Picnicking Safely With Your Pet

Nothing quite says summer like outdoor festivities, particularly picnics at your area park. People aren’t the only ones who enjoy getting outside for social activities and meals — so do many dogs. Here are five tips for planning a successful picnic in the park with your pooch.

  1. Brush up on petiquette (pet etiquette).

Not all parks allow dogs, on leash or off. So before you head out, confirm that your chosen picnic site permits dogs and that you know the park’s rules regarding them. Unless the park has an off-leash dog area, you’ll likely need to keep your dog leashed and supervised at all times.

Your canine companion should be basically trained and well-behaved. Make sure your dog knows six basic commands, including sit, stay, come, heel, lie down and drop it. If begging behavior could be a problem, pack food and treats for your dog to enjoy while you’re eating your meal.

If you’re going to a park where there will be plenty of other people and pets, consider how your dog has behaved previously when meeting new dogs, young children or strangers. If your dog is not very social with people or other pets at home, or if your pet has shown fear, aggression or irritability around strangers or other dogs, it may be best to leave them at home. Another option would be to choose a park where the potential for encounters with other dogs and new people is low.

  1. Schedule playtime — or trail-hiking time — first.

Exercise and play are good for your pet’s health and yours. Walking trails or playing fetch first is a good way to burn off energy — and stimulate appetite. Then you and your dog can relax and enjoy your meals. And your dog will likely behave better!

  1. Bring along your dog’s normal food and treats to avoid scavenging.

Most dogs love food and are too willing to sample picnic goodies. While an occasional bite of cooked hamburger, chicken or hot dog won’t ruin your dog’s diet, too much “people food” can cause digestive system upset, such as appetite loss, vomiting and diarrhea. Some picnic foods — those containing grapes, raisins, onions, garlic and chocolate — should be completely off limits as they are potentially toxic to dogs. Other table scraps, such as cooked bones and corn cobs, pose a risk for choking or intestinal blockage if your dog swallows them.

By packing your dog’s normal food and treats, you can share an appropriate outdoor meal with your pooch, reduce the likelihood of scavenging behavior and potentially avoid a trip to an emergency veterinary hospital. Having treats on hand also lets you positively reward desired behaviors if training opportunities arise.

  1. Bring plenty of water for your dog, too.

Some parks have drinkable water available, but others may not. So it’s a good idea to carry plenty of fresh water with you whenever you leave home with your dog. Dogs cool themselves by panting, which causes water evaporation from their tongue, mouth and upper airways. That’s why dogs are thirstier than we are when they’re hot. If you notice your dog is panting or drinking a lot of water, find a cool, shady area and offer plenty of cool, fresh water. If there is a lake nearby, you can also have your dog stand at the shoreline with just their paws in the water to help with cooling. Paw pads help dogs release body heat and are among the few places they sweat.

  1. Keep pets away from fireworks.

While fireworks may be a highlight of the night for us, loud noises and flashing lights scare many dogs. If loud noises upset your dog, a quiet place at home will be the best and safest place for them. Check out these suggestions from Pet Health Network to help desensitize your dog to loud noises.

RELATED: Don’t Take Your Pup to the Dog Park Before Reading These Tips

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.

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