Oh, dog parks. Where would our dog-lovin' city be without them? The off-leash oasis can be a lifesaver for those who don't have a safe space to let their pooch roam free, or even just a fun place to unwind. Unfortunately, some parks are plagued by aggressive dogs with oblivious owners and — let it be said — ungodly amounts of dog poop. Is your dog a good candidate for a dog park? And what do you need to watch out for when you go?
First, be honest when evaluating the temperament of your dog. If she is dog-aggressive, or turns into a quivering puddle of fear when she sees another dog, forgo the park. While encouraging socialization is great, a bunch of dogs running around isn't the best environment to get your dog used to interacting with others. Instead, put together a play group of dogs that your pooch gets along with. At least one person in the group will probably have a backyard, and it's a great way to socialize both human and pup without worrying about what kind of riffraff will walk through the dog park gates — four-legged or otherwise.
Also, remember that the goal of a dog park is to produce a happy, tired dog, not to retrieve the number of that dachshund's cute owner. If your dog isn't healthy enough to run around — or there are people frying eggs on the sidewalk in 100 percent humidity — there are other, preferably water-based activities the two of you can pursue.
But if your dog loves nothing more than to romp in a pack of other dogs, and you watch him attentively to make sure he plays nicely with others, the dog park is a great choice — provided you're aware of a few issues.
Aggressive dogs are hands down the number one problem. Some dogs are just not suited for the group environment. Neither are their owners, who will bristle if you try to suggest that Skipper isn't play-fighting with the Pomeranian that's halfway down his throat. The best thing to do when you see an aggressive dog whose owner isn't correcting him is to leave the park. It's disappointing, but dogs have literally been eaten at parks before, so it's best to find another activity in the interest of safety. You can always come back a little later when the dog is gone.
A less serious but prevalent problem is poop. Most parks provide doggie waste bags, but some people apparently feel no obligation to clean up after their pets. If you see anyone ignore their dog squatting, it's acceptable to go up to that person and say, "Hi, you might have not noticed, but your dog relieved herself over in that corner." It can be an uncomfortable situation, sure, but that's one more square foot of grass where you can safely step. Plus, you can commiserate with the owner: "God, my dog just never stops pooping!" People have bonded over weirder things.
Never been to a dog park before? Piedmont Park's renovated and expanded dog park is scheduled to reopen Aug. 13.