For successful socialization, the trick is starting young
Many pet owners resist going to dog parks for fear of their own dog misbehaving. So what is dog park etiquette? We all have to remember that none of our dogs will be reading this article and, for their pet parents who do so, it will be difficult to communicate this to their dogs.
First and foremost, remember that our dogs will not behave as we do—and that can be a good thing. Sniffing butts is in, hackles up is out. In order for your dog to learn this, socialization must begin during the critical 10-18 weeks of age. I know that many puppies are still going through their vaccine series during that time and that many veterinarians instruct pet owners not to take their pets to the dog park until two weeks after the last vaccination. And they are correct, as parvovirus is such a deadly disease for puppies.
There is a risk, however, to your pet’s well-being if it is not well socialized during this time. In fact, having behavior problems is the number one killer of dogs in the U.S. Dogs in large numbers are turned into shelters every day and potentially put down for problems of aggression—often fear-based and often due to poor socialization. So with this in mind, I am all for puppies going a little earlier to the dog park than recommended. Just know the risks and decide for yourself.
If it’s your dog’s first trip to the dog park, take him or her at a time when there’s likely to be less activity. Go to the dog park with a friend who also has a dog. Consider taking an obedience class so your dog will learn to listen to you. Make sure your dog is on a heartworm and intestinal parasite prevention medication. And for adult dogs, make sure they are up to date on vaccinations. Finally if your dog is sick—especially with a condition that might be contagious, like a cough or diarrhea—then stay home.