Portland parks series: Dog Park 101

Portland parks series: Dog Park 101
Photo courtesy Flickr user mikebaird (Creative Commons).

PORTLAND, Ore. - Have you always wanted to join the dog park crowd but haven't been able to get up the nerve to try it out?

It's totally understandable. After all, the first time at a dog park can be a little intimidating. When is it safe to let my dog off the leash? Should I be scared of that big dog over there? What if none of the other dogs want to play with my dog?

Every week this summer, we've been putting the spotlight on one of the city's parks as part of an ongoing series. Now, as we wind out the last days of the season, we're changing it up by offering some guides to help you enjoy the last bit of sunshine we have.

This week we're talking dog parks and although we're specifically gearing the article towards newbies, it can also be a great refresher course for the pros. For the new kids on the block, we've got three steps you might think about following before you head out with your pooch.

Step 1: Figure out if your pet is 'dog park material'

Some dogs do well at dog parks while others do not. So how can you tell if your dog will take to it?

According to the ASPCA, well-socialized dogs, young dogs, healthy dogs and dogs that have been spayed or neutered are the best candidates. On the flip side, here's their list of the types of dogs you should not take to a dog park:

  • Unvaccinated puppies
  • Females in heat
  • Unneutered males
  • Undersocialized, fearful, anxious or aggressive dogs
  • Bullies
  • Dogs that aren't considered bullies but they lack social skills and can't seem to play nice

The ASPCA has a lot more information to help you decide whether a dog park is a good fit for you and your pet:

  • ASPCA's Virtual Pet Behaviorist - Dog Parks

If your dog is a good fit, the next step is to choose a place to go. There are off-leash areas at dozens of Portland parks, which means there is likely one that's not far from where you live:

Step 2: Learn dog park etiquette

Dog parks are happy places but anyone who goes there has to admit that they can get on your nerves sometimes. You know what we're talking about - that one dog that can't seem to play nice, the owner that doesn't pick up their pet's doodie or the spaz of a dog that runs and jumps up on anyone who gets within a 10-foot radius.

Earlier this week we took an informal Facebook poll to find out what aggravates folks the most at dog parks. Obviously not picking up the doodie is right at the top of the list but what else drives people nuts? Here are some of the biggest gripes from our Facebook fans:

  • Aggressive dogs. And in the same vein, owners who don't think their dog is aggressive even though it really is.
  • People who don't pay attention to what their dog is doing.
  • Dogs that can't be controlled by their owners.
  • People who bring their little kids to the dog park. Some kids are scared of dogs and can get overwhelmed. They can also get hurt.
  • Dogs that rush up on you - are they friendly? are they mean? You just don't know.
  • People who bring their puppies to the dog park. Why? They likely don't have all their vaccinations and could end up getting sick.
  • Bringing a dog that is in heat or that hasn't been fixed. That's just asking for trouble.
  • People who don't understand dog behavior.

So that's what your neighbors think. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers has some official advice on the dos and don'ts. Also, you can take Animal Planet's dog park etiquette quiz to see if you've mastered the concepts.

Step 3: Watch this quick crash course

Now this is optional but we found this video from Petside.com that gives a nice overview of the dog park world from the perspective of a professional dog sitter and trainer. It's worth watching.