Hosting a Dog Park Social Summer Happy Everything

posted: 05/15/12
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How to Host a Dog Park Social
Krebs, K./plainpicture/Corbis

A park filled with pups and people has all the makings of a great party -- especially if you let it go to the dogs. It's a great way to spend time with like-minded dog lovers while your pup blows off some steam.

Pet behaviorist John Bradshaw, author of "Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet," believes modern dogs are under a lot of pressure to perform. When a well-trained housedog is alternately asked to be an unobtrusive wallflower or the life the of the party -- all according to the will of her owner -- she stays on perpetual alert for the next command. To combat this stress, dogs need to let their hair down. And what better way than partying with a few of their furry friends?

You can gain entrance to an outdoor dog park for a nominal one-time fee per dog (usually $2 to $15).If you'd like to ensure all your guests have room to play, consider renting a portion of the park. Some outdoor dog parks have rental areas perfect for dog parties. Although the cost will vary by park and amenities, expect to spend about $50 per hour. You may also be required to carry liability insurance for the event.

If you don't want to worry about the weather spoiling your party plans, head indoors. Indoor dog parks offer climate-controlled play areas and separate areas for small and large dogs to romp for off-leash. These parks typically include play equipment, such as agility or obstacle courses. Most indoor dog parks cost about $75 per hour.

Because it is difficult to host a social and keep an eye on your dog at the same time, you may want to hire dog park staff or a local dog behavior expert to help with your event. Not only can these extra hands organize games and activities, but they can stop minor canine altercations before they escalate.  Expect to pay extra for staffing, unless it is included in a dog park's "party package."

Get the party started by checking the park rules -- most parks require you to register each dog by providing proof of vaccinations and your contact information, and some have a dog-per-person or breed-size limit. But what should you bring to the party? We've got the goods on the next page.

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Tips for Hosting a Dog Park Social
Krebs, K./plainpicture/Corbis

Dogs are social animals that thrive on healthy interactions with others. A dog park social is a great way for them to burn energy, build muscle, increase stamina and bone up on body language skills.

Comb through your guest list and invite owners whose dogs are generally well-behaved and non-aggressive. Think of the play dates you've attended, the friends you've made at puppy kindergarten or the fans you've met at breed association meetings or dog shows. You may want to limit your social event to either small or large dogs instead of a mix -- very small dogs can be unintentionally injured during the course of play with larger pups. Most parks don't allow puppies under 5 months because they haven't received their rabies' vaccination, and females in heat and intact males may also be politely declined.

If the dog owners on your guest list have children, check the park's rules. Some dog parks don't allow children younger than 12. If you do include children, set a few ground rules of your own. Running or screaming (even in play) could trigger a dog's chase instinct. Not all dogs are accustomed to the quick movements, loud sounds and unexpected approaches of children, so supervise child guests and encourage them to ask the owner's permission before petting any dog.

But what should a host bring to the party? A sampler of dog treats or yogurt-based doggie "ice cream," from either your own kitchen or a local shop, is sure to be a hit with hungry hounds. Most parks provide fresh water in tubs or fountains, but bringing a few doggie bowls won't hurt, and you should have bottled water or sports drinks on hand for your two-legged guests. While most parks provide poop bags and a place to dispose of them, bring your own bags in case the bag dispenser doesn't enough to go around.

Keep the party moving by organizing a few activities, such as friendly races through an agility course or tug-of-war competitions to see which owner and dog can hang on the longest. Offer inexpensive prizes to those who compete, such as gift-wrapped treats or dog toys. And don't forget to leave time for free play.

When your dog can zip around the park with other dogs, the freedom is physically and mentally satisfying -- something that's definitely difficult to replicate in your living room.

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