The Basics Of Dog Park Etiquette
How To Ensure That a Safe, Happy Time is Had By All
Dog parks get a lot of mixed reviews. Some pet owners won’t go near them while others take their dogs to one daily. And it’s kind of sad really because they should provide the perfect opportunity to let your pooch get in some playtime, exercise, and socialization. Unfortunately, that’s not always how it works out.
There are way too many stories of dogs being traumatized for life after a fight with another dog during a trip to the dog park. And let’s not forget about the countless dogs who leave the park with ticks, fleas, or some kind of contagious illness like kennel cough (Bordetella).
So, is taking your dog to the dog park a good idea, or should you avoid them like the plague? Honestly, the answer really depends on the park itself, the people who frequent it, and your dog’s personality. And, some of these aspects are entirely out of your control.
The first thing you need to do to ensure a good experience for you both is to do your research. Find a dog park that’s well maintained. Is it kept clean? Do they keep the landscaping mowed and trimmed? Are the fences in good repair? All of these things are crucial to the safety of the park.
But there are lots of other ways to ensure a positive experience for you and your dog, too. Think of it as dog park etiquette. If everyone who uses the park uses common sense, a dog park can be doggie heaven. Here’s what every pet parent should know to ensure a safe, happy experience for all parties involved.
How to Know if Your Dog is a Good Candidate for the Dog Park
Every dog is different, and some dogs just aren’t cut out for the dog park. That’s why so many walk away injured or traumatized. Do not use the dog park as a place to train your dog who has behavior issues. Always address those issues in a controlled environment first and don’t take your dog to the park until you're confident the issues have been resolved.
Here’s how to know if your dog is a good candidate:
- He’s friendly and outgoing, but not overbearing or obnoxious with people or other dogs.
- He’s confident and well socialized, not overly fearful, timid, or aggressive when exposed to new things.
- He knows basic obedience, including sit, stay, and come when called. If he tends to jump on people or has other bad habits, work on them at home first.
- A certain amount of barking is to be expected, but if your dog barks continuously and is likely to cause a disturbance, he’s not cut out for the dog park.
- He is healthy. Older dogs with arthritis and joint problems shouldn’t go to the dog park unless you can find a quiet time to take them. Dogs who have certain health conditions, such as a weakened immune system, a contagious illness, or are undergoing chemotherapy, shouldn’t go to the dog park at all.
- He doesn’t have fleas, ticks, or other parasites. (And be sure to check him carefully for hitchhikers when you head home.)
How to Ensure a Safe and Happy Trip to the Dog Park
There should be a set of rules for any dog park you’re considering taking your dog to. Look for it near the entrance, at the park’s office, or posted on the website. If the park doesn’t specify any written rules, everyone probably does what they want, which means you’ll need to be extra diligent to keep your dog safe.
These are the rules every pet owner should follow at a dog park, whether they’re written and posted or not.
- If your dog is old enough, it must be spayed or neutered to reduce the likelihood of aggressive behavior or accidental breeding. According to veterinarians at a New York City spay & neuter clinic, dogs are capable of breeding at six months old, and they should be spayed or neutered between 4-6 months of age, except for large breeds who should wait until they’re fully grown. If you have a female who’s not old enough to be spayed yet, never take her to the dog park when she’s in heat.
- Your dog should be current on all recommended vaccines and wearing his rabies tag. Talk with your vet about which vaccines are recommended in your area.
- If your dog is aggressive toward people or pets, don’t take him to the dog park. Dogs who become aggressive at the park should be asked to leave and barred from returning.
- You can only supervise so many dogs at once. If you have more than two dogs, split them up on separate trips or bring along a friend to help supervise.
- Never take off your dog’s leash before you enter the fenced-in, off-leash area.
- Don’t bring food or smoke while you’re in the off-leash area.
- Dogs should be supervised at all times. Never leave your dog unattended, even if he’s well behaved. You don’t know every dog that’s in the park.
- Be prepared to clean up after your dog promptly when the inevitable happens.
- It would be best if you didn’t bring young children into the off-leash area of a dog park. But, if you do decide to bring your kids, they must also be supervised closely and not allowed to run, rough house, or yell, because it could elicit a negative reaction from someone else’s dog.
- Never leave extra gear, such as harnesses or prong collars on your dog during playtime. All he needs is a plain, buckle collar with his ID tag and rabies tag. Other items could lead to injury during rough play.
- If the park has size restrictions marked off for certain areas, always follow them.
- Be considerate and polite to others using the park.
Tips for Keeping Your Dog Safe at the Dog Park
- Visit a new dog park without your dog first. Make sure it’s clean, well maintained, and has a good atmosphere overall.
- The first time you go, choose a time when the park is not too busy. Give your pooch a chance to check things out when it’s not too crowded with unfamiliar dogs.
- Observe the off-leash area for a few minutes before entering. If you notice there’s a dog causing problems, go home and come back another time… or you could wait for them to leave.
- Always follow the rules of the park, whether you agree with them or not.
- Don’t bring toys or treats into the park because they could lead to conflicts.
- If another dog is being too rough, you can politely ask the owner to get the other dog under control. However, sometimes it’s just easier to avoid the confrontation and come back another time.
- Never try to correct or discipline someone else’s dog for your own safety. If the dog is truly dangerous, report it to park management after you’ve removed your dog from the situation.
Dog parks can be a great time for you and your pooch, as long as everyone uses some common sense. Be honest about your own dog’s behavior and personality, and don’t take him to the park until any issues are resolved. Check out the park before you go and be on the lookout for any problems before you enter, as well as throughout your entire visit.