The following tips will ensure that taking your dog to Ahwatukee's Pecos Dog Park or other area dog parks can be fun for all.
1. Know your dog's preferences and play style. If you know how your dog likes to play and, consequently, how they do not like to play, you will know when you need to redirect them towards another side of the park (or maybe even leave) if they're not having fun with the dogs near them. Your dog may enjoy chasing games but suddenly finds themselves surrounded by wrestlers and neck-biters. Compatible play styles are key to having fun in a group setting.
2. Be ready to supervise your dog at all times. Play can escalate quickly and can easily become competitive instead of cooperative. Some dogs just do not have an "off button." Don't assume the other dog parents are aware of this and will manage their dog's behavior. If you know your dog plays rough, be ready to call your dog off if necessary. You don't want your dog to be a victim or a bully so supervision and management is necessary for a positive dog park experience.
3. Watch the dynamics of the group before entering the park. Try watching the crowd for a few minutes and look for dogs who might stress out your pup. Dogs who body-slam, mouth, mount or incessantly bark at others can trigger conflict. Ambushing and stalking are predatory behaviors and may be threatening to another dog. These might be dogs you want to steer clear of. Being proactive can help minimize risks and maximize fun for your dog (and you).
4. Keep Fido's favorite toys at home. Be aware that not all dogs share well with others. If you take Fido's favorite toy with you, be alert to any guarding behaviors your dog may display or other dogs may show towards your dog. Avoid taking treats or toys to help avoid potential conflict or competition between space and toys.
5. Don't be afraid to step in if your dog is being bullied or being a bully. Proper play and socialization can make the difference between a dog that is well-adjusted and friendly with other dogs and one who is fearful, anxious or even aggressive. Better to err on the side of safety if it looks like your dog isn't having fun. How to tell? If your dog goes back for more, or the play seems mutual, they are probably having fun. If the play is one-sided or one dog will not let the other dog leave, this is not fun. If you know your dog creates conflict or becomes over-aroused, they may not be a good candidate for dog park play.
• Sam Kabbel and Stefanie Strackbein are co-owners of Edu-Care for Dogs, a program that combines fun and effective training, guided socialization and safe, educational group play. Reach them at (480) 200-2011 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/educarefordogs.