Dog Park Etiquette 101
by Jessi Larson
You just got home from work. You’ve had a long day and you’re exhausted, but your dog has been home resting and is now bouncing off the walls with energy. A normal walk won’t cut it. What do you do? Take your pup to the dog park, of course.
At My Dog’s Name, we’re huge advocates of the dog park. It’s what helps Toby burn off his big-dog energy. I’ve been taking him to the dog park since he was five months old, and boy, does it make a difference. Not only does he get great exercise, he also has learned many important socialization skills. And for me, going to the dog park was a great way to get acclimated to our new community, and I get exercise in the process.
Dog parks aren’t all roses, though. It’s important to know basic etiquette before stepping foot in the park. Going to the dog park for the first time is scary, but here is what you can do to ensure you have a positive experience.
Make sure your dog is ready
Before you attempt to take your dog to the dog park, you have to make sure they are ready. If they’re not, it could be a traumatic, unsafe experience.
Veterinarians recommend a dog must be four months old before going to the dog park. Before this time, they just aren’t ready emotionally or physically. Your dog also must be up to date on all the recommended vaccines.
Another important item that has to be checked off the list is recall skills. This means your dog obeys commands and comes when called. Your pup may not be perfect, but going to the dog park without some idea of these basic skills is a nightmare. I’ve seen it take a guy an hour to get out of the dog park because his dog wouldn’t come back to him. Even worse, when a dog doesn’t listen, this could lead to very dangerous situations.
Finally, an important thing to consider: Is your dog ready emotionally and socially? Some dogs may be too sensitive for the hectic environment of a dog park. Others may get aggressive. Always evaluate where your dog is at before going.
OK, your dog is ready and all geared up for the dog park. Hold up! Before you go, see if there are any online reviews about that park. Get an idea of what the park is like – if it is an open area or has trails for walking, whether they provide dog waste bags or you need to bring your own, if there are different sections for small and large dogs, etc. If you can’t find any online reviews, see if any fellow dog owners have been there and know the ropes. If not, not a huge deal – it’s just always better to be prepared if you can.
Go to the appropriate area
Many dog parks today have separate areas for different dog sizes. When you get to the park, evaluate the different sections and see what types of dogs are in each area. For little dogs, it’s better to start in the small dog areas before moving up. And for the love of Labradors, do not ever take large dogs to the small dog section!
Take off the leash
A common rookie mistake at the dog park: keeping your dog on the leash. You may think this is good idea because you can keep your dog close to you and let them warm up first before playing with the other dogs. Unfortunately, having a leash on your pup only leads to problems. Your dog may feel frustrated and stressed that it can’t run freely like the others, causing unwanted behavior. It could also cause your dog to get tangled up with the others.
As soon as you get to the park, unclip your leash. If you want your dog to stay near you, grab their collar instead.
Clean up after your dog
Always, ALWAYS, clean up after your dog. It doesn’t matter how little the doo-doo is or where it’s located. Scoop that stuff up.
Some dog parks may offer doggy disposal bags. Even if your park has them, always bring spare bags just in case they’ve run out.
Watch your dog
For your dog’s safety, always keep an eye out for them when you’re at the park. This is easier said than done. It gets harder when your dog starts running around or if the park has trees that obstruct your view.
It’s also easy to get caught up in conversation with our park goers. You start talking, and before you know it, your dog is nowhere to be seen or getting into trouble. Try to multitask.
Then there’s the notorious smartphone. Many say you shouldn’t use your phone at all at the park. If you do use it, do so sparingly, and keep one eye on your dog at the same time.
Keep at eye on other dogs
Likewise, you should also observe the other dogs at the park and how they’re behaving. You don’t want your dog to learn bad manners from the other dogs, or even worse, be bullied by another pup.
If your dog is part of a pack of dogs that is playing more roughly than you’d like, remove them, either for the rest of your time at the park or until the behavior mellows out. Don’t let them “work it out.” Step in and correct the behavior.
And if you see a dog that’s continually having issues with other dogs, stay far, far away.
Share your toys
If you bring a toy to the dog park, expect other dogs to play with it. Nothing is more frustrating than a dog owner playing fetch with a shiny new Frisbee who gets mad at other dogs for joining the action. Yes, you shouldn’t let your dog run away with a toy or cause damage to someone’s stuff. But it is totally inappropriate for anyone to bring toys to the park, use them openly in a public space created for all dogs, and then get mad when other dogs jump in on the play.
Dog parks aren’t for everyone, but for many owners and dogs alike, the park is a great place for socialization, exercise and training. By following these recommended etiquette tips, your experience will be positive and safe!