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How to Take Your Dog to a Dog Park for The First Time

Maui's First Time in the Park

Finally, the time has come. I'm prepared to take Maui to the park. There are quite a lot of people out and about these days, so I expect some parts of the park to be filled with people. The park also allows dogs without a leash, but we have to be responsible for our dog of course, which means poop bags, vaccinations, a proper leash, and of course, my trusty pet resolve collar. I say trusty, because the collar has been with me for a good while now, and the only thing that really degraded is the rubber coating, which ever-so-slightly lost its matt-like finish, and is smoother now. Also, I barely charge it. Sometimes, I lose track of the battery and I've never seen the battery indicator flash red, probably because I charge it more often than I remember. 

Preparing Maui for a first-time park experience has to be perfect, and by perfect, I mean I have a contingency plan for anything that could happen. There are a couple of things that I realized could pose a problem and it doesn't involve anything training involved. 

One such is Maui's energy levels. One reason why dogs in dog parks end up turning the place into a fight club is that these city dogs live a somewhat sedentary life in their homes, filling their doggy souls with pent-up energy, which they then unleash out in the off-leash parks, resulting in fights and uncontrollable rambunctiousness. 

To avoid this, I need to let Maui release some of this energy the week before. I can somewhat do this out in our neighborhood, but the problem is that Maui just sees certain people as threats. I can use the shock collar to recall him, but this is one quality that I want to preserve, as I need Maui to react to actual threats, like potential intruders. I partially solve this problem by taking him out for a walk around the street to scout out potential areas, then, with a shock collar and treats at hand, I tell Maui to stay, then remove the collar. 

The first thing that comes to my canine companion's head is to bolt away, which is exactly what I'm talking about. I let him go all out, then do the recall beep. Sometimes he ignores it, so I use the vibrate to remind him, then if he still ignores it, I deliver a mild shock at around level 3. He doesn't respond to anything lower, and anything higher makes him flinch. 

Another thing is socialization. Like us humans, young dogs want to hang out with dogs their own age. Most fights come from older dogs "ganging up" on younger dogs for a dog-knows-what reason, which then the younger dog perceives as a threat and may end up lashing out.

The last one is beyond my control. My only hope is that I can manage Maui enough when I see problematic body language start appearing. I also wanted a quick-attach/quick-release leash but ordering it will take an extra week. I could use it if I need to restain Maui when his bad behavior turns risky, or if other dogs have behavior issues that I'd like to keep Maui away from. 

As we went into the nature park, Maui was leashed at first. Entry was easy enough and to my surprise, there weren't many people around, in fact, the park looked rather empty, which is fine by me. I turned the shock collar on and double-checked the tightness. The park was vast and it would take about three hours of walking to go around the entire place. Maui was so excited he ended up pulling despite all our training. I had to break out the chopped liver to remind him that good behavior is rewarded. 

We walked around first, trying to see what has changed in the park after two years. I was honestly a little doubtful if I should really let him off the leash. I had confidence in his basic training, but perhaps it was me having the nervous energy, not him. When we reached a clearing, I decided to unleash Maui into the park. 

Like he always does, he bolted off, but suddenly stopped around 10 yards in. He probably realized that this is not familiar territory. So far there are no fellow canines around, nor any wild animals worth chasing. We saw a few park cats, but it looks like the squirrels are settled up in the trees. Maui ended up going in different directions but a quick beep of the collar sends him back to us.

As we walked, Maui suddenly chased what looked like a rat. I let him do so because that prey-drive needs to go somewhere. The park was spacious enough that we could see wherever he went, and to my surprise, he caught the rat. What happened afterward was nasty, to say the least, but Maui was happy. We went to a nearby faucet and helped rinse Maui's mouth. After that affair, Maui was surprisingly calm and even walked around with us. Eventually, we reached the man-made lake there and sat down on one of the stone table sets. I recalled Maui and filled his collapsible water bowl with clean water before any I risk him making contact with water contaminated with all manner of bacteria from the lake. Thankfully, he didn't like going into the lake, to begin with. 

