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Owners should exercise some etiquette at the dog park

Dog parks provide an opportunity for a pet to get some exercise and to socialize. Same goes for the pet owner. • But there are rules and conventions that you — and little Spanky — need to follow. • We checked with Marc Morrone, host of Petkeeping With Marc Morrone on the Hallmark Channel, to discuss dog parks and what pet owners should consider.

He draws a parallel between what goes on at dog parks and how parents choreograph their kids' activities. Everything these days is scripted, he said.

"When I was a kid growing up, the kids were outside all day and the dogs were outside all day," he said.

The dogs did their thing — scouting the neighborhood, scavenging, sleeping — and the kids did theirs (scouting the neighborhood, scavenging, playing).

"Now, today I go back to the exact same block, and all you see are fences. No kids, no dogs. It's all scripted. I tell my kids, 'Go out and play.' 'With who? Did you make a play date?' "

So, yes, dog parks are sort of unnatural in that regard. We tell our dogs what to do and when to do it. It's a far cry from letting them run loose in the neighborhood.

"What goes on in a play group with dogs is much more intense than 40 years ago on my block," Morrone said. "They do nothing all day and they go to the dog park for 30 minutes and all their activity is condensed."

This stifling approach can lead to problems: dog vs. dog, owner vs. owner, dog vs. owner, etc. Here are some rules to remember and potential issues to watch out for:

Know your dog: Don't introduce an unsocialized or frightened pet into a dog park situation. A dog that bullies or is aggressive or skittish is not a good playmate. So know your dog and his temperament.

And even if you know your dog thoroughly and he's a perfect gentleman, you still need to be on the alert.

"If your dog is playing with another dog and you know your dog is playing and they're having fun, but the owner of the other dog thinks it's too rough, then call it off," Morrone said. "You're never going to educate the other owner to think that that play is not too rough."

Follow the rules: Before your first trip to the park, talk to others who frequent it, learn the rules and the protocols, and make sure your dog has all his shots.

Treats: When Spanky is busy romping and stomping with his playmates, he may not be interested in responding to your call. But if you have a supply of treats, you can call the dog and reward him throughout your visit; he'll associate coming over to you with food. Then when it's time to go, he'll come over and you can put on his leash without having to get help from other dog owners.

Morrone also advises against giving another dog a treat unless its owner gives you an okay. "It's like kids. Some are allergic to this, some are allergic to that, so many are on special diets these days."

Hydration: Running around like a maniac is hard work. Be sure your dog has plenty of water.

Clean up: Be responsible. Bring a bag. Use it.

Social hour: You can have the best behaved dog in the world and be the most charming person on Earth, but there can still be friction.

"It's like in prison," Morrone said. "You follow the clique or you confront it and bring it down. Every dog park will have a know-it-all, somebody who knows all about dogs. Then a group who follows them."

His suggestion? Go with the flow and don't rock the boat.

Owners should exercise some etiquette at the dog park 07/04/11 [Last modified: Monday, July 4, 2011 5:30am]

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