Unless you are lucky enough to live amongst rolling fields, bountiful forests or mountain ranges then us regular urban dwellers don't get that much opportunity to let our dogs run or play outdoors. We all see a lot of lead reactive behaviour in the city and sometimes even people avoid each other on walks to give the classic dog bark-off drama a miss.
With so much of the UAE year spent indoors due to extreme heat it's finally time to get outside and that's where we intend to be everyday with our dogs, and we hope you will join us to.
How can you get your dog 'park ready'? What if your puppy or rescue dog hasn't tried this yet?
Read on and we will share tips that will help you to help your dog get park-ready!
Making the most of an unleashed dog walk
The team at UNLEASHED are here to help you and your dogs get the most out of the park. To add value to your time with us we regularly consult with our Park Partners. Industry experts to share useful tips and their years worth of knowledge.
l would like to introduce you to UNLEASHED dog training partner, Mark McFadyen of Dog Tags Training who you will definitely see at the park from time to time in his trademark blue Dog Tags T-shirt! Mark has been successfully training dogs for over 30 years and we love his straight forward approach to how you can get the most out of your dog.
Knowledge is important and whether you've had dogs your whole life or for the first time we can all learn something new.
First question to ask yourself.
Is My Dog suited for off-leash fun at the park?
Ideal candidates for an off leash dog park are dogs that don't guard resources such as treats, balls or toys. They are well trained and socialised.
What the dog trainers say?
We thought dog trainers would mention recall, talk about high energy dogs, dogs that nip ankles, dogs that bark. However I asked Mark and his response was so simple and importantly so right!
No threat? Then they are OK to play! The rest is manageable and what training is for.
"In reality, YES, your dog should be well trained but in the UAE our dogs don't get regular opportunities to socialise due to a lack of places to take them. When they finally get to let loose and see another dog the energy and excitement goes from 0-60 very quickly.
Some obedience training that you've already established with your dog, in a busy park may be put to the test and possibly ignored by your dog due to all their excitement, but the park is a great environment to eventually desensitise them from seeing another dog, with time it wont be such a big deal for them. In the meantime you can always clip them back on the lead in the 'on lead zone' at the park for a doggy time out where they can see their park pals but take some time to calm down."
Whilst Mark and most dog trainers would hope for a dog with perfect recall and manners to play at the park. Their main priority is for people to consider whether their dog is a threat to another dog. When it comes to dogs, aggression is very obvious.
It is important for us all to understand what dogs (not humans) consider to be antisocial behaviour, that we as owners are the dog's leader and therefore need to keep them in check and not make excuses for them.
For example this image of Xena below makes her look like a savage beast, but she's only doing this as we've taught her to react to a signal. (Sometimes it doesn't work when we try and she just looks at us confused.)
However, showing teeth is a warning. So there are lots of signs we can look out for in our dogs behaviour. What is harmful play and what is a concern for aggression?
What causes fights and dogs putting others 'in their place' ?
Aggressive sniffing, dogs that hump others, and toy stealing can potentially end up in fights.
Sometimes these behaviours are just dogs being dogs and sometimes it is an attempt to be the dominant Alpha. See how your dog reacts to these 'anti social triggers. These are things to keep an eye out for when meeting a new dog for the first time.
Puppies can be a bit clueless when it comes to manners (just like a child) unless you teach them.
This is why puppies and younger dogs will often be 'disciplined' by an older dog, who probably doesn't want to be jumped on or have their ears chewed. Does your dog get annoyed by playful dogs? or do they join in the fun?
- Different energy levels? A low energy dog and a high energy dog may get on fine, but the one that doesn't want to play may get annoyed by the incessant attempts from the high energy one. This is fair enough right?!
If your dog isn't getting the hint and one of its park pals isn't in the mood for play, you as the owner can do your bit to help. Get your dogs attention and throw it a ball, play with it, or take it away for a few minutes. Neither owner should be upset, worried, offended. It's OK if dogs don't want to play and it's OK if they do.
Dogs will naturally correct each others behaviour so as owners we need to know when it's ok and when we need to step in.
What is Antisocial Behaviour in dog speak?
- A dog that steam rolls up to another. Imagine if you're sat down having lunch and someone you've never met before sprints up to you and hugs you from behind. Admittedly some dogs love this kind of greeting, but it's good to keep in mind that some hate it, so we need to look out for them.
If your dog has a tendency to bolt after others, it is important to practice recall. If a new dog is coming into the park, plan ahead and distract your dog with a treat, a squeaky toy or have their attention before they can decide to bolt off to say hello.
- Overly zealous dog (puppies and young dogs will often have their over eagerness corrected by other dogs).
Remember this is usually just the other dog saying a firm "NO" with a growl or a bark. This is, OK and how they learn! If your puppy is annoying another dog be sure to tell it "No", distract him with a toy or a playmate with similar energy level, or just pick him up for some time out to calm down.
Don't tell a dog off for growling. This is their warning signal to humans and dogs. If you teach them that it is bad to give a warning in some cases they could very well learn to not bother next time and instead could react with a bite first.
Different Types of dog?
We can think of a few dog types and characters that will really benefit from the dog park. Read how each type, may need you to help them out from time to time.
A puppy should be disciplined by their mum to learn how to say 'please' and 'thank you' in dog speak. However the reality is, that some puppies didn't get that time with their mums and so didn't learn the correct behaviours or body language, especially pet shop puppies and sometimes rescue puppies.
Practice a lot of 'good boy', 'good girl', YES and NO for them to understand what is OK and what's too far on the naughty side.
