Summertime socialization

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy for socialized dogs and their owners


Strolls in the park.
Charity walks.
Pet events, dog shows, dog washes, dog camps ...

When summer finally arrives, the opportunities for public interaction with dogs grows exponentially. Dog owners sign up for walks to raise money for various charities, break out the retractable leashes for strolls in the park, and scan the daily newspaper for doggy events where Fido will be welcome.

These warm weather occasions provide an extra dimension to dog ownership if Fido is healthy, well-socialized, and under control. They can end in disaster if the pooch isn’t well-prepared for the experience.

All dogs taken out in public should walk nicely on a leash. This doesn’t mean they should explore the world at the end of a retractable leash, it means they should walk quietly near the owner with slack in a six-foot leather or fabric (not chain) leash. The collar should be one that allows for comfortable control without causing the dog to choke if it becomes startled, frightened, or excited and pulls against the leash. Choices include a plain flat or round buckle collar, a prong collar, a chain or nylon slip collar, a martingale collar, or a head halter. Harnesses encourage the dog to pull and provide little control if a problem arises.

All dogs taken out in public should be adequately protected against diseases. This means that puppies under the age of 16 weeks should remain at home unless cleared for the activity by a veterinarian, and adult dogs should receive vaccinations required by law and recommended by the dog’s doctor.

All dogs should be adequately identified with a license tag, a name and address tag, a microchip, or a tattoo. Owners should realize that any dog found in public without a license tag is in violation of law in most areas that can result in a fine and a citation to court.

Public greetings

People should always ask if it’s OK to pet a dog, and owners should always ask if it’s OK that dogs greet each other.

Most dogs are protective of their home turf against strange dogs and people but are friendly towards people and other dogs on neutral territory. However, it’s never a good idea to assume that a dog will welcome the attention of children, adults, or other dogs.

Greeting behavior between dogs can be embarrassing to some owners, so it’s important to keep in mind that dogs have a different language than we do. Dogs don’t shake hands and exchange banter when introduced, they sniff rear ends. Dominant dogs might rear up and place front paws on the shoulders of other dogs. Submissive dogs often solicit play as a greeting, and very shy dogs may try to run away. Aggressive and unsocialized dogs don’t know how to do a proper greeting, so they may indulge in sustained lunging, barking, and growling when other dogs approach. Problems can arise even if the initial greeting goes smoothly. A stiffly-wagging tail, raised hackles, and tense muscles may signal that a dominant dog might be thinking about decking his new acquaintance

Shy or submissive dogs should not be forced or coaxed to interact with other dogs in a public setting. Most shy dogs will progress on their own as they gain confidence and learn that nothing bad will happen to them.

Walks in the park

There are two inviolate rules for walking a dog in a public park: clean up any feces deposited on the trails and keep the dog on a leash.

Many parks provide plastic bags or disposable scoops for the job. If no such supplies are available at trail heads, a one-gallon plastic storage bag or an empty bread wrapper will do the trick. Simply place the bag over your hand, pick up the pile, invert the bag, tie off, and drop in a waste can. No waste can in the park? Double bag it and take it to the garbage can at home.

The temptation is great to let a dog off-lead in the park, but even a brief romp without control can result in major problems. Many people who use public parks don’t want to be bothered by dogs, and some, especially children, are afraid of loose dogs, even small, friendly ones. Some dogs on a leash react badly to harassment by a yappy or growling or playful loose dog; if a fight ensues, it is invariably the larger dog that gets the blame, even if the larger dog was lawfully leashed.

Unleashed dogs also chase birds, squirrels, chipmunks, deer, and other wildlife that inhabit urban and suburban parks, often with disastrous results. The dog or the quarry might dart into traffic and cause an accident, the dog could catch and injure or kill the animal, or the dog could pick up disease-ridden ticks, get scratched by thorny brush, collect debris in its coat, or get lost.

Dog parks

These are fenced in areas where dogs can play and socialize off-leash while their owners chat with each other, sit and read, or enjoy the antics of their pets. Dog parks have rules; they usually require dogs to be friendly and owners to remain within the fenced area and clean up after their dog.

Pet events

Events such as the June 9 Dog Fest in West Chester and the K-9 Jamboree on August 18 are becoming more and more popular. Schedules usually include demonstrations of dog obedience and other dog sports and jobs, contests for pets, and an opportunity to browse booths providing educational material, equipment and supplies, and information about shelters and rescue groups. Dogs are welcome at these events as long as the rules are followed.

Owners must be vigilant when dozens or even hundreds of dogs are milling around in a crowded area. Short leashes – no more than six feet long – that are tightly held are essential to prevent altercations, theft of a child’s ice cream cone, jumping on people and dogs, and other unacceptable behaviors. Dogs don’t need to be perfect ladies and gentlemen, but they do need owners who are willing and able to appropriately correct them when they exceed the boundaries.

Dog sports

sAll-breed dog shows, agility and obedience trials, lure coursing and herding events, and other competitions are open to the public but not to pets. In the vast majority of cases, only dogs that are entered in the event or are part of an exhibit or booth are allowed on the grounds.

These events are opportunities for dog owners to learn about various sports and to chat with people who are involved, two things that are easier to do if Fido is safe at home.

General summer hints

Everyone has hints for keeping Fido safe and cool in summer, and we’re no exception. Here’s our list:

  1. Always provide plenty of shade and water for outside dogs.
  2. Bring water when traveling with a pet, even if it’s a short drive to the park.
  3. Sidewalks get hot in the sun, so take walks in early morning or late afternoon after the heat of the day has passed.
  4. Don’t leave a dog in the car, even under a tree with the windows cracked open. Shade moves, and slightly open windows do not provide necessary relief from the stifling heat that builds inside a car in the sun.
  5. Don’t feed Fido the leftovers from the grill; spicy or rich foods can cause intestinal upsets in many dogs and can trigger episodes of bloat in deep-chested dogs.
  6. Don’t push dogs to play and exercise in hot weather unless they are in good physical shape and are accustomed to the heat.
  7. If Fido rides in the pick-up truck, put him in a crate and anchor it securely to the truck bed.
  8. Keep dogs groomed so you can find ticks and debris before they spread disease or cause damage.
  9. Use preventive medications for heartworm and fleas.
  10. Take steps to prevent escapes if children are liable to leave gates or doors open and Fido pushes past visitors to reach the great outdoors.

[More on summertime care]

Norma Bennett Woolf

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