As the weather gets nicer, dogs and people are ready to channel pent-up energy into outdoor activities, such as walks, hikes, or visits to the dog park. In all these scenarios, proper socialization, an understanding of dog body language, and good etiquette can make the difference between a fun romp in the park, and a fear-inducing experience for you and your furry friend.

Socialize your dog 

Socialization involves exposing your dog to varied scenarios in a positive way, so she can confidently navigate whatever life throws at her. Our June 2019 blog post details puppy socialization steps, which also apply to adult dogs. Think about the different sights, sounds, and footings that you encounter on a walk, hike, or visit to the dog park for ideas about objects your dog needs to become accustomed to, and break that list into manageable pieces. Perhaps you want to visit a dog park with a stream with rocks that many families frequent. Before you go, set up several playdates with friendly, well-behaved dogs who know how to play correctly with other dogs. Supervise the dogs carefully, and be ready to intervene at the first indication that the play date isn’t going well. Then, take your dog on a playdate at the park with a dog she knows who is comfortable with water and rocks. Alternatively, enroll your dog in our doggy daycare, where she can interact with other dogs under the close supervision of our trained team, and learn to be comfortable with a variety of dogs and play styles. Ensuring that your dog is accustomed to people of different ages, sizes, and clothing styles, and willing to walk on different surfaces, is essential for a happy, well-adjusted pet. Also, remember to always reward good behavior.

Read your dog’s body language

Use your dog’s body language to gauge her feelings about a situation.

  • Fear — A fearful dog will frequently yawn or lick her lips, cower, or shake, and may put her ears back, hold her tail low, avoid eye contact, or close her mouth tightly.
  • Relaxed — In contrast, a relaxed dog has soft eyes, a relaxed and slightly open mouth, ears that are neither pricked nor laid back, a gently waving tail, and a loose body.
  • Alert — A dog who is on high alert and unsure of how to react may have a stiff, raised, wagging tail, and pricked ears, and may lean forward with a tense body—so don’t mistake all wagging tails for a sign of happiness.

When watching interactions between dogs, or between your dog and new stimuli, be ready to intervene. Separate the dogs, or back away from the situation if your dog shows signs of fear, anxiety, or sustained arousal. Avoid creating negative associations, or keeping your dog in a dangerous situation that could lead to dog fight. 

Train your dog for walks or parks

Before you let your dog free in the dog park, ensure she is rock solid on coming when you call, regardless of distractions. This will not only save you from feeling foolish as you attempt to catch your dog to head home, but also will ensure you can always call your dog away from potentially dangerous or negative situations. Also, always practice good leash manners, especially if you are walking or hiking in an area with lots of people or dogs, where your dog may be tempted to bark, lunge, or pull. Enroll in one of our dog obedience classes to perfect your furry friend’s skills, and help ensure walks, hikes, and dog park visits are a pleasure.

Do your homework before venturing out with your dog

Take a dog-free reconnaissance trip before venturing out with your pet to maximize her chances of a positive experience. For example, If she does well with small groups of dogs, but finds large groups overwhelming, scope out the dog park to find the least busy times. If she likes to interact only with dogs her size, find a park that has separate areas for big and little dogs. Know which side of the road to walk on, or the route that will avoid a dog who charges the fence, or a parked boat that upsets your dog. 

Mind your dog’s manners

Like people, dogs have different personalities and interaction styles. Your dog may greet everyone and everything with exuberance and excitement, but other people or dogs may not feel the same way. If you meet someone whose dog is more fearful and still working on socialization, preferably leash your dog, and don’t allow her to rush up to them. In the dog park, be mindful of every dog’s body language. Using a four- to six-foot leash, rather than a retractable leash, allows better control of your dog. Always be willing to remove your dog from a potential negative situation.

Going outside with your dog can be a great way to socialize her, enjoy the nice weather, and make new friends—people and dogs—but ensure you follow our guidelines. If you would like assistance with socialization, obedience training, or tips on navigating walks, hikes, or dog parks with your dog, give our skilled team a call.