larger, aggressive canines. Be sure they have completed early immunization series before taking them to the dog park.
• Leave the dog park early, if the scene becomes unsafe for animals or people.
• 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? Peek at the park and the parking lot before entering.

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