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Tips on how to get along at an off-leash dog park

It's a common scenario at many off-leash dog parks: dogs are running freely, owners are throwing sticks or chatting with friends, non-owners are enjoying a coffee or a walk. All is well until a fight breaks out between two pups, and the owners are scrambling to pull them apart, or until a non-dog-owner steps on something brown that isn't mud. Here are some tips on how everyone can enjoy the dog park together and avoid the fights.

For dog owners:

Carry a leash: Even if it's an off-leash area, you never know when you'll need it.

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Have a reliable recall: Be within sight and voice range, and make sure your dog will come when you call for it.

Be courteous to others: Always clean up after your dog, and if a person is concerned and asks that you and your dog keep back, respect that request.

Obey the signs: Off-leash areas often have time restrictions, so take your dogs off the leash only when it's okay to do so.

Pre-exercise: Take your dog for a long walk before hitting the dog park. The walk will tire it out, and it will be much calmer.

Keep your dog active: Giving dogs a job to do – running, fetching – keeps them focused, happy and more inclined to mind their own business.

Watch for signs: The nose-in-the-bum sniff is a friendly gesture, but charging at or jumping on each other is not. Preoccupied owners may miss it when their dog suddenly tenses up, or when it's being attacked by another dog or starts bullying others.

Damage control: If your dog's in a fight with another dog, don't try to get in there; you might get bitten. The safest way is to grab its hind legs and pull back.

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Leave their favourite toy at home: If your dog tends to be protective of his ball or stick, leave it at home. It could become a source of conflict if other dogs want to play with it.

For non-owners:

Avoid the clash: Come at a time when dogs must be leashed. Most parks in Vancouver restrict off-leash dogs between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Don't run: Resist the urge to flee when you see a dog running toward you.

Take care of little children: Caution them about petting a strange dog, keep them close when they're running and tell them to stand still if a dog turns aggressive.

Put your food where dogs can't reach it: Rather than spreading your picnic lunch on the grass, move it onto a bench or a table.

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Be courteous to others: Space is often limited, and keeping to unspoken boundaries is crucial to avoiding conflict.

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