4.02.2014

It's OUTSIDE SEASON!

The temperature is up to a balmy 45, which means only one thing in New England- it's OUTSIDE SEASON! Activities can include hiking, running, or going to the dog park. Here are 5 easy things that you can do right now to make sure your dog is happy, healthy, and behaviorally set for the season to come!

5. Don't Keep Fido on a Leash in the Dog Park.
If you or someone you know is taking your dog to the dog park only to keep him leashed to "socialize" him, you might be doing more harm than good. Barrier Reactivity is a real thing that is quite common in the city. If you have a dog in a fenced in dog park who is leashed, chances are with every interaction that dog is having, there is tension on the leash, adding to the frustration in the leashed dog. In a matter of time (minutes, or weeks) that dog is likely going to develop frustration linked to being held back. If you are going to the dog park, and your dog is friendly, take him off leash. If you are not sure if your dog is a candidate for the dog park, read this article from the ASPCA to help you figure out how to introduce your dog to the dog park, or IF you should.

4. If Your Dog Is Off Leash, Have A Reliable Recall On Your Dog. 
I've written several times about the importance of having a reliable recall on your dog. When you say "COME!", your dog should come to you and be able to get leashed if need be without blowing you off, or introducing a game of "come chase me!" to the command. For starters, your dog might be super friendly, but the dog who he's running up to might have an issue with a charging dog bounding up to say hi. I don't like strangers tearing off across a field to embrace me in a hug, and I know for certain that my dog doesn't like it, either. If your dog can't handle off leash time (legality aside of being off leash in most parks!), you need to work on recall. Off leash time is earned, not a right for your dog. It's a matter of safety. 

3. Check These Etiquette Rules From Dr. Sophia Yin
Does your dog jump on people at the park? Do you let it slide? Read this quick blog post article and see what you can do to avoid being "that guy" at the dog park. There are great illustrations to show what to do, and what not to do, from the one and only, Dr. Sophia Yin. 

2. Watch the Temperature
In New England, the temperatures can go from 45 to 85 in a period of a few weeks, and then back down to 60. It's important to know what your dog can, and should, handle as it pertains to heat. Brachycephalic breeds (dogs with pushed-in-faces, like pug, bulldogs, and Boston terriers) have a harder time regulating their temperatures. Puppies don't know when to quit no matter what the weather. Older dogs might not be able to handle warm weather, either. It's also important to note the temperature of the sidewalks: if it's 85 degrees in the blistering sun at noon, it's best to not have dogs walking on the hot concrete. They can burn the delicate pads as they are the only body part that is not protected by fur. Time your walks appropriately, and be mindful of your pup. They might be stubborn, but if it's hot outside your bulldog is better for you not pushing it. 

1. If Your Dog Doesn't Like The Park Anymore, It's Totally OK!
When I was a kid, I loved the little kid park. Now that I'm older, I like a cocktail party. My needs and desires have changed greatly with my adult personality, and our dogs have changing preferences, too. Dogs who used to like playing with puppies, might not appreciate those "young whippersnappers" rudely lapping under their chins now that they are adult dogs. They might not like sharing their ball, or your affections with other dogs. Besides, at the dog park, there are a lot of dogs there, and not all are behaviorally sound, or give off good social cues. If your dog has been going to the park long enough, statistically it's bound to happen that time will toll on your dog and all the years of bad body language from a few dogs will make your dog think twice about bounding with other playmates. As your dog ages, they might really enjoy the company of 1-2 other dogs, or a play group with the same cast of characters instead of the who-knows-who-will-be-there at the local park.

If your dog is reactive in the presence of toys near other dogs, it's not fair for your dog to feel stressed out. It's best to find another outlet for your pup, where they can play without worrying that some young dog is going to take their prized ball (or worse - your attention!) Take your dog at a time when no one is at the park, or find another area to platy fetch with your dog, and make sure you have a reliable recall on your pup so you can call Fido over to you in the event another dog arrives at your secret spot. (See #4 for videos pertaining to this). It's worse to force your dog to go to the park to play around other dogs if they aren't enjoying the game anymore. Find another outlet. It's totally OK. I promise!

There is no shame in not going to the park anymore. Just think of it as the highest honor your dog can give you: they prefer you to the other dogs, which might be harder for you, but in the end, is pretty cool. 
In the interim, it's also important to work with your dog to safely instill confidence (not every dog will take your toy!) so if you would like to work with a certified professional on this, use positive techniques as aversive training can add more stress to your already stressed out pup. If your dog thinks that another dog means a collar pop or an alpha roll, they are likely to become more stressed out over time, which is the opposite of confidence training. You want your dog to look forward to other dogs, but also trust that you will provide adequate space. It's a dance and an important one, so find someone suited for this work by searching the APDT, CCPDT or KPA websites for more information.