(22) Dog Park Etiquette

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)

 Have you taken your dog to a dog park?

Most of the cities I worked for created parks especially for dogs. In some cases, the park fencing enclosed a large area where dogs could roam off leash and socialize with other dogs. I stayed away from such places during my career because I feared dogs and did not have one.

As part of Molly’s training, her trainer arranged for us to meet him at a dog park close to home. I stuffed treats in my pocket and swallowed the butterflies in my stomach.

Our dog park included two areas—one for small dogs and one for big. I preferred the small-dog side but Molly might eat one of them or crush one with her paw accidentally.

The trainer explained the dog must be leashed until entering the park, closing the gate behind.

“We’re keeping Molly on the leash today because we want to see how she does with other dogs.”

A creek runs through our park, providing a shaded area for owners and dogs. William settled by the creek and I took the training since I am the one intimidated by big dogs.

Molly acted like a lady until a family with three Saint Bernards approached us. The two young dogs sniffed and pawed at Molly as they would their mother. The old guy (a huge male Saint Bernard) sniffed and growled. Our trainer tugged Molly back just as the grumpy male sprung towards Molly with streams of droll flying in every direction.

“Sorry. He’s old and barely tolerates his pups.” The owner struggled with the leashes of all three dogs.

After escaping without bites, I opened the plastic bag with Molly’s treats and slipped her a bit-sized morsel. By this time, we finished my dog training and headed back to the creek to find William. As I approached my husband, he pointed behind me.

“Watch out,” said William over the barking.

As I turned, three big dogs and two puppies barreled towards me. The black Labrador nipped at my jacket and the puppies jumped around my legs. Another dog slobbered on my hand. Molly sat at a distance and wagged her tail for the pet owner whose dog slimed my hand.

William ran to my rescue, separating me from the doggie flash crowd.

“Why did they do that?” Tears fell, as I tried to stop shaking.

William reached into my jacket pocket and dangled the unzipped plastic bag of doggy treats.

By this time, at least eight dogs joined the chorus, making my husband the most popular man on campus. Dog owners agreed to let William distribute treats to their pets.

Molly did not seem to mind. In fact, she enjoyed herself and made friends—both human and canine.

On my first visit to the dog park, I learned about dog park etiquette and dog park rules. Here is my list of dos and do nots:

 Rule #1  If you bring treats to the dog park, keep them tightly sealed.

Rule #2   Always ask dog owners if it is okay to share a treat or pet their dog.

 Rule #3  Stay close to your dog, maintaining close contact at all times.

Rule #4   When introducing your dog to a new park, keep him/her on the leash for your first visit to make sure he/she gets comfortable with the park, other dogs, and people.

Rule #5  Take your dog into the park on the leash. Close the gate behind you before releasing your dog from the leash.

Rule #6  Always pick up after your dog and try to leave the park in a better condition than when you arrived.

Rule #7  As the dog socializes with others, we should, too. Be friendly and reach out. Your friendliness will rub off on others, including your dog. (I use the visit command to tell Molly she needs to be nice and play. If she looks like she is going to pounce, I tell her to stand down.)

Rule #8  Never, never leave your dog unattended in the park.

The website www.dogpark.com/dog-park-etiquette/ offers more etiquette rules and helps you find dog parks in your area. The website of www.dogpark.com addresses the different types of dog parks, gives tips on caring for your dog, and more.

Your dog will love a day in the park and you will help your service dog be a socialized animal when in public.

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About the blogger

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her husband, William, and dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.