Posted: Tuesday November 13, 2012, 2:12 PM
Pets: Doggy Play Dates
By Vera Lawlor - (201) Magazine

There are many reasons families turn their dogs loose in off-leash dog parks. Some feel it provides their dogs with quality play time while others look forward to bringing home a less energetic pooch. Still others enjoy the interaction with fellow dog lovers.  

Whatever the reason, there's certainly no shortage of enclosed dog parks in Bergen County and the surrounding communities. Before unclipping the leash, though, Norine Twaddell, owner of Dog Ventures, Dog Behavior Solutions, encourages families to brush up on obedience training.

"If your dog won't come to you immediately when he's called, then he is not ready to be turned loose in a dog park," says Twaddell, who teaches classes in Closter and is a certified dog behavior consultant. "These parks should not be a free-for-all. Owners need to be watching and interacting with their dogs all the time."

Families who are unsure of how their dogs will behave around other dogs in the park should begin socialization closer to home. For instance, find a neighbor who also has a dog and arrange to go walking together. From there, you can expose your dog to larger groups in an obedience training class or on leash in a public park. Twaddell organizes monthly walkabouts in local parks and welcomes families with children.

When you feel your dog is ready for the dog park experience, make your first visit during off-hours. That gives you an opportunity to practice recall skills without too many distractions. If there are other dogs in the park, Twaddell suggests walking around the perimeter and observing the other dogs at play. Only if you are comfortable with what you see should you enter the enclosure.

"Children under 12 should not be taken into the dog park," Twaddell says. "Your dog might be well-behaved, but you have no control over how other dogs might behave toward your child."

The trainer advises dog owners to move slowly when it comes to off-leash parks. And she also cautions against setting the stakes too high.

"Your goal shouldn't be that you absolutely need to turn your dog loose in a dog park," Twaddell says. "Not every dog can handle a small enclosure and intense play. Know your dog. If he is unhappy in the park, put on the leash and go for a walk instead."

Dog Parks

Joseph A. Carucci Area, Riverside County Park
River Road, Lyndhurst

Samuel Nelkin County Park
Rose Street, Wallington

Woodale County Park
Prospect Avenue, Hillsdale

Riverside Park South Area
Jauncey Avenue, North Arlington

Wild Duck Pond
Ridgewood Avenue, Ridgewood

Overpeck County Park
Fort Lee Road, Leonia  

Resource: For more information on Norine Twaddell's walkabouts at local parks, visit dogventures.com.