Walking to the gate should be an exercise of discipline. If it takes 30 minutes to get to the gate, they will remember that next time and manage their excitement better. When your dog(s) shows signs of excitement, have him sit until he calms down. Then proceed. Using this procedure will soon teach your pup that he doesn't get to go inside until he can exhibit proper manners. You should be leading him inside, not the other way around. If Fido is pulling you, you're letting him be in charge. That attitude will eventually trickle into everything else that involves your dog. You don't want that. So make sure he knows you are in charge.
At the gate, have your dog sit and calm himself, before entering. If your dog has never been to a dog park, keep the leash on for a while and gauge his readiness for friendly behavior. Your dog should be willing to allow others to sniff his backside. This is a friendly hello, which should be accepted with no concern. Likewise, your dog should be interested in exchanging hellos with others. One of my dog park acquaintances calls this "exchanging business cards"! Another calls it "shaking hands". You get the point. It is the good doggie manners way to greet and be greeted.
When Fido is accepting hellos and giving them without any signs of anxiety, fear or agression, you can consider removing the leash. Stay close and watch his body language. It is your job to stop any escalation of aggressive or dominant behavior BEFORE it gets out of hand. This means correcting your dog, and in more significant cases, can mean your dog needs to submit. Down, lay, stay...until you give permission. Permission is granted when your dog's body language and behavior is completely relaxed and he is paying no attention to other dogs around him. Then he is ready to get up and practice some more. Some dogs need lots of this practice before they are ready to shake hands with others nicely.
Most dogs have few, if any, problems with social interaction of this basic sort. It is usually the anxious, fearful, or shy dogs that may exhibit trouble with socialization. Often leadership is lacking and this brings on the problems.
A few tips on what NOT to bring to a dog park, for all you first timers:
- Never bring food into the dog park. You could create problems, as other dogs will smell it on you.
- Bring in toys at your own risk. Some dogs may steal your toy, others may destroy it.
- Keep in mind that the dog park is also for socialization. Encourage this activity and use the toys for those days when the park is meagerly populated.
- Poop bags and water for your dog may be needed if you are not visiting a park that provides these. It is essential that you keep an eye on your pups and pick up after them immediately. This will keep everyone cleaner and healthier.
- Leave your stilletos at home. Dress for the occasion. Many dogs like to jump up and put their paws on visitors, so plan on getting a few paw print hellos.
- Handbags, beverages and other things you need to hold or keep track of may become problematic. If you set them down, they're likely to get picked up by a playful pup who sees them as fair game.
- If your dog is large and you need help getting him in and out of the car, a ramp is helpful.
- Boots couldn't hurt, as you might step in something a bit messy, if you don't keep an eye out. My favorite dog park boots are on sale at Amazon right now, so I've included them in the link below. They clean up really easy and are amazingly comfortable.
- If you have more than one dog, a leash coupler makes things a bit easier. You'll only have one handle to deal with for every two dogs. I have 3 dogs, so I'm speaking from experience.
- If you go at a time when there aren't likely to be many visitors, like daytime during the week, you might want to bring a ball, Frisbee or "chucker" ( a ball throwing tool for those of us who throw like girls).
- Make sure there is a towel in the car for cleaning up dirty paws.
- If you're going to an off-leash area that doesn't have dog park amenities like poop bags and water fountains, then consider this in your preparation.