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Dog Park Etiquette and Best Practices

Dog parks have a mixed reputation within the companion dog community.

For one thing, a dog park can be a great place for your dog to exercise and socialize. On the other hand, some dogs at the dog park are poorly socialized or poorly trained, which can be dangerous or cause your dog to pick up bad habits.

But for people who don’t have a garden or who live in a city, dog parks are the best option, and sometimes the only one. Knowing the risks involved, as well as proper “etiquette” is important for you and your dog to be successful at the dog park.

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1. Make sure your dog has been trained in the basics

Before you bring your dog into a new environment, make sure he’s socialized and has some basic training, such as not jumping on people, how to “put him down,” and most importantly: remember. The dog park can be an unpredictable place, and being able to call your dog if something unexpected happens is essential. “Your dog should know remember/come VERY well,” commented Reddit user u/sjzerbe, in an ar/Dogtraining post from which much of the commentary for this article was drawn, who described the order as non-negotiable. “It’s important because if something crazy happens, you have to be able to call your dog right away.” “…on Reddit

2. Explore it first

Every dog ​​park is different, so it helps to see what it’s like before you take your dog there. Do you have a water source or do you need to bring your own water? Is it gravel, dirt or grass? Are there separate areas for small and large dogs? Is there a double door system? What is the time of day you would normally take your dog? Knowing all of this beforehand will help you be prepared, which will make you more relaxed, which will make your dog more relaxed. “I’d go through the park without your dog a couple of times first to check it out and see what kind of dogs and owners are there and to know how to organize the grounds a little bit, I’m sure some are better than others,” Redditor said. u/shradams, who also says to check the height of the fence if your dog is a jumper.

3. Follow the rules

This one may seem a bit obvious, but the rules may differ slightly from park to park. For example, dogs that have not been neutered or spayed are explicitly prohibited in some parks. While letting your intact dog play with another dog is generally frowned upon at any park, in some places, you may be breaking the law.

4. Pause before entering

Making sure your dog is calm when you enter the park will help set the tone for the entire experience. This will prevent them from becoming overexcited. Although it may seem cute, being overexcited is a sign of stress that can lead to aggression. Redditor u/FEED_ME_SARA even says, “the dog should come to the door on a slack leash,” adding that if the leash isn’t slack, “we turn around and start again until they can do it.”

5. Bring lots of water

Even if there is a water fountain at the dog park, it is always a good idea to bring some water in case the fountain breaks or there is a large group of thirsty dogs clamoring for a drink. More than once I forgot to bring water on a hot day and was saved by the kindness of less forgetful people. So pay and bring enough water to share.

image of french bulldog drinking from a water bowl

Hydration is key.
Credit: Getty Images

6. Make friends

The dog park is the great equalizer. It is a place where people from all walks of life and of all ages come together, united by their love of dogs. Even if you have nothing else in common, the subject of dog ownership has surprising depth. I’ve had life-changing conversations with people, all because our dogs sniffed each other’s butts. You don’t have to chat with everyone you meet, this is just to say that chat can be a rewarding experience, and even if you don’t end up with a friend for life, chat while you’re at the dog park. is an indispensable opportunity to exchange advice and resources related to dogs.

7. Actively pay attention to your dog

That said, there’s a caveat: Talking to people at the dog park is great. as long as you always keep eyes on your dog. Taking your dog to the dog park is not your time. It’s your dog’s time. They’re there to play and exercise, and that means paying attention to what’s going on. “You won’t believe how many people go to dog parks and release their dog, then just sit on their phones or talk to other people,” u/WA_State_Buckeye said. “The moment you don’t pay attention is when something stupid happens.”

Paying attention isn’t just about being able to respond if something happens, it’s about understanding your dog so you can prevent something from happening in the first place. That means watching your dog and constantly assessing his mood and behavior. Do they seem fearful and anxious around a certain dog? Are they protecting a tennis ball? Know how to read your dog so he can intervene before something bad happens.

8. Know when it’s time to go

Ideally, you’ll want to leave on a high note, so your dog has nothing but positive associations with the dog park. “It’s okay to just stay 5, 10, 15 minutes,” said u/taggalito, who recommends leaving before your dog gets too tired or overstimulated. “Once the dog reaches that threshold, the behavior worsens, the memory wears off, and less-than-positive interactions can occur.”

But anyone who has been to a dog park knows that it is an unpredictable place with many different variables. If a fight breaks out or your dog becomes aggressive towards other dogs, that’s your signal to leave. “If your dog is in a fight as the instigator, just walk away. If your dog is in a fight as the victim/receiver, I would remove him.” [them] from the dog park, but take a short walk to make them feel better before you leave,” said u/Bright_Mixture_3876.

