Humans weren't the only species forced to quarantine during 2020. Our beloved pets were likely banned from their favorite outdoor spots too. Now that public spaces are open and getting popular again, you may be rushing to get back to the dog park. If you want your pup to be a superstar dog park guest, you may have to follow some simple dog park etiquette rules and encourage them to be on their best behavior.
We’ve put together a list of our best dog park etiquette tips for your consideration - let's rock!
Arguably one of the most important aspects of dog ownership, proper socialization can lead to a dog who is all-around better adjusted to life. If your pup doesn’t get to interact with other dogs on walks, they may lunge, bark, or want to fight them as “intruders.” If dog daycare and dog training classes are closed, a dog park can introduce your dog to other animals of all shapes and sizes. Keep in mind, not all dogs are able to become BFFs with members of the same species. Dogs that struggle with anxiety or reactivity should never be forced to interact with other animals, especially if there is a bite risk involved. Know your dog and educate yourself, so you can become an advocate for them. We recommend starting small if you feel this may be an issue for your canine companion.
If your dog park is separated by dog size, don’t ignore those rules. Get in the habit of bringing your dog to size-appropriate sections of the park. These spaces are separated for a reason, and you don’t want your dog to get injured or injure another dog.
Pick it up
Be a responsible dog owner; clean up your dog’s messes. Don’t rely on there being waste disposal bags available. Bring your own, just in case there aren’t.
Leave the toys at home
If your dog is a resource guarder of his toys, leave toys at home. Even if your dog doesn’t resource guard in your home, they may if faced with sharing their beloved ball with a strange dog. Use your dog park time to let your dog run and expend excess energy instead.
Keep an eye out
Just because you’re at an off-leash dog park doesn’t mean it's smart to let your pup run wild. Keep your dog’s behavior in check and make certain the other dogs and pet parents feel safe with your dog there. Plus, having an eye on your dog will ensure that if any fights or conflicts arise, you can quickly take action for your pet.
No matter what the temperature is, bring a water bowl and water for your dog. Keep her hydrated while she runs and plays. Sharing a dog bowl with other members of the dog park can be a safety hazard, so it's better to just pack your own.
Keep your dog home
If your dog is unvaccinated, is in heat, or struggles with reactivity, keep them home. Ask your veterinarian when it is safe for your dog to visit a dog park. Your vet may recommend a specific age. The local dog park may also have requirements for admittance. Keep your dog and the other dogs safe by following these guidelines.
Be mindful of other dogs who may try to “rush” the gate and get out when you’re coming in. Hopefully, the other pet parents will be paying attention to their dogs. If they don’t, you may need to help ensure their dogs don’t escape. If the entrance is overcrowded or doesn't have good visibility, make sure to keep an extra eye on the situation.
Know when to leave
Not all dog parks are a good experience for your dog. If your dog is shy or fearful, it may never be a good time to take them. As mentioned above, don’t force your dog to socialize in a situation in which they may be scared or stressed. Contrary to popular belief, this won’t help them face their fears, it will only make them more fearful.
When should you intervene at a dog park?
There is absolutely no reason to step in unless one of the dogs stops having fun. Often small instances resolve themselves quickly. A yelp, a snarl, and they break apart. If the damage done to any of the dogs is minimal, you are probably safe to leave them alone. If matters escalate, you may need to break them apart with a stick or other object. "Wheelbarrowing" the dogs - aka picking them up by their back legs and moving away from each other - can also help. Just be mindful to keep your body away from the mouths of any and all quarreling dogs. It's not at all uncommon to find yourself bitten in these instances, so stay safe.
Dog parks aren’t a good fit for all dogs.
Your dog may be happier just going for a walk and exploring the neighborhood, the woods, or a beach, instead.
If you want to have a more controlled atmosphere than a dog park, find friends with whom you can socialize your pup.
If you don’t live in an area where there is a dog park, don’t despair. You may be able to find neighbors who will welcome your pup to their fenced yards for a play date. We even love apps like SniffSpot that let you book a private yard space for your dog to frolic in.
Some stores and boarding facilities provide space in which a dog can come and run around in their fenced-in space, for a fee.
Dogs without fur siblings may benefit from socialization, whether that’s at a dog park, a dog daycare, or visiting with friends and family who have dogs. Your dog will fare better if they interact with other humans and pets, especially as a puppy. This will usually result in a better-adjusted dog who keeps calm when exposed to unfamiliar stimuli and situations.
You are the most important advocate for your dog and their well-being. Play it safe and know whether a dog park is a good fit for your pup for his exercise and socialization needs before you go. If a dog park is the space for you, just don't forget your etiquette.
Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words Matter, My Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.