dog in a park on a leash

10 Tips for Safe Trips to the Dog Park in New Zealand


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A dog park can be the best experience in the world because your pooch can socialise in the great outdoors. However, without dog safety measures in places it can also quickly become the worst experience. How do you mitigate this?

As a pup parent, it’s important to know how to protect your fur kid and keep other dogs and people safe too. Dog bites can happen easily and no one wants that.

In this article PD rounds up some top dog safety tips to help make visiting a dog park stress-free and injury-free.

young Golden Retriever puppies play at home

1. When can I take my puppy to a dog park?

Just like children learn to swim in a shallow pool it’s good to prep your puppy for the park slowly. Up until they’re six months old, stick to your garden and other unpopulated outdoor spaces. They’re still too young to hold their own and shouldn’t be tasked with handling bigger or older dogs.

If they end up with too much responsibility too soon they can become frightened and traumatised by what should be a healthy and normal experience.

Importantly, need to at least wait until a couple of weeks after your puppy’s last vaccination booster, which is usually at around 14–16 weeks of age. More on vaccinations in point 3.

Dog owner doing reward based dog training

2. Prep for the park with basic training

Give your pooch the 101 skillset for an enjoyable dog park experience. Teach them basic recall skills and make sure they know how to walk on a leash. Training and socialisation are key to dog safety and people safety in the park.

Here’s a list of three puppy training guides:

Also read about pet road safety for training tips on crossing roads and find out why positive reinforcement dog training is the way of the future.

vets vaccinate a Kiwi dog

3. Vaccinate up to date for a safe dog park trip

As soon as your dog comes into contact with other dogs he or she is likely coming into contact with a variety of bacteria and viruses. This is nothing to fret about as long as your dog is healthy and their vaccinations are up to date.

Not only are bacteria all around us (both good and bad) but they’re also a healthy part of who we are. Dogs, humans and other creatures are home to a wide variety of bacteria. These need to be kept in a healthy balance through eating well and exercising often.

Get familiar with pet vaccinations schedules in NZ to ensure your checklist of puppy healthcare milestones stays ticked. Also be sure to feed your pup a diet that’s appropriate for his or her age and growth cycle, to help stave off unwanted bugs.

two dogs explore the park happily and safely

4. Get clued up on dog body language

Dogs are talking to us all the time. They use their ears, their tails, their voices and even the angle of different body parts. In fact, the speed and direction of a dog tail wag can have a multitude of meanings (check out the video below).

Often when dogs growl at other dogs, kids and people, the owner tells them not to worry, the dog won’t bite. However, it’s important to know that growling is a form of aggression in and of itself.

A small kid who gets barked or growled at by a strange dog in a park could lose their confidence around dogs for a long time. That can make it difficult for them to enjoy the pleasures of having their own dog down the line. For this and many other reasons it’s important not only to make sure your dog is trained and well socialised but that you know how to speak dog and how to tell if your dog is scared.

Watch this video with Dr Cath on the many meanings of a dog’s tail wag:

5. Consider a pet behaviourist for adopted dogs

When people are traumatised they can seek counselling, psychiatry and other therapies. For pets you get a pet behaviourist. A pet behaviourist can help your dog unlearn fear-induced behaviours and teach them new behaviour.

This can help any scared or aggressive dog, such as an adopted dog, learn to become confident again. That is really important for the safety of your dog, other dogs and people in dog parks.

Read more about why dogs bite to help mitigate this possibility. Keep in mind that when they do, it’s because they haven’t been given adequate support.

owner walks dogs on leads in dog park

6. Always bring a dog lead to the park

Even if you’re visiting an off-leash dog park like Meloa Reef, always bring along your dog’s lead. In most public places, you should ideally always have your dog on a lead. If any dangers present themselves it’s best to put your dog’s lead on right away (if it’s not already).

Together with the Department of Conservation, PD is bringing you the Lead the Way programme to help improve wildlife and dog safety along the coastline. Part of this involves a system of colourful dog leads that tell other people how your dog feels about interacting with other dogs and people.

Read about Lead the Way to see which colour suits your dog. Also be sure to read our guide to dog leashes and leads for different dogs, dog sizes, environments and walking styles.

owner hugs her Dachshunds

7. Keep eyes on your dog to ensure their safety

You’d keep an eye on your child in a swimming pool and likewise always have a line of sight on your dog in the park. As we’ve already mentioned, dogs give cues with their body language all the time but unless you’re watching them you’ll miss these.

It’s also important to watch how other dogs approach your dog and behave toward them. If you suspect another dog is uncomfortable around yours or could present a danger to them, move to another part of the dog park.

dog owners approach strange dogs slowly for safety

8. Avoid distractions at the dog park

Besides keeping a watchful eye on pup also don’t bring anything along that can distract them or you.
While you might have your phone on you, try to avoid spending unnecessary time on it at the dog park.

It’s a distraction to you, which means you won’t have eyes on your furkid.

Also avoid bringing your dog’s beloved toys along as these can be distracting to them. They can always have that to look forward to back in the car or at home.

Consider not bringing along any dog treats either. If you’re using these to train your dog, then avoid coming to the park at peak times. Or look for someplace else where there are unlikely to be any other dogs. Treats are a foodstuff and can provoke your dog’s food guarding instinct. It’s also going to be tough hiding treats from other dogs – their sense of smell is one of their top superpowers.

person holds up a poop emoji

9. Bring a poop scoop and bags to the dog park

No! You’d never leave a poopy diaper in a public space. Why then do some dog owners leave mushy (or hard) poopy offerings for other people to stand on (or other dogs to… need we say more)!?

As a responsible dog owner toilet training your puppy extends to knowing your puppy poop etiquette.

In addition to the not nice texture of poop on shoes, it can also carry lots of spreadable bugs. As a pet owner, it’s important not to put anyone at risk by leaving poop in the dog park. Or anywhere for that matter.

two Kiwi women and their pups in Autumn leaves

10. Get award winning dog insurance

No matter how many safety measures you take for the dog park, it’s still possible for things to go wrong. Your pup could contract parvo or accidentally ingest or choke on a poisonous plant or foreign object, for instance. That’s why another safety tip for pro pup parents is to have pet insurance to soften the fall.

Pet insurance covers a broad range of pet health costs, from unexpected vet visits to costly overnight hospital stays. PD gives you one or more months of award winning dog insurance when you buy online. Our plans are simple to understand and easy to claim when you need to. Click below to get a quote today.

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