“Let's see what happens.” This was the innocent comment I heard as two people approached the off-leash dog beach in Kitsilano, Vancouver, made in reference to the big labradoodle they had just unleashed on the world. The couple then seated themselves on a washed up log and chatted, keeping their dog insight, but pretty much left unsupervised.
This happens a lot. After a long day at work who wouldn't take the opportunity to head to the beach and enjoy the sunset, or rondevu with friends and catch up on the week's adventures? Unfortunately your local off-leash park is not the place for selfish relaxation...it's where you go to share quality time with your four legged friend.
By all means, bring your cell phone so you can document your pup splashing in the surf, but save the facebook trolling and instagram hash-tagging until you get home....your pup deserves your love and attention, NOW!
Instead of unleashing your beloved furbaby on the other inhabitants of the park with a fingers-crossed “let's see what happens” attitude, lets go with a “let's SHAPE what happens” action plan:
1. Don't Stop Moving: Resist the urge to plant your buttocks on the park bench, instead, explore the area. Check out the flowerbeds or splash in the rock pools, bounce from shady-tree to shady-tree, constantly moving from one open space to another. Explore all the new smells, find hidden treasures in the grass, or play parkour on the park furniture...do anything, just don't stand still.
2. Pick your space: Parks in downtown Vancouver are limited in size and landscaping design, and due to the large volume of dogs that use these space, incidences often occur. Choose your area wisely. I generally prefer the unfenced spaces, like Coopers Park, Charleson Park, Trout Lake or Kits Beach. I generally find that the majority of the owners are a little more observant of their dog's behaviour, and the pups are often better behaved. Saying that, if your puppy's recall is less than reliable the fenced parks and tennis courts provide a great place to practice your skills off-leash first. When at the park I also gravitate toward open spaces, the less distractions around me, the easier it is for me to connect with my dog. I'll pick appropriate play buddies, with an energy and play-style that is compatible with my canine companions, and generally no more than two or three pups in any given space at one time.
3. Bust out the treats: I have no qualms in taking good quality treats to my local park. I like to reward my dogs for “free-check-ins”, awesome recalls, and practicing our current repertoire of fantastic tricks. Some dogs work hard for toys. Mine? Well, the way to his heart is through his stomach.
* On a side note, my dog Jasper (a 3 year old Rat Terrier), would love nothing more than to steal other dogs toys and play his favourite game, Keep Away. Using treats as rewards we have now changed the rules of this game. Instead of racing around the park at top speed, Jasper now steals the toys, and races directly to me where I exchange him, the toy for a treat. Have I taught my dog steal toys? Yes! He loves the new game, the rightful owner of the toy gets it back quickly, and it often makes for a great conversation starter when I politely apologize for having inadvertently taught my dog to steal items. It sure beats the alternative.
4. Make leaving the park part of the adventure: You know those treats in your pocket? Save some! Make home-time as fun as park-time. I usually use the cue “bring it in” and then dispense a few choice treats while leashing up....this ain't cheating, and has instead created a team of puppies who love to leave the park as much as they loved arriving.
These are just a few of my favourite tips for creating a safe and fun experience at my local parks. As always, I would love to hear what secret gems you have collected over the years. How do you maintain a reliable connection with your pup while they are off leash? Any challenges you would like advice on?