One of my fondest memories is seeing my hound, Jethro, and his little sister, Reba, running free at the dog park.
Jethro loved chasing the squadron of squirrels that live in the oaks at Happy Tails, while Reba preferred finding a tasty tennis ball and playing fetch.
Those were great times, and I miss them.
Dog parks can be great places where pet families can take their canine companions for exercise and socialization. People have frequently asked me about the experience, and here's what I've told them.
n Read the rules and regulations posted at the park and don't get it in your head that they do not apply to you and your dog. Lots of people do, and it can ruin the fun for others.
I have seen people bring food into the park to have a picnic, and they were immediately surrounded by 20 begging dogs that wanted a piece of their hamburger. They couldn't understand why the beggars would not leave them alone.
I have seen people bring a female dog in heat (wearing a disposable diaper, no less) into the park, and they were immediately surrounded by 20 begging male dogs that wanted a piece of the action. Now, they understood WHY the dogs would not leave their female alone, but then they began to act like it was everybody else's dog's fault.
I have seen people bring a dog in on a leash and be afraid to take the leash off, and they were immediately surrounded by 20 dogs who wanted to check out the newcomer. Dogs have a fight or flight instinct, and the human on the other end of the leash could not understand why their leashed dog wanted to fight off the sniffing noses.
(One woman actually stood in the middle of the park screaming at the other dogs, scaring the heck out of them AND her little fluff ball.)
In all these cases, people at the park policed the situation and told the troublemakers to either abide by the rules or leave. But really, who needs that kind of drama when you're there to have a good time?
The dog park has rules for one very good reason: to protect you and your dog.
Some people must think, "Well, the rule
against bringing food into the park is stupid. Why can't we have a picnic while the dogs play?"
Here's why: Your dog may be well-behaved around the dinner table, but a lot of other people's are not because they have not been taught any manners. Why risk sparking some food aggression that could lead to a fight?
Probably the rule that is most consistently broken at the dog park is the one about picking up after your dog.
That's a rule designed to not only make it more pleasant for the humans, but also to make it safer for the dogs.
Reba got roundworms one time and my vet said she most likely got them at the dog park from feces that wasn't picked up. He was surprised she got them because the heartworm preventative should have taken care of roundworms, too, but he told me he had heard of more cases like Reba's since the dog park had opened.
n In addition to abiding by the posted rules and regulations, have some common courtesy for others.
Yes, it's a dog park, and yes, it's for the dogs, but that doesn't mean you should let them run absolutely wild and be obnoxious.
If your dog is being a pest to another dog and their person asks you to make your dog stop, don't laugh and say, "Oh, she's just being friendly." There's a difference between being friendly and being obnoxious. Learn it.
If your dog likes to walk all over the tables and someone asks you nicely to make your dog get down because it's highly annoying and totally unsanitary, don't get mad and say, "This is a dog park and the dogs can do whatever they like." No, they can't. The park may be for them, but the tables are for people.
Dogs' feet carry all kinds of parasites (see the paragraph on roundworms) and people can get them on their hands and spread them to their dogs or themselves.
n Take a few essentials with you. Here's what I like to have in our Outward Hound bag:
-- A jug of fresh water and a bowl. Lots of dogs like to dip their feet in the park's water fountain. Do you want your dog drinking after that? (See the paragraph on roundworms.)
I save juice bottles and take a disposable plastic container. You can always refill the bottle at the hose station.
-- Disinfectant wet wipes, for you AND for your dog. Some dogs are big on slobber, and if your dog is playing with them, she will be wearing it.
-- Plastic bags off the newspaper. Yes, the park supplies "doody bags," but sometimes they are out. The newspaper bags are perfect because you can put one on your hand like a glove and then turn it inside out when it's acquired its payload.
Manatee's dog parks
Manatee County is lucky to have two off-leash parks where pet families can take their dogs for exercise and socialization.
Happy Tails Canine Park is in the northeast corner of G.T. Bray in west Bradenton; entrance is in the 2900 block of 51st Street West.
Dog Leg Canine Park is at Buffalo Creek Park, 7550 69th St. E., Palmetto.
Both are part of the Manatee County parks system.
M.K. Means, Herald copy editor, can be reached at 941-745-7054.