As we ate our food, so did Maui, and I let both my daughter and Maui play while my wife and I relax. It was a good, somewhat cloudy day. There were no dogs around, only other park goers who went about. It was a great opportunity to do some long-range fetch. It was somewhat hilarious and sad at the same time because Maui had trouble looking for the stick, and decided to give a leaf back for some reason. After a good two hours of playing and relaxing, we decided to check out the other spots. Maui seemed quite satisfied as he was no longer running about. He just briskly walks from one spot to another, smelling things. 

Eventually, we met another dog owner who had two tiny furry dogs walking with her. Maui approached them, but one of the dogs snarled. Maui backed off, looking doubtful. I was preparing the remote in case of conflict, but Maui seemed to take a high road and just moved on. Not the best first impact on his socialization skills, but better than a snarl-off. The pet owner apologized and scolded her Shihtzu. 

Maui still has a long way to go to find good canine friends. Perhaps when the times change for the better, there would be more people and more dogs. 

After another hour of just soaking in nature, we settled into another spot where I set up the hammock. My wife and daughter will nap and I'll do what I like the most when outdoors out in the grass, whip out my smartphone and play games. Oh, the depravity. 

Maui kept walking around, sniffing out trees and stuff and marking them as he pleases until nothing comes out anymore. It appears that he learned not to stray too far because he doesn't go farther than a certain distance, not because I beep and use the vibrate. I was actually way too preoccupied with my game and had faith that the remote can reach him because a 3/4 mile sphere of coverage is way past the park boundaries, so even if all the trees have blocked the signal, I am 100% sure I can reach him. 

After playing for an hour with Maui wandering about the entire time, he decided to come back and lay down with us. I hope this means he's satisfied. 

Here I am now wondering if all my preparation actually paid off and we're having a perfect time, or did I overprepare and this is what normally happens in off-leash dog parks. Either way, the breeze feels cool, the birds are chirping, and I think I'm gonna have a good time. 

We decided to leave when the sun was going low so we packed up and started going to the entrance. Of course, at the last moment, Maui met a large Golden Retriever whose owner was chasing after. The retriever was wagging its tail and was letting Maui investigate them. I had my hand on the remote but so far, I haven't seen any bad body language cues. The retriever suddenly jolted and slapped its paws on the ground, doing what seems to be bow behavior. Maui instantly got the message and lowered his head as if ready to pounce. We greeted the owner and just had a nod of understanding while we let our dogs play. I wonder if breed truly matters with temperament, or maybe small dogs are just really born snarky, and as the internet says, Retrievers are one of the kindest dogs. 

The owner noticed Maui's collar and asked if it was a shock collar. I explained what it was and she had her own opinions about it. She was extremely against the use of electricity and cited it to be cruel, but thankfully respected my own side of it and we just agreed to disagree, since, in the end, Maui doesn't look like the scared and aggressive dog she somewhat expected him to be. She did find it handy that the collar had a remote beep and receiver light, so there's some silver lining to it. I told her that in my search for the perfect shock collar, I happened upon brands that didn't have any shock, and told her about the plastic nubs the collar had to disable the shock completely. 

After about half an hour of them running around chasing each other and getting to know each other, the owner called him, and off they went. Since we were heading home, I recalled Maui and tried to place the leash back on him. The poor sap whined and even tried to lay down so I could not reach the metal loop. When I wrestled it in, Maui didn't stand up and even preferred to be dragged. 

I get it. He had a great time, he ran to his delight, met new furry friends, and had his first good social situation outside the house. I had to whip out the last of the liver and praised him, just so he would stand up. 

After a somewhat troublesome journey home, Maui went to drink in his water bowl, then into the crate where he curled up to rest. I needed to check him for ticks and stuff, but that can wait until his bath tomorrow. For now, I can say with absolute certainty that our park visit was a success. 


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