Surrounded by lush greenery, friendly owners and lots of happy wagging tails, dog parks are precious amenities that are growing in popularity in towns and cities across Australia.
However, sharing a public space with lots of dogs comes with its risks.
Dog owners are responsible for ensuring that dog parks remain a safe and welcoming environment for all.
Not every dog will be suited to a dog park.
There is no screening process, thus the onus is on dog owners to make an accurate judgement as to whether their dog will be at ease in this environment.
It's essential that all dogs are vaccinated, have up-to-date preventative care (such as worming and flea control) and are in good health before visiting a dog park.
This is especially important when dogs are interacting with each other, as there is an increased chance of transferring disease or infection via play and sharing toys or communal water bowls.
Socialisation is key
Dog owners need to be confident their dog can interact with other dogs without becoming fearful or aggressive.
Dog parks are very stimulating environments, with lots of new sights, smells and friends to meet, so dogs need to be well-socialised and calm in the presence of other dogs.
This is particularly important in an off-leash dog park where interactions, such as rough and tumble play, mounting, sniffing, chasing and barking, may be interpreted as threatening rather than fun.
Ideally, dogs will have attended doggy playgroups or have spent a considerable amount of time around a variety of other dog breeds and sizes.
A reactive dog may be better suited to walking streets or quieter public parks without other dogs present.
Having good recall is vital as there is always a chance that a dog may escape off their leash.
This could result in them running onto the road, getting lost or entering an altercation with another dog.
A dog simply knowing their name and having good recall are two different things.
Recall can be taught at any stage of a dog's life with consistent, positive training methods.
Respect others' wishes
The safety of a dog park relies on mutual respect and communication between dog owners.
If someone has a reactive dog, they may ask for other dogs to be placed on lead until they have passed.
If this happens, don't take it personally and respect the feelings of others - regardless of whether an off-leash dog is friendly, one unreliable dog is enough to create a potentially dangerous situation.
Listening to fellow dog owners will help avoid this risk.
Unpredictability and risk assessment
It's important to note that we can never predict a dog's behaviour with absolute accuracy.
Even if a dog has never shown any signs of aggression or fear around other dogs, it's impossible to know how they might react if provoked or in different circumstances.
Dog owners should know the warning signs so they can intervene early if a dog is becoming reactive.
Signs of anxiety or discomfort can include lip-licking, yawning, pinned back ears, walking low to the ground, a tense body position and a low or tucked tail, among other things.
Signs of aggression are usually more obvious.
They include growling, snapping, snarling, baring teeth or lunging.
It's critical to de-escalate these situations as quickly as possible.
By following these tips, you can help ensure your experiences at the dog park remain joyful and the highlight of your dog's day.
Visit RSPCA Knowledgebase, www.rspca.org.au for more information on how to de-escalate dog fights and maintain peace and safety at dog parks.