Dog parks can be a place of great joy and terror. Here are some tips to make your dog park experience more enjoyable for everyone!

1- The single-most important thing you can do to ensure that you and your dog have a great experience is to scope out the park before you enter. It is very important for you to read the energy in the park. Are there un-neutered dogs? Are owners paying attention and staying within close proximity to their dogs? Are dogs fighting? Are there puppies in the park?

2- Make sure you and your dog are calm before you enter the park. This may mean 20 minutes of walking around the parking lot but it is extremely important that you do not allow your dog to enter in an excited manner as this can create a fight. Dogs desire calm stability and if a member of the pack does not fit that mold, they will try to correct him. Many people view dog parks as a way to exercise their dogs, but in a perfect world, dogs that are tired are brought to a park. Dog parks should foster socialization, not necessarily exercise.

3- If your dog has a history of attacking or biting, stay calm but pay attention to signs of excitement or dominance from your dog or those near by. Spiking (hair standing on end), humping, nipping, tail high, head high and most subtly: tense energy should all be corrected by confrontation, leash correction, or touch. If it will set your mind at ease and allow you to lead your dog more effectively, you might consider putting a muzzle on your dog so that they can still socialize in a dog park setting but will not cause any harm if they misbehave.

(If you are at a dog park and a dog enters wearing a muzzle–do not leave! A muzzled dog is completely safe and trustworthy and needs your help in order to be rehabilitated. Do not be anxious in the slightest.)

4-Next weeks post will discuss what to do in the event of a dog fight. But this week I will just say that in the event that blood is drawn, it is important to talk with the owner to ensure that all dogs involved have had a rabies vaccination.

Here are my family’s three favorite dog parks:

1- Prairie Wolf Dog Park, Deerfield IL.
44 acres of off-leash goodness. Two small enclosures for training, a pond, trails and fields
$10 per car for a daily permit.

2- Friends Forever Dog Park, Freeport IL
10 acres, BEAUTIFUL agility course, and pond
$5 per dog per day. There is a dog-friendly hotel in Freeport so a few times my husband and I have made a long weekend trip to this cute little town!

3- Montrose Beach Dog Park
Chicago’s official off-leash beach! There is nothing here but sand and water but it’s probably 2 acres and is packed (average visit there are about 40 dogs there). Free but a Chicago Dog Park sticker is required ($5). Nothing better than seeing the dogs fly into the water to cool off.

Lead your dog!