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Dog park basics and common dog park rules

Dog Parks are designated fenced areas where people can bring their dog whether it be a Shitzhu or a Shepherd and allow them to romp unleashed with other dogs. Most Dog Parks have water available for the pets and cleanup facilities, like pooper-scoopers or plastic bags. Some have trees and benches and double-gated entrances. Common sense and courtesy is the responsibility of the human involved when visiting an off leash facility. Leash-optional dog parks are a great place to take your dog. There is no need for the dog owner to worry about joggers, kids on bikes, inattentive drivers. Here are some basics simple rules should make the Dog Park visit a pleasant one for everyone:
  • Aggressive dogs are pretty much never welcome in a dog park.
  • Dogs in heat are not welcome to bark parks.
  • Your dog should be under voice control.
  • Dogs should have current vaccinations. Most parks require that your dog even show proof of their current vaccinations records before entering the dog park.
  • Don't bring more dogs than you can handle.
  • Always clean up after your dog. Many dog parks provide plastic bags but you shoudl always carry your own.
  • Fill any holes your dog digs.
  • Don't bring young children. These are not playgrounds for humans. Most dog parks require children to be 16 years or older to enter the bark park area.
  • Keep your pet on a leash until you are into the fenced area.
  • Watch your dog while in the fenced area.
  • Offer your dog water. Although most dog parks have places to get water for your dog some smaller dog parks do not so make sure you bring plenty of water.
  • Make sure your dog has a collar on.
  • Abide by any local park rules.

Things to consider when taking your dog to a dog park

First time users should consider coming at off-peak times for their initial visit. Ask questions of those people inside the fence about how to ease your dog's initial stress of entering for the first time. At times, the park can become quite crowded. If you are not sure how your dog will react to the current conditions, don't put pressure on your dog by forcing it into what it thinks is a threatening situation. Instead, come back at another time when it is less crowded.

If entering or leaving the off-leash area, do not enter the double-gated transition area if there is already someone in that area. This will eliminate the possibility of both gates being open at the same time.

Place your dog off leash in the transition area before entering the unleashed area. Some dogs can feel threatened if they are leashed in the presence of unleashed dogs.

Quickly move away from the entrance area as you enter. That will help disperse the group of dogs that will come over to welcome your dog to the park. Move away from the fence so that your dog will not feel cornered or threatened. This will lessen the problem caused when several off leash dogs, already in the park, come running over to greet the new arrival, perhaps overwhelming the arriving dog.

One of our primary goals is to socialize our dogs to have good manners. We should practice what we preach and always be considerate of others and your dog park will be an enjoyable, healthy, educational experience for handlers and dogs.

If any dog becomes aggressive or disruptive, the responsible handler will remove the dog from the fenced area until socialization measures can be undertaken.

ALWAYS SCOOP YOUR DOG'S POOP!!! This is the complaint heard most often from opponents of dog park proposals. Bags are provided, use them! Also, please help with "Orphan Poop." You will occasionally miss some of your dog's poop and our continued use of this type of public amenity will depend on our control of this issue!!!

Keep your dog leashed at all times while outside the fenced dog park area. Even if your pet is under perfect voice control, many non-dog people have fears and any dog off-leash outside the fenced area violates the County's Leash Law.

All dog handlers must provide proof of current vaccinations. Your dog must have a collar or harness that includes a rabies tag and a county Dog License.. It is also an excellent idea to have an ID tag on the collar or harness as well. If your animal does not have proof of a rabies vaccination and license, you may be asked to leave the park.

Be a responsible dog handler. If your pet has a contagious condition, stay away until a Vet has said that there is no danger to other dogs. The "Golden Rule" applies here! Legally, only a rabies vaccination is required to enter the dog park; however, you may wish to consult with your veterinarian to get advice on other vaccinations such as Bordatella (Kennel Cough), Distemper, Parvo, etc. Don't forget heartworm protection!

