Doggy etiquette ….

Minding your dog’s manners when out in public

We grow up learning about manners and appropriate behaviour in social situations, but what about our dog’s etiquette in public? Dog owners need to be responsible for ensuring their dogs behave appropriately, particularly in an off-leash area such as a dog park where the owner has less control over canine interactions with other humans and dogs.

As an experienced dog walker, here are some keys to dog park etiquette to ensure your canine interactions are safe and fun for everyone:

Dog owners should not use a public dog park if their dog has serious behavioural problems with other dogs or humans; those dogs that are fearful, aggressive or reactive are not suitable for dog parks

Only healthy dogs should visit dog parks; communicable diseases and parasites are unacceptable as these can affect and infect other dogs

Remove your dog’s leash as soon as you enter the off-leash area in order to reduce stress and avoid or minimize aggression; many awkward situations arise when a new dog enters the park, so it’s important to supervise this process and ensure all dogs enjoy a smooth transition from leash to off-leash

A dog should be responsive to basic commands – at least “come when called”, “sit” and “leave it/off” so that the owner can get control if necessary and prevent the dog from harassing others

Supervise your dog’s play, and be prepared to interrupt inappropriate behaviour, whether your dog is the perpetrator or the victim. It’s unacceptable to bring your dog to the park and ignore its behaviour – stay off the phone!

The unwanted guest: dogs running up to people picnicking and sniffing their food is intolerable – if you see a group sitting down eating in a non doggy area of a park of recreation area, it’s your responsibility as the owner to keep it on a leash. The same applies if your dog approaches kids – not all kids like dogs – some are fearful and need to be introduced to a canine friend in a calm, measured way that the parent has control over.

Apology accepted: when your dog does something to upset someone, apologize for both of you, and if your dog is behaving inappropriately, causing grief to other people and/or dogs, be willing to leave the park – that’s your social responsibility. Remember, just because you find your canine friend fun and endlessly fascinating doesn’t mean other people will

If you find another dog’s behaviour unacceptable (and its owner is negligent or apathetic), be prepared to take your own dog out of the park, even if it feels unfair. It’s best to leave if you or your dog is not having a good time, and you unfortunately cannot force someone else to leave. If someone else’s dog is causing harm to others on the other hand, and the owner will not take action, then it’s appropriate to contact the local council or police to ensure the safety of the park’s visitors, both human and canine

Of course, clean up after your dog, both inside and outside the park, and be willing to clean up “unclaimed” piles of excreta from less conscientious visitors

Parks are a great place to exercise and socialize your dog, but we humans are responsible for our dogs’ behaviours and for ensuring that the dog park we visit is a safe and enjoyable place for all concerned. While it’s not difficult to follow the rules of dog park etiquette, it’s essential that we do.

Peter Steinfield runs a local dog walking business, Dog Trek.

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