Puppy rules at the park:
Pups should be 4 months old before they can come to the park, to ensure they have had all the necessary vaccinations to keep them healthy and safe. We need the puppies to have an assessment to determine their energy level and see if they are nervous. We can then advise if they should stay in the small dog area of the park or just need a watchful eye with the bigger dogs. This is helpful supportive advice, especially for first time dog owners.
Some rescue dogs have been extremely neglected or poorly treated which can make them overly submissive or show fear aggression. You may find that some are more afraid of people they don't know or intimidated by men in particular. It is therefore very important to give them extra help and practice socialising. Newly adopted dogs are still learning to trust and it can take a few days or weeks to build up the bond. The park makes for a great safe space to practice recall without them running away giving them that much needed time to learn that you are their new family.
Tips for Rescues:
We recommend investing in training, to help get to the bottom of any fear and get guidance on how to show timid rescues the way without adding to their fear. With Bear (pictured) we could not give a firm "NO" in training until he trusted us. Dogs pick up on our emotions so the more relaxed you are, the more they will stay calm.
Is your dog an only dog?
If you are a one dog household, then the only time your dog gets to interact with other canines is on their daily walk unless you take them to dog daycare. Seeing a dog friend mid walk isn't always guaranteed given the lack of places we can all run in to each other. It's hardly surprising that some dogs go bananas with all their pent up energy and excitement to see a fellow fur friend. Keep this in mind and forgive your dog for all their excess energy, but help them unleash it in the right way too.
Tips for extra dog socialising
-Visit dog friendly cafés and busy walking spots
-Trips to daycare once or twice a week.
-Take in a foster dog (help a dog who really needs the social time)
-Spend time teaching your dog a new trick for mental stimulation
-Arrange a dog walk meet up with a new friend from UNLEASHED dog park
Preparation for off leash playtime
Here are some training tips that we have been taught over the years with both puppies and overly excited dogs that like to bolt when off lead. The tips below are very helpful and a good one to practice before going to the dog park.
Get your dog ready for being the 'cool' dog in the park and not the clown dog!
If your dog isn't an A* student for unleashed play, don't worry! but it is great to prepare in advance to make it easier for you and ultimately more enjoyable when you are at the park.
For this training you will need a long lead. Check out our collection of extra long leads here.
Practice letting your dog off the lead
- Try this at home or in a setting with no distractions. Howl & Growl pups used to practice this in our apartment building corridor on the way back from the lift. You don't always need a big space to do this. A few metres between you and your dog and then extend the distance.
Your dog should be calm and sat down before letting them off the lead, otherwise they can learn to bolt. If you teach them that they have to be sat down, calm and not jumping around before you remove the lead, this will help teach them the right way to behave.
Practice sit and stay
- Use a long line to practice recall. You can also tie two leads together to make it as long as you want. The dog is still on the lead but as it's several metres long they can't run away, however they wont feel held back and have the sense of being off lead. Use treats, positive praise and a good rub, or scratch behind the ears to show them that they have done it right.
We love a long lead at Howl & Growl. Shop a selection of our extra long leads here. Great for training but also really helpful for Dubai life. Use as a handsfree lead, or to tie around a post or table leg if visiting a dog friendly café. For multi dog households they can also be used to walk two dogs at once, which is extremely helpful.
If your dog doesn't know the basic commands (sit, stay, come back when called) or they only responds 50% of the time, this only makes them more unreliable than a well trained dog or one that has great recall. It doesn't make them a danger as the park is fenced.
I don't know any dogs that are perfect and a fenced park like UNLEASHED is great for training practice, but it is always YOUR responsibility as the dog owner to keep an eye on your dog at all times as the chances are they will steal a ball and maybe play over energetically with one dog or another. So together owners need to keep their dogs manners in check.
Big dogs get all the blame because some can be a bit clumsy with their size. It is important to remember, just because your dog is small, does not mean it cannot annoy, show aggression, or over eagerness to another dog. All dogs should have manners which is what the assessment is in place for.
If you don't fancy shouting your dogs name on repeat in the park, try recall with a dog training whistle. To train your dog to come to a whistle, practice first giving your dog a treat and blowing the whistle at the same time. They will soon learn to associate the whistle with treats.
Introduce your dog to the other dogs first
A lot of dogs are 'lead reactive' but understanding that behaving cool and calm will be rewarded with being 'unleashed'. You have the opportunity to step in if other dogs come up too aggressively which will show your dog that you are in control. When entering the park on the leash, you will be able to introduce dogs on the lead at the same time before entering the park area.
Park rules of play
Our detailed park rules will be discussed at the assessment and in your induction on the first day at the park. However there are two basic rules that you can read now.
- Pick up the poop people! Check out our beautiful and discreet poo bag holders
- Keep a close eye on your dog ALWAYS (please!)
- Keep your dog on the lead from the car park all the way into the UNLEASHED area (there will be a lot of cars...keep your dog safe on a lead).
We want you to make a ton of park buddies but do keep an eye on your dogs at ALL times. We ask everyone to 'self police' and help each other so if your dog steals a ball, then get it back for the owner. If someone points out your dog has gone to the toilet without you noticing, don't be offended!
It is everyones responsibility to keep this park green and clean and show that Dubai dog owners do pick up after themselves!
Check out our beautiful and discreet poo bag holders
Register for UNLEASHED & Book your dogs Behaviour Assessment
For those that have yet to book their dog for the mandatory behaviour assessment for UNLEASHED find out more in our previous blog
You will complete the park registration form at the assessment day.