The first visit can be a little stressful — both for owners and their dogs! First-time visitors might want to consider visiting the park at non-peak times for a less crowded experience. Peak times are Monday through Friday in the early morning or late afternoon, and all day on Saturday and Sunday. If you give your dog a little time to get acclimated, you might be pleasantly surprised, and have a healthier, friendlier and more playful dog!

Let your dog adjust

It’s helpful to first let your dog become familiar with the park area by walking them just outside the park so they can stop and sniff the edges. When your dog looks relaxed, he’s ready to go in. A stiff neck, bulging eyes or freezing in place are all signs of anxiety.

The Columbia DogPark has a double-gate system, where you remove your dog’s leash between the gates (the “containment” area). Be sure to close both gates before you remove your dog’s leash. Wait your turn to make sure you and your dog are the only ones in the containment area. Do not enter the park with a leashed dog, as the leash can cause your dog to act defensive or aggressive toward the unleashed dogs already in the off-leash area. If your dog is too frightened, excited or aggressive toward other dogs, leave the park for a bit. Doing so will ensure you prevent any problems before they begin and give your dog a chance to calm down.

Keep an eye out

Fenced-in dog parks are for off-leash play, so remove the leash as soon as you and your dog are inside the containment area before your dog enters into the off-leash area. But just in case, be sure to keep a leash handy. You never know when things could get dicey and you need to quickly put your pooch back on leash — especially if a fight has to be broken up or you need to leave abruptly.

Some dogs do well with other dogs most of the time, but can change moods suddenly. If you sense that your dog is changing his attitude and may want to fight with other dogs, leave the park as soon as possible. If your dog starts harassing other dogs, or if the other dogs harass yours, leave the park right away. This prevents the conflict from escalating and, if your dog was the culprit, sends a message that the behavior is not allowed.

Watch how your dog interacts with other dogs and how they react to him. Be sure to watch body language and maybe even give the “come” command from time to time to practice his coming back in case it’s ever urgently needed to avoid a bad situation.