Ask the Trainer: Dog Park Etiquette
The Problem: Baxter is a very curious beagle and loves to sniff. I'd love to eventually have him be able to be off the leash and not dart around like a wild man. What's the best way to work on that? Also, I get really nervous at the dog park. He's a friendly dog, but not all dogs like each other and he does NOT like dogs with smooshed faces (maybe he can't see their eyes?). What's the best way to work on my nerves and make sure Baxter won't growl at the wrong dog or the wrong dog won't like him? Thanks for the help.
The best way to train Baxter to be responsive to commands off-leash is to begin training him to sit, stay, leave it, and come in a non-distracting environment. When he understands these commands, begin working in other places on a regular leash (4 to 6 feet). When he has mastered working outside and around a variety of distractions, attach him to a long line of 30 to 40 feet in length. Working with him at a greater distance will give you an idea of how attentive he is to you, and the long line will aid you in enforcing the commands. Two good books are Positive Perspectives: Love your Dog, Train Your Dog by Pat Miller, and Line Training for Your Dog by Monika Gutmann.
Why are you nervous at the dog park? Has Baxter been aggressive towards the types of dogs you've mentioned? If he consistently has issues with those dogs, you may want to rethink having him at the park at all -- as there is no way to predict which specific dogs will be there. Instead, set up playdates with dogs he enjoys, and find places to take him on-leash for more dog socialization. In this way, you can work with him around all types of dogs -- including the ones you've mentioned.
If you have a question for Susan Marett of Purely Positive Dog Training, email your question to email@example.com using the subject line: Ask A Trainer.
Susan Marett has 14 years of full time dog training experience. She has appeared on local radio show Pet Docs, the South Carolina Public Radio Business Review, and local TV Channels 4 and 5 to present training methods and answer questions on dog behavior. Susan has also authored numerous articles for local publications on training and behavioral issues, and spoken to Charleston area shelter and veterinary staff on behavioral problems.
Susan is also a Canine Good Citizenship Evaluator for the American Kennel Club and a trainer mentor for Animal Behavior College. Her dogs have titled in Agility and Rally Obedience, and earned Therapy Dog Certifications. Susan is an Honors College graduate of the University of South Carolina with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Film.
Learn more at www.purelypositive.com