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Dog beaches and dog parks are great spots to exercise and play with your dogs this summer, but there are a few things to keep in mind.
If your dog is shy or fearful, the boisterous environment of a dog beach or park might be overwhelming. Well meaning pet parents often believe that bringing their shy dogs into a busy dog-friendly area will help “socialize” them, but in reality the opposite is often true, and the dog becomes more fearful. For dogs who don’t do well in social situations, playdates with just one or two other dogs can be a much less stressful experience than a busy dog beach or park.
But if your dog loves other dogs and is ready to hit the canine social scene, here are some tips to help you both have the best experience:
- If possible, choose a location that has separate play areas for small and large dogs. It’s safer for everyone and eliminates the possibility of a small dog being injured (accidentally or intentionally) by a larger dog.
- Keep your dog away from the entry and exit gates, as scuffles can break out when overexcited dogs rush at newcomers. Keep your dog on leash until you get into the off-leash area, but be prepared to release your dog as quickly as possible so she can greet others freely.
- I don’t recommend using prong, choke, or shock collars, but they’re especially inappropriate in group play at a dog park or beach. Not only can they give your dog a negative association toward people and other dogs, but they can be dangerous if they catch on something during play.
- Your dog might love playing with toys, Frisbees, or balls while outside, but avoid using these in enclosed spaces — particularly in dog parks. Fights can often break out when a dog becomes protective over a valued object.
- Avoid taking food into these areas, as squabbles can happen between dogs who want first access to a tasty morsel. It will also prevent you from giving treats to other dogs — something that other people might not appreciate.
- While beaches and parks are great places to socialize with other pet parents, don’t let your conversations take your attention away. Disagreements can kick off very quickly between dogs, and there’s nothing worse than pet parents who do not actively supervise or intervene if their dog is misbehaving or playing too roughly.
- Dog parks and beaches are not safe places for children to play. A child who gets knocked over or who is running and screaming can be a dangerous combination with a large group of dogs.
- During extreme heat, keep visits to the park short, or try some indoor games and activities instead. This is especially true if you have a brachycephalic (short-nosed) breed like a Pug or a Bulldog, as they have a short upper respiratory tract and are not well-suited to exercising in the heat.
- Monitor your dog’s water intake. Bloat can come on suddenly and without warning as a result of drinking too much water during and after exercise. If you notice a bulge in your dog’s stomach at any time or notice him behaving strangely, take an immediate trip to the vet.
- Be your dog’s advocate! If your dog is showing aggressive behaviors or seems fearful, uncomfortable, or agitated, head home before anything escalates, and seek alternative environments to exercise in or activities to do.
About the author: Victoria Stilwell is a world-renowned dog trainer, TV personality, author, and public speaker best known as the star of the international hit TV series It’s Me or the Dog, through which she reaches audiences in more than 100 countries. Appearing frequently in the worldwide media, Stilwell is widely recognized as a leader in the field of animal behavior, is the editor- in-chief of positively.com, and the CEO of Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training — the world’s premier global network of positive reinforcement dog trainers. Connect with her on Facebook at /Victoria Stilwell and on Twitter at @VictoriaS.