Many dogs will be experiencing the off-leash environment for the first time and may not be used to the experience. Please watch your dog closely. If your dog acts aggressively, please put the dog on a leash immediately and let the animal "cool down". It takes time for a new dog to become comfortable with the fact that other dogs all share the neutral environment. Keep in mind that everyone at the park wants the same thing - socialized dogs that can have fun together. If you are not sure how your dog will react, try to come to the park when few other dogs are there to keep the intimidation level as low as possible. You may wish to keep your first visit to the dog park rather short to minimize the stress on your pup. Leaving early when your dog is having a good time will make it more likely that your dog will be anxious to return for subsequent visits.

Do not bring human food to the dog park. Small dog treats are acceptable since that's what one uses to train a dog; however, human food or long-lasting dog chews should not be brought into the off-leash area. Many dogs are on diets to keep their weight under control. A normally well-behaved dog can jump at or lunge for food, especially tasty human food, when hungry. Also, do not give any treats to a dog without first checking with the dog's owner to see if that would be permissible. Some dogs have food allergies and that treat might make a dog ill.

Your first visit to an off leash dog park

My dog has never been in a dog park before. How can I expect it to react?

Reactions vary depending on the dog's nature, its living environment, and its age. For the first visit to a dog park, try to arrive at a time when there are not very many dogs in attendance. This will reduce the stress on the dog.

For dogs that are house-bound or who live in small fenced-in back yards, entering a large area like a dog park and being off-leash can be stressful even with no other dogs. They need time to adjust to the new-found freedom.

Walk your dog around the park on the outside of the fence. Let the dogs that are inside come over to the fence to sniff and greet to see how your pup reacts. If your dog sniffs back and appears friendly, it may be ready to join in the activities inside. If, instead, your dog barks and lunges violently at those inside the fence, it may need more socialization before it will be ready to enter the park.

When you do enter, be sure to remove your leash once you enter the first gate. You can then open the gate to let your pup run into the park. Do not keep your dog on a leash inside the off-leash area since that will put your dog at a disadvantage the other dogs can run away, but yours can't so your dog may react by being more aggressive. When a dog enters a dog park, the first thing you will notice is that a number of other dogs who are already inside the park will come running over to the fence to see who is arriving. This is the Greeting Committee. Dogs are curious creatures, actually they are downright nosy, and they will want to check out the newbie. Depending on your dog's nature, it will either be anxious to enter and play or it will be hesitant to get into a pack of unknown dogs. The "first time jitters" is just your dog being unsure of the new environment.

It usually takes about ten minutes for a new dog to become accustomed to the dog park environment. Initially, you may see the animal with its tail held in a defensive posture, curved down between its hind legs. It may lie down or try to get into a corner as the dogs inside the park all hover around and sniff the newcomer. The dogs already inside the park are being friendly but your dog doesn't know that yet. Pet your dog and give it comforting words as a way to reduce stress. Your dog may run away from and be followed or playfully chased by the Greeting Committee. Stay close by in case the dog wants to come over to you for protection. Once your dog realizes that there are no threats inside the park, you should see your dog's tail rise and eventually curve over its back to the "I am having a good time" position. By this time you will have already remarked that the dog looks like it is really enjoying the environment.

Once your dog makes friends and begins seeing the same dogs on a regular basis, you won't see the same Greeting Committee at the gate. You will instead see your dog's friends waiting anxiously to play and playtime will begin as soon as you open the gate. Dog have different play styles. Some like to just walk around and do not interact with other dogs, some like to chase and run, while others like to wrestle. Your dog will quickly find other playmates that have similar play styles.

While your dog is adjusting to the new environment, be sure to introduce yourself to the other humans in the park. Explain that you and your dog are new and ask for any helpful hints to maximize your dog's (and your) enjoyment of the facility. Keep an eye on your dog so you can adhere to the number one rule of the Dog Park: Scoop Your Poop!

You may also wish to make your inaugural visit to the dog park a short one, perhaps only thirty minutes. Make sure you leave on a positive note. You will want to leave at a time when the dog is having fun, is not too tired, and really doesn't want to go. Your pup will look forward to the next visit very eagerly.

