Navigating Off-Leash Dog Parks: Etiquette and Tips to Make Sure Everyone Has Fun
Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on September 2, 2018
Posted in Parent Help
Taking your pup to play at the dog park can be a lot of fun. You’ll get the opportunity to meet new dog owners, and your dog will have the chance to run around, burn off some steam and socialize with other dogs.
Taking your dog to the park should be a happy experience for everyone involved—dogs and humans alike. However, because everyone trains their dog a little differently, and because dogs can’t communicate with words like humans can, potential conflicts at the park can quickly turn into disasters.
It’s your responsibility as a dog owner to keep an eye on your pooch and make sure it is interacting in a safe and friendly manner with other dogs. There are certain rules of etiquette to follow at dog parks, and if your pup can’t play nice, you should be prepared to leave. One unruly pooch can ruin the fun for everyone—so make sure it isn’t yours.
Rules of etiquette all dog park visitors should follow
Here are some tips to keep in mind before you go to your local dog park to make sure it stays a safe and enjoyable place for all.
- Scope out the park: Before you go to a new park, visit without your dog to observe and make sure it is the kind of environment you feel is safe for your dog. The last thing you want is to show up and get your dog excited, only to realize the park is not kept up well or the dogs that frequent the area are too aggressive.
- Make sure your dog is vaccinated and healthy: Get your pup updated on its vaccinations and make sure it doesn’t have any sicknesses before heading to the park. You don’t want to put your pooch at risk for diseases, nor do you want to expose other dogs to any illnesses your dog may have.
- Leave aggressive or anxious dogs at home: Get to know your dog’s mannerisms and avoid taking it to the dog park if it has a hard time getting along with other dogs or if it gets extremely scared or anxious. Aggressive dogs can scare or hurt other dogs, and anxious dogs may be traumatized by too much stress or fear.
- Follow size limitations: Some dog parks are meant for large or small dogs only, or they may have designated sections for certain types and sizes of dogs. A large dog romping around a small puppy could result in injury or even death. Always respect these limitations so the dogs there can feel safe and other owners don’t have to worry about their dogs getting hurt.
- Teach your pup the basics: Your dog should know basic commands to make navigating the park easier for you. “Come,” “sit,” “stay,” and “drop it,” are useful for mitigating conflicts, returning toys and leaving the park peacefully.
- Wait a moment before entering: Suddenly walking into the park with a new dog might cause the other dogs to get excited and create a mob. Before you enter, pause outside the gate to help other dogs become aware of your dog’s presence and calm down. Also, make sure your pooch isn’t doing the mobbing once you’re in the park. Use the “come” command to keep your dog near you when new dogs are entering.
- Pick up after your pooch: Nobody wants to step in dog poop, but it’s a very real possibility if your park is filled with owners who don’t want to pick up after their dogs. If your dog poops at the park, be prepared with bags to pick up after it. Even if there is other waste, don’t assume that someone will come clean up at the end of the day. If you want to be extra helpful and keep the park clean, bring extra bags to pick up waste left behind by others.
- Be positive and polite to other owners: Conflicts between two owners and how they want their dogs to act around each other is very common at the dog park. You want to be sure you hear other owners’ concerns out and be respectful of their wishes if your dog is making them or their dog uncomfortable.
- Stay attentive: You don’t want to be that dog owner who sits and gabs with other owners while your dog is getting into trouble behind you. While it’s fine to chat with other owners, make sure you’re keeping an attentive eye on your pooch at all times and resolve conflicts as soon as possible, should they occur.
Visiting the dog park does not have to be a stressful experience as long as you and other owners follow the basic rules of etiquette. When everyone acts with the same level of respect for the park, people and dogs, the park will stay a safe place for your pooch to play.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan