Saturday, January 10, 2009

Bark Park Etiquette

Picture it: dozens of adorable kids joyously interacting in a beautifully landscaped fenced park with their beaming parents standing by to proudly point out their little darlings. Listen carefully: You’re bound to hear statements like “My Maggie… isn’t she just the social butterfly?” Then there’s “since he’s turned two, Petie loves playing with the other big boys”. And “Emma & Tess… play nicely and share your toys!”. Look closer: More and more, these scenes involve kids of the canine persuasion. Maggie, Petie, Emma and Tess? They’re the names of typical patrons that strain at the leash to visit the increasingly popular socialization arenas known as Bark Parks!

These manifestations of our changing society are increasing in number throughout the country. They are usually well lit to accommodate early morning and evening visits, segmented into areas for dogs of different sizes, and offer both poop pickup and water stations. While the concept seems idyllic, there are frequently issues that arise which can turn fur-filled frolic into a doggone bad experience for four-legged and two-legged alike. Bark Park visitors can help keep it happy, safe and sane by following --- and reminding others about --- these simple but important “rules” of Bark Park etiquette:

  • Be realistic about your dog’s personality and behavior. Bark Parks are not testing grounds to see IF your dog is social, or for him to “get over” a bad experience. Aggressive, anti-social, and toy-possessive dogs are not appropriate visitors; neither are unsprayed females in season.
  • All playing pooches should understand and respond to basic verbal obedience commands, especially “come”, “stay” and “no”.
  • No doubt that Bark Parks have become enjoyable social opportunities for humankind as well, but an owner’s primary responsibility is to make sure that his or her dog is behaving appropriately. Keep an eye on, and control the actions of, your dog. Excessively rough play, overt dominance posturing or deep-throated growling is not acceptable even if you are convinced that your dog “doesn’t mean anything by it”. And, just as importantly, only bring as many dogs as you can realistically handle.
  • It is inappropriate and unacceptable for anyone to leave a dog at the Park and come back for him later (for those of you squinting in disbelief, this really does happen… far too often).
  • Make sure your dog is healthy and up-to-date on vaccinations. While fun for fur kids, nose-to-nose contact, nose-to-butt introductions, and the sharing of water bowls and toys are potential breeding grounds for upper respiratory infections, viral mouth warts, and parasites.
  • If a particular dog is causing a problem, politely ask the owner to leave; if he or she won’t comply, don’t stand on ceremony… have your dog say good-bye to his poochy playmates and end that day’s visit.
  • Leave the park the way you found it. Most Bark Parks are not supervised or maintained by their city or municipality, so it is up to visitors to keep them clean and desirable to visit. All too often, visitors go home with a souvenir or two on the bottom of their shoes… or paws. Bring your own poop bags just in case the park has run out. Pick up all solid wastes and dispose of them in designated containers. And if you managed to dodge a land mine or two, be courteous and pick them up too!
The bottom line? Use common sense and respect whenever socializing your dogs. Here’s wishing you and your dogs a great day… and a Ruff Life!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Getting 2009 Off On The Right Paw

In Western culture, annual New Year’s celebrations are traditionally accompanied by well intentioned resolutions. As humans, we historically vow to lose weight, stop smoking or spend quality time with the family.

Did you ever wonder what your dog’s resolutions would be? Perhaps “I’ll stay out of the cat box”. Maybe “I’ll beg at the table less”. Or the difficult but ever popular “I’ll put paw in hand, not snout in crotch, when meeting new humans”.

My doggy daughters? Well, Cassie might very well affirm “I’ll refrain from barking at the mailman”, although this would be particularly difficult to keep since her self-esteem gets a hefty boost each time she initiates his hasty retreat (shhhh… don’t tell her he was about to leave anyway!). Dizney’s could rightly be “I’ll share my toys with my sisters” but that one would go quickly by the wayside as soon as her treasured green binky ball was involved. And Tracey's? "I'll finish one nylabone before starting another... and another... and another!" (My "the world is my oyster girl... she wants it all!).

Regardless of what our canine companion’s intentions are, there are some simple but important New Year resolutions that YOU can make on their behalf to help your four-legged family members live happy and healthy all year long.

  • Resolve to feed your dog a healthy diet. Not all pet foods are created equal, nor are they all suitable for all dogs. Puppy formulations typically have higher levels of protein than would be needed or desired for senior dogs. Some dogs are allergic to chicken or beef, hence the increase in alternative protein sources such as lamb or fish. Be sure your precious pet gets an appropriate blend of high quality protein, vegetables, fats and vitamins. Diets rich in antioxidants can reduce disease, inflammation, premature aging, and degeneration. “Human” food is often too rich in fats or sugars; emotionally difficult as it may be, deposit table scraps into the garbage pail, NOT your doggy disposal.

  • Resolve to reduce your pet's exposure to harmful substances. The toxins found in common fertilizers, pesticides and household cleaning agents have been linked with increased incidences of pet cancers. Rather than using products with warning labels stating they are unsafe for animals, seek out the increasing number of available "green" --- environmentally-friendly --- products.

  • Resolve to schedule regular visits to the veterinarian. Since illnesses that are caught early are often treatable, regular exams and immunizations to protect your fur kids from doggy diseases and maladies are your best weapon. Regular professional teeth cleaning will keep germs and bacteria in check, while giving your Poochy Pal consistently kissable breath and a pearly white smile.

  • Resolve to give your pet lots of exercise. Insufficient exercise can contribute to behavioral problems including chewing, digging, hyperactivity and unruliness. A regular schedule of exercise can help prevent obesity and illness for both you AND your dog!

Last but not least, if you have not already done so…

  • Resolve to spay or neuter AND microchip your dog!