Offer dog-oriented program opportunities to bring in more people
So what else can we do to market the new dog park? Dog park programs, though not really abundant, like our regular programs (for people), are indeed out there. The parks and recreation department may lead the way, but that’s not to say that private canine-related groups can’t provide program opportunities as well. The parks professionals may encourage programming of all types, since the dog-owning constituents are as varied as the dogs are! The fact is, I’ve heard recreation professionals say, “If dog-oriented program opportunities are offered, they will come,” meaning that people will gladly, almost eagerly, register for those programs, and they’ll show up looking forward to a fun experience with their pets. After all, it is often the only show in town they can enjoy with their dogs, and they are thrilled and grateful to have that unique, very special opportunity! With that in mind, since you already have the perfect new venue in which to provide those types of opportunities, how could you not provide it?
With that introduction, this chapter suggests some programming ideas, followed by some ideas for special events. Keep in mind that, as previously indicated, while the new dog park can certainly provide the appropriate venue for programs, some can be held elsewhere in the community. These may relate to weather, particular types of classes, scheduling, seasonal issues, and so on. If the dog park is to be used for any programming, it can usually be accommodated with separate scheduling and signage (e.g., “On Tuesdays in May, May 1–22, the dog park will be closed from 4:00–5:15 p.m. while dog obedience training classes are conducted. Those interested should register as soon as possible! Regular dog park users are asked to plan their visits either before 4:00 p.m. or after 5:15 p.m. on those four Tuesdays.”). The fact that the community has a dog park, whether programming is held in it or not, still provides the impetus for the new programs and events. Thus, these offerings reflect a new, positive attitude of the importance of pets’ contribution to quality of life in the community.
- Obedience training. What better program to be offered in a community with a brand new dog park? Quite a variety of different types of obedience courses exist, including for various ages of dogs and for different instructional and ability levels. Instructors offer various types of dog obedience classes. These can include the five basic obedience commands for dogs of sit, stay, heel, come, and down, through advanced courses involving going off lead, retrieving, and even performing tricks! Some classes may provide training for dogs to learn the skills they need to become therapy dogs, while other programs are geared toward puppies and appropriate manners.
- Puppy socials. These programs help puppies learn to socialize, play, and have fun with other dogs. Sometimes, this activity may be initially incorporated with an obedience training course. Basically, puppies play with other puppies, off leash, in a supervised setting. They learn how to communicate better and be more confident with other dogs. As a result, they frequently become better adjusted as adults. The dog park provides a perfect venue for this type of program.
- Dog camp. These programs can provide a number of educational components for younger dog owners. Topics can include feeding, care, exercise, training, and an assortment of activities, including learning and following the rules and etiquette of dog parks. The youngsters learn how to be sensible, caring, and responsible pet owners.
- Agility training. Agility training is a rapidly growing sport where owners and handlers guide their dogs to correctly and rapidly perform a series of procedures involving a variety of obstacles, such as jumps, tunnels, seesaws, and weave poles. A number of agility organizations throughout the country hold trials where dog and handler teams compete and earn titles. Agility training courses are offered for starters or novices, intermediates, and masters, with increasing difficulty and complexity at each successive level. The sense of fun and teamwork that is developed reflects a very special relationship between dog and owner.
- Fitness programs. Personal trainers conduct workouts for owners and their dogs to perform together! The owner focuses on building cardio endurance, strength, flexibility, and muscle tone, while the dogs learn to heel during both walking and jogging. These programs improve the dog’s obedience as well as fitness for both owner and dog.
- “Doga,” or yoga with your dog. This is a fun way for owners to explore yoga, massage, and stretching and relaxation techniques with their dogs. The owner deepens their connection to their dog, learns to bring their dog to a greater level of calm and relaxation, and learns the basic principles of yoga, including benefits for themselves and their dog.
- American Red Cross Pet First Aid. The American Red Cross, a well known and well respected organization, offers this pet-oriented hands-on course to provide pet owners with both the skills and confidence necessary to tend to unexpected emergencies until they can get their pet to a veterinarian. The related program manuals teach pet owners how to recognize an emergency, administer medications, perform first aid and CPR, treat common problems and emergencies requiring immediate attention, and stock a first aid kit for pets. It also addresses urgent care situations, such as car accidents, wounds, electric shock, and eye, foot, and ear injuries.
- Pet photography. This course enables owners to take better photos of their pets and to have fun doing so. It provides a pet-oriented look at the basics of camera equipment, lighting, and composition, and then addresses a variety of specific pet-photography challenges.
- Social events. Yappy hours, dog day afternoons, dog-themed movies, and even make-your-own-dog-toy classes are wonderful ways to encourage dog park usage.