Proper Etiquette at the Dog Park

By Monique Feyrecilde, BA, LVT, VTS (Behavior); Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

Like people, dogs need mental and physical exercise. They crave playful interaction with their peers. Going to the dog park can allow them to see, hear, and smell new things as they exercise with other dogs. Active dogs are healthier. So, let’s consider if your family should take a trip to the park!

What are the rules for proper etiquette at the dog park?

Scout the park. Make your first visit to the park without your dog. Look around, walk the perimeter, observe the park guests (human and canine). Check for other entrances or openings your dog could slip through.

Avoid rush hour. As a new park visitor, your dog may fare better when the park isn’t crowded. Take your time to acquaint yourselves with the surroundings during a less busy time. It’s easier for both of you to focus without the distraction of lots of dogs and owners.

Obey the rules. Your dog may be smart, but she can’t read. It’s your responsibility to read and obey all posted rules. Cleaning up after pets, leaving bicycles and strollers at home, waiting to visit the park until you’re confident in your ability to call your dog reliably away from distractions, and keeping sick dogs at home are common rules in many dog parks. Some zones may be designated for off-leash play, while others may require that your dog be leashed.

"Your dog may be smart, but she can’t read. It’s your responsibility to read and obey all posted rules."

Leave human children at home. It’s great to have your children play with your dog, but it’s best to do that without the interference of other dogs. Even though your child and dog may get along wonderfully, not all dogs are well-socialized with kids. And just because a dog loves children doesn’t mean that he won’t barrel right over a toddler while in the throes of a game of chase.

Limit toys and treats, but not water. Don’t pack the entire toy box or pantry for a park excursion. It’s OK to give your dog a treat but brandishing lots of toys and treats may create conflict with other park patrons. Bring bottled water and a collapsible water bowl if your dog park does not have a dog-friendly water fountain. Do not give treats to other dogs without their owners’ consent.

Observe age restrictions. Some parks do not allow young puppies for many reasons. Pups under four months of age who aren’t fully immunized will be exposed to other dogs, putting them at risk of infection. Small pups are more vulnerable to injury, even by well-intentioned larger dogs. And young pups aren’t adequately socialized and may not do well when bombarded by multiple new faces, human or canine. Socialize your pup gradually, vaccinate and de-worm him regularly, and let him grow a bit before venturing out to the park.

"Small pups are more vulnerable to injury, even by well-intentioned larger dogs."

Control your dog. Bring a leash to restrain your dog as needed. Make sure your dog heeds basic verbal commands. He may get so excited to be around his friends that he temporarily forgets his manners. If you have multiple dogs, consider bringing only one or two at a time so that you can adequately supervise your dog(s).

Be aware of your dog’s physical condition. Don’t bring your dog to the park if he is sick or injured. This isn’t good for your dog or his playmates. No one wants to share sniffles, coughs, or diarrhea. Also, it’s best to leave female dogs at home when they are in heat.

Supervise your dog (and everyone else’s). Spending time with your dog in the company of others is a joy. Avoid reading a magazine or playing games on your smartphone. You may get so distracted that you miss something really fun or really dangerous. Feel free to interrupt inappropriate play when necessary.

Be nice. Don’t correct someone else’s dog but notify the owner if you observe misbehavior. If someone complains about your dog’s behavior, keep an open mind, and try to remedy the situation. The park won’t be so fun if you make enemies.

How will I know if my dog isn’t a good fit for the dog park?

"Some dogs are not a good fit for the dog park – and that’s ok!"

Some dogs are not a good fit for the dog park – and that’s ok! Just like some humans love going to the shopping mall or amusement parks for fun and others feel more comfortable at home or visiting with just one or two well-known friends, dogs have social preferences, too. Play between adult dogs who don’t know one another is not a “normal” dog behavior. If you visit the dog park, monitor your dog for signs of stress such as shaking off when not wet, yawning when not tired, sniffing when a dog or human looks at or speaks with them, or avoiding other dogs or humans. Monitor your dog for chasing dogs who are avoiding them, being unable to hear and respond to you when you call, or for getting into scuffles with others. These signs indicate that your dog may not be a good fit for the dog park and would be better exercised a different way.

Going to the dog park can be an exciting outing for your dog and a time for the two of you to bond. By following some simple, common-sense rules, you can ensure that you, your dog, and everyone else at the dog parks have great fun safely and courteously.

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