Two women with their dogs

Dog Park Etiquette: Dos & Dont’s

Dogs love to run and play, and what better way to let them burn off steam than at a fenced-in dog park? It is like a playground for dogs; where they can play with their friends, run without restrictions and get themselves dirty! It is a dog’s dream and a great way for a dog owner to activate their dog without having to do much themselves.

Thousands of dogs visit dog parks in the United States every day, and millions run and play with their doggy friends worldwide, but for a dog park to work and for the dogs to play safely – everyone needs to play by the rules.

There may not be any written rules hung up on the dog park gate, but even if there isn’t – there are a few guidelines you need to know about, respect and abide by.

Preparing for the Park

Woman carrying her dog

If you have never been to the dog park before, this is an exciting time as you prepare for your dog’s first visit. The initial step is to look up where there is a park, how to get there and if there are more options than one; followed by a decision for the best time to go.

If it is summer, you might want to avoid going during the hottest hours of the day, so plan your trip in accordance with the weather to make the experience as pleasant as possible. It is also a good idea to scout the park before visiting for the first time, to make sure it is properly fenced in, and that there are trees to provide shade.

Pack a large bottle of water and a bowl for your dog to drink from; some dog parks have water bowls available, but the water is often full of dirt and dog slobber, so you are probably better off bringing your own just in case.

Also, put a collar on your dog (with a nametag) to make it easy to catch the dog when it is time to leave or if something would go wrong, but avoid leaving a harness on while the dog plays, as other dogs might try to bite at it and injure themselves or your dog.

When NOT to Bring Your Dog

Dog Puppy

Puppies need socialization, but unless your youngster has had all his vaccinations – going to the dog park is a big no-no. Diseases and viruses can easily spread in areas where many dogs gather regularly, and while this may not be an issue for an adult- and vaccinated dogs, a young puppy might pick something up that could potentially present a serious threat to their health. Adult dogs should also have all their vaccinations (and for these to be up to date) before being taken to the park to play.

Young puppies are also easily traumatized, and imagine having a pack of 10 large dogs running up to you when you yourself aren’t much bigger than a tennis ball? Consider your puppy’s size, and if the puppy is very young and/or small, you might want to look for a dog park with a separate small dog area, and move on to the large-dog park when your puppy is a little bit older (and bigger).

Never bring a female dog in heat, as this could cause commotion at the park, and even provoke dog fights! Many male dogs are unable to control their urges in the presence of a female dog in heat (it doesn’t matter if the male dog is neutered, as their natural urges don’t necessarily go away with neutering), and not only could it put your dog in danger – it could also endanger other dogs and owners present at the park.

Be fair to the other park goers and take your dog for leashed walks while in heat and let her return to the park once enough days have passed.

Aggressive dogs are never welcome and should not be taken to a park where there are other dogs or people (if people aggressive). If you know your dog struggles to get along with others, it is your responsibility to own up to that and to refrain from going to the dog park.

Is it unfair not to let your dog have a good run? Maybe, but safety comes first, and if you feel you must go to a park – go at hours when nobody else is there and stay by the gate so that you can leave if anyone else comes to use the park. Visiting a dog park is a huge responsibility, and any signs of aggression need to be taken seriously to prevent incidents.

Arriving at the Dog Park

So, now you are getting out of the car, and you can already hear all those joyful barks ringing through the air. Your dog is getting excited tugging at the leash, and you are almost at the gate. What should you think about as you enter? The most important thing is to make sure that no dog can get out of the park while you’re walking in; some parks will have double gates to prevent this, but not all, and you are responsible to keep all dogs in the park as you open the gate.

Before you open the gate, have a look at who is inside the park, where the dogs and their owners are at, and just make sure you know what you are dealing with before you walk inside. If all dogs seem to be playing nicely, then you are probably fine to take your dog inside, but if there seems to be tension between two or more dogs – wait for a few minutes until everything settles down.

If you are a regular at the park, you probably know if there are dogs your dog don’t quite get along with, and if so, waiting or abstaining from going inside are better options.

Safely let your dog inside by either walking in yourself first – blocking the opening with your body – and let your dog slip in after you. This could be hard though if all the awaiting dogs are waiting for your dog to come and play, and another method is to remove your dog’s leash outside the park and grab it by the collar, open the gate only enough for your dog to get inside and let him or her inside.

All dogs are likely to run off to play, leaving you free to enter the gate without the risk of letting someone else’s dog out in the process. It can be a little tricky until you get the hang of it, but it is a precaution you are obligated to take.

Bringing Toys

If your dog knows how to share, there is usually no harm in bringing a frisbee or a tennis ball for them to play with. Bear in mind, though, that your dog is highly unlikely to get to keep the toy to themselves, as all other dogs at the park are going to want to join in the game. Don’t bring any toys that you are not willing to lose because there is always that small risk of the toy going home with someone else at the end of the playdate.

If you notice any tension between the dogs, remove the toy immediately and think twice before bringing it again. Not all dogs are good at sharing, so if you plan to be bringing a chew toy you will have to make sure everything is working smoothly or remove it right away.

It is a good idea to ask the other dog owners present if they are okay with you bringing out a tennis ball or whatever other toys you’ve brought – it is considered polite – and that way they can tell you if their dog is- or isn’t good at sharing. Good communication between both dogs and owners will increase the chances of everyone having a good time at the park.

Treats & Food – Should You Bring It?

Take it from someone who has been to a lot of dog parks – no one likes the person who brings treats. Your intentions may be good as you pack that bag of your dog’s favorite dog treats, but it is a recipe for disaster when at the park. All dogs will come running to you, and they will be so excited about the treats that they’ll completely forget to run and play.

Other people take their dogs there for them to burn off some steam, and their time may be limited, which means they most likely won’t appreciate you interrupting the dogs’ runaround by being every dog’s favorite Candyman.

Perhaps you thought you could slip your dog a treat discretely between fetches, but that is not how it works. The other dogs will notice, possibly faster than you think, and before you know it you will be surrounded by all the dogs at the park.

What you don’t know is if any of the other dogs have dietary restrictions, allergies or if their owners don’t usually feed treats, so don’t be the person who everyone wishes would take their dog and leave, and skip those treats you were thinking you’d bring.

Supervise Your Dog

Even if your dog has been to the park 50 times without incidents – it doesn’t mean you can sit back and chat with your other dog park goers. Sure, you can talk and enjoy your time out, but you must always keep an eye on your dog.

Accidents happen, dogs might get into a disagreement or the play could start getting a little too rough; and when that happens you need to be ready to intervene. It is better to stop overly intense play before it changes into something else, and perhaps you want to lead the dogs to the side for a quick break and some water.

Dogs are very forgiving, and a quick timeout will usually be enough to make them forget any disagreements they were having with another dog only minutes before. It is also a fact that many dogs enjoy playing rough, and if that is the case with your dog – it is up to you and the owner of the other dog (or dogs) to intervene when you feel it is appropriate. Safety comes before anything else, no matter how much fun your dog seems to be having.

Pick Up After Your Dog

It’s a dog park, so there is no harm in letting your dog do their business in a corner and leave it there, right? Not right. Imagine if every dog park goer thought the same way – the park would quickly fill up with dog poop, and nobody wants to step in that or have their dog roll around in it.

Bring enough bags to pick up after your dog and don’t try to pretend like you didn’t see it. Someone will see, and once again you will become that dog owner who everyone sighs at when you walk through the gate. The park is everyone’s responsibility, so leave it the way you wish to find it the next time you visit.

While some dog parks might have plastic bags available for you to use to pick up after your pooch – don’t count on it! It is not the dog park’s responsibility to provide you with these bags, and it is up to you to be a responsible dog owner and to bring them from home, just the way you would (we hope) when taking your dog out for a walk.

A pooper scooper is a great option in these situations!

And Finally – Have a Good Time

Dog park etiquette is not meant to take the fun out of going to the park with your four-legged friend, and their sole purpose is to keep you and your dog safe while you are there. Safety is ensured when everyone respects the other park goers and their dogs, and when you communicate any issues in a calm and mature way.

If someone is not following the rules – talk to them first, because it is possible that they simply don’t know what is expected of them. Don’t go straight to anger and don’t get upset and try to solve any differences before they become a real issue.

The dog parks are there to provide your dog with a safe space to run around, and let’s be honest – there is no greater joy than watching your dog have a good time with his doggy friends. Set the example by respecting the other people at the park, and hopefully, they will do the same. Alright, let’s go to the park!

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