Just as with any park, there are rules. Most dog parks are not supervised; some utilize volunteers who monitor the dog park, while others have park staff during peak times. Dog park attendees do not hesitate to use their cell phones to call the authorities if they feel that their and their dog's safety or health are in question. Each person is responsible for the actions of his or her dog.

Dog Park laws and general liability

Like any recreational area, however, dog parks are not free of risks. People and dogs get injured in dog parks throughout the United States. And dog parks cause other kinds of problems too. Here is an overview of the problems that stem from dog parks:

Dog owners do not clean up after their dogs. In dog parks and on the street, dog owners are legally required to clean up after their dogs. Failure to do so can result in fines, can cause the spread of disease, and might prompt the civic authorities to close the dog park entirely. For example, a neighborhood in Los Angeles that is adjacent to a dog park commissioned a study of the bacteria in rainwater flowing down from the dog park, through the streets and into the public storm drains. The levels of harmful bacteria went off the charts. As a result, the neighborhood is exerting pressure on City Hall to close or restrict the dog park.

Some dogs are inappropriate for a dog park. One of the most reported problems is that irresponsible dog owners bring the wrong dogs to dog parks. Unneutered male dogs and other aggressive dogs may prompt dog fights, with people and dogs being bitten. Overly aggressive, overly assertive, overly unruly, and undersocialized dogs to not belong in a dog park. Similarly, puppies and fearful dogs can be dangerous, because they might fight or bite as a fear reaction. When dogs fight in a dog park, people sometimes get bitten, and there may follow an altercation between the responsible owner and the irresponsible one.

There currently are no reported legal opinions about injuries to people that occur in dog parks, but some conclusions are possible. People who suffer bodily injuries or injuries to their dogs have most of the usual rights in dog parks that they have outside such places. Leash-optional parks are not zones of immunity for irresponsible dog owners and dangerous dogs. Basically, leash-optional dog parks merely are places where the city's leash laws do not apply. They are not, however, Wild West frontier towns where dogs can fight it out and attack people without fear of the Sheriff!

Ambiguous waiver of rights / assumption of risk. Dog owners should carefully read the signs that are posted around dog parks. Warning signs might result in a waiver of rights or an assumption of risk. One of the problems here is exactly what risks are being assumed. For example, a sign that says Use the park at your own risk means what? Can such a sign deprive you of the right to be free of danger from a dog that was previously declared dangerous? Exactly which risks are you agreeing to accept? There have been no reported legal opinions about the signs at dog parks.

Inappropriate location of parks. Some city councils have placed dog parks next to playgrounds. Because it is foreseeable that dogs in dog parks might become over-excited and aggressive, parents have expressed the fear that that the placement of dog parks near playgrounds poses an unacceptable and unreasonable risk to the children in the playgrounds. Again, there have been no cases and therefore no precedents on the placement of dog parks

If you go to a no-leash dog park and you are injured by a dog, under circumstances other than a bite where the dog would not have injured you if it was leashed, then there is a very good argument that you assumed the risk. After all, you knew that leashes were optional at the park, but you went there anyway to take advantage of the same leash-optional law that resulted in your own injuries.

In every state, the owner or possessor of a dog having a dangerous propensity (i.e., the propensity to jump on people or bite people) is strictly liable for injuries that result from the dog's dangerous propensity. So, if a dog owner knows that his dog likes to jump on people and knock them down, and if that happens in a leash-optional area, the dog owner will be liable under state law. Also, most states have laws imposing strict liability on dog owners whose dogs actually bite someone, irrespective of whether the dog previously bit anyone. These laws still apply, even though the bite occurs in a dog recreation area where leashes are optional. If a dog owner knows that his dog has the dangerous tendency to attack and fight with other dogs, he should not bring that dog into a dog park. Doing so would be not only negligent but would constitute a reckless disregard for the safety of other dogs, the rights of other dog owners, and the safety of other dog owners. A dog owner should be held fully responsible for all resulting injuries to other people and their dogs. The doctrine of assumption of the risk should not apply because the victim cannot be regarded as accepting the risk of such negligent, reckless and possibly illegal conduct.

A great site for learning more about the laws of off leash parks see Dog Bite Law.
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