Ask a Vet: Let your dog make the decision on dog parks

I would like to take my dog to a dog park. She really hasn't been around other dogs much before. What should I do?

Dog parks are not for all dogs. Some dogs love playing with others and have good manners, while others may be aggressive or fearful and are best not taken to dog parks.

If you'd like to try, before you go to a dog park and let your dog off lead in a fenced area, be sure she will follow basic commands even when she is distracted. You want her to come when you call her to prevent a problem if you should see a potentially dangerous situation. If she is reliable about coming to you at home when there is a distraction, then taking her to a dog park might work out fine.

When starting out, try to go to the park at a time of day when there won't be too many others there. We don't want her to be overwhelmed. There should be separate areas for large and small dogs, so she'll be with dogs of a similar size.

You can have her on lead at first and walk around the field with her, letting her sniff and be greeted by other dogs, praising her if she is calm and seems comfortable. If she seems nervous or anxious, maybe dog parks are not fun for her and having her play one-on-one with a neighbor's dog at home would be more to her liking.

If you see that she seems happy having other dogs come up to her and she gets into a downward dog play position, it would be a good time to let her off lead and permit her to interact with the other dogs. Always keep your eye on her to make sure she isn't getting too rough with other dogs and that other dogs aren't getting too rough with her.

Here's where your reliable recall will come in handy. Have her come back to you and play with her for a little while until things calm down while you assess if you can let her go back to playing with her new friends. If another dog is aggressive and not being controlled by its owner, or she acts fearful or heads for the gate indicating she wants to leave, take her cue.

Please join us as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of South Arundel Veterinary Hospital at a fun dog- and family-friendly party hosted by Homestead Gardens, 743 W. Central Ave. in Davidsonville, from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $20, and proceeds will benefit the SPCA of Anne Arundel County. For tickets, call 410-956-PETS (7387).

Dr. Francine Rattner is a veterinarian at South Arundel Veterinary Hospital in Edgewater. Please send questions to info@southarundelvet.com or to www.facebook.com/southarundelvet.

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