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How do I Take my Dog to the Dog Park for the First Time?

Park Visit: Planning Stage

A park is a nice way to get in touch with nature. Our local park has been a part of my life since I was a teenager. I spent quality time there with my friends, my would-be wife, and recently with my daughter. Now, I want to have a family experience with Maui. I recall seeing dogs play in the park, all of them don't have a leash, and they somehow stay with their owners. The most interesting one I saw was this woman with four Yorkies walking around with her without leashes. She does have a leash for each of them, but it must feel great for her dogs to roam around the park as they please.

 

I've only known dogs that just dash off as soon as they are given freedom. I'm not confident that I'll be able to do that with Maui just yet. I don't want our park activity hours spent chasing after Maui. At the same time, I don't want to spend it all with Maui on a leash. I could already imagine Maui whining like a little grounded kid watching other kids play outside. So in an effort to make a leash-less day in the park possible, I have to plan it. The shock collar is almost ready, just a few more days and I can start reinforcement training. 

 

So it's time to do some research, and by research, I mean hitting the search engines and looking at articles, reading forums about experiences, and skimming the social media. It's too bad the park isn't within walking distance, otherwise, I could just take my furry friend for a walk there and get him used to it.

Since my primary problem is Maui just dashing off, instead of thinking of how to keep him from bolting away and go on an adventure of his own, is to train him to come back. The recall on beep is already ongoing, but it must be reinforced. I could also keep luring Maui in with his favourite smelly liver treats. He can't get enough of those and they have been great for basic commands. 


One recommendation my friend suggested is to get a very log retractable leash. The one he has is around 20 feet. Since he is cut from the same lazy cloth as I am, he bought this so that his dog can reach places to mark or investigate without him changing directions. With a leash that long, I should be able to let Maui have some modicum of freedom and let me see how well he vibes with the place. The park isn't for dogs, but there's a nice sign on the front that says dogs are welcome. Eventually, I should look out for actual off-leash dog parks.

 

The downside here is that according to some stuff I've read, keeping dogs on a leashed and pinned in one place in open parks increases their anxiety, drastically increasing the chances of them displaying aggressive behavior, which could translate to them lashing out at other dogs. This happens because dogs could feel trapped when other dogs approach them, or anything they consider a threat. At least when Maui is walking with me on a leash, he can hide behind me when a threat arrives. I admit, if that happens, I'd be a little disappointed, but better he cowers behind me than attack whoever threatens him. 


Moving on to the other minutia of the plan, I have to understand the park rules. I'm not familiar with them at all since they never applied to me, but one obvious rule is that I have to pick up after Maui to keep the park clean. That's easy enough to do as poop bags come cheap, especially in bulk. However, there are a few other things to consider.

 

One is that other dogs can also smell Maui's smelly liver treats. If I'm not careful, another dog could step and compete with the food. When Maui was younger, he had to fight for his technical place on the table. He hasn't shown food aggression yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if the social situation turns heated. 

Other dogs aren't just my worry.

The park is also home to some resilient stray cats who make a living there hunting critters and, on one occasion I saw, catching fish on the lake. There are rare squirrels and rats too. 

 

Another is the activities I would do with Maui. Fetch comes into mind as he does play fetch properly with me, however, other dogs might get the same idea, worse if I use Maui's toys for fetching, as he could feel protective with his toy and attack any other dogs trying to get it. 

 

I have to familiarize myself with the park rules. At least their social media page shows these rules, and so far, I just have to make sure I clean up after Maui and follow basic dog park etiquette. 

Going back to Maui, what's important is his vaccines. He has all the mandatory ones like Rabies and Canine distemper. I worry about those two in particular because there is no cure for distemper or rabies. He seems to be in good health too, at least as far as his vet says.  


Finally, I need to make sure I have everything Maui needs for a comfortable experience. He needs clean water, something to drink from like a collapsible water bowl. The park has a man-made lake but I don't want Maui having contact with water contaminated by chemicals, or any kind of problematic enterobacter.


To summarise, if I am to give Maui a great first park experience, I should further solidify his basic training, especially recall training and obedience commands. Once that's maybe 70% established, I'll get all the materials needed like the collapsible bowl or those things you can put on bottled water that acts as the bowl itself.


I'll take him out for a test run to the local park, following all rules, and carefully watch his body language.

 

When it looks like he's comfortable and I'm not in any trouble spots in the park, I'll take him off the leash. Preferably, in places without any other dogs first. 


When he gets more comfortable and if we're lucky, Maui can meet new canine friends and experience proper socialization. 

 

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