Plus, if your dog is too shy for the dog park, you’ll know almost immediately. Don’t stay for hours waiting for his personality to change. If they aren’t at least a little curious about the other dogs as soon as they get there, and they seem to want to leave, they probably want to leave.

SEE ALSO:

Are enrichment toys really good for your dog?

not to do

1. Do not bring your dog if it is not vaccinated, if it is sick or in heat

Even the best maintained dog parks are a breeding ground for diseases like parvo and parasites. For the safety of all dogs, only bring your puppy in once he has been fully vaccinated and is healthy. If your unspayed female dog is in heat, “keep her indoors, unless she wishes to have unintended puppies or arouse an aggressive interest in male dogs,” the American Kennel Club says.

2. Don’t keep them tied down

It may seem counterintuitive, but this is the one time your dog should not be on a leash. If your dog is on a leash where other dogs are off leash, your dog is likely to feel inhibited and vulnerable, which could lead to all sorts of problems. “If one dog is on a leash and the other is not, it can create an imbalance of power,” u/niallnz said, noting that such an imbalance can lead to bad behavior. Another Reddit user u/SirSeaGoat noted that “leashes interfere with body language,” meaning other dogs may not be able to read them.

3. Do not bring small children

The dog park is not the right place for little ones. There are countless stories of children being run over by naughty dogs or bitten because they don’t know how to pet a dog. Also, as u/whoiamidonotknow points out, running around, like kids do because they’re kids, can irritate dogs. “Expect to be chased if you run. It’s the main reason people recommend against or strongly warn anyone to bring their children inside.”

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4. Do not bring sweets or pretty toys

“Treats are the 100% guaranteed way to get the attention of EVERY dog in a dog park,” said u/indipit. “If you have them in your pocket, dogs can still smell them good. Dogs guarding resources will immediately fight your dog to prevent you from getting those treats.” Many dog ​​parks will ban treats for this reason, but even if your local dog park’s sign doesn’t say so explicitly, this is considered an unspoken rule. If you’re training your dog and want to give him treats as a reward, some people recommend leaving them in your car and giving them to your dog afterward, as long as other dogs don’t see or smell them.

Just like treats, flashy new toys can trigger tension or fights between dogs. Also, anything you bring to the dog park will likely be destroyed, so don’t bring anything you care to keep intact. Play it safe and stick to dirty tennis balls.

Image of a dog with a tennis ball being chased by other dogs

Sometimes a dirty tennis ball is all they need.
Credit: Getty Images

5. Do not leave your dog’s poop without picking up

Whatever you do, don’t be that person who doesn’t pick up after their dog. If he was checking his phone and didn’t notice his dog did a squat (see rule #7: Actively pay attention to your dog), people will call him and show him where he pooped. No one wants a poopy dog ​​park, plus it’s a real health hazard that can spread disease. Many dog ​​parks will have a poop station with a bag dispenser and trash can, but if not, one of the dog park attendants will be happy to give you one.

6. Don’t ignore your dog’s problems or needs

In other words, “be very realistic about your dog’s potential as a playmate at the park,” Miller said. “The dog park is not the place to work on solving your dog’s behavior problems.” If your dog has behavioral problems, such as guarding resources or riding other dogs, it can be irresponsible or even dangerous to let them loose in the hope that they will behave. You might get lucky sometimes, but the problem won’t go away on its own, and you might even be reinforcing it without realizing it. Address problem behavior in a controlled environment.

If your dog seems nervous or unhappy, it could be a sign that he needs more socialization training, but it could also mean that your dog just doesn’t like the dog park. “Dog parks are really overwhelming for most dogs, even dogs that seem happy and lucky often have stimulus overload,” u/fishCodeHuntress said. “And most dogs become less social as they get older.”

7. Don’t shirk responsibility

If something bad happens and it’s your dog’s fault, it’s important to acknowledge it, instead of saying “He’s harmless!” or “She’s just playing!” or some other notorious phrase to evade responsibility. “If someone complains about your dog’s behavior, be prepared to consider their perspective before defending your dog or simply ignoring the complaint. Apologize if your dog has been inappropriate and be willing to leave the park if your dog is being too rough.” . said Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA in whole dog diary. “If you really disagree with the person’s assessment of your dog’s behavior, ask someone you respect for their honest and candid opinion.”

8. Don’t expect perfection

Perhaps most important of all, expect the unexpected. “Know that dog parks are a risk,” u/chemfit said. “It’s up to you if you’re willing to take it. If your dog gets into a fight at a dog park, don’t be surprised. Even good dogs can have a bad day.”

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