Dog Park Etiquette – [7 Important Dog Park Rules]

by Jessi Larson

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If you’re like me, you had no idea about dog park etiquette or rules before taking your pup to one for the first time.

It can be intimidating and downright scary at first. Knowing these simple dog park rules, however, will ease your mind about your first trip and ensure a fun experience for all.

dog park etiquette - dogs playing in park

Our dog park experience

The dog park has been a big part of my life ever since we got our dog Toby in summer 2013. We are very fortunate to live in a city that has not one but three really awesome dog parks, including one right by my work at the time, so I had to check them out.

After all, Toby, as I’ve said many times before, was an oversized puppy. Likes 50 pounds at five months and over 100 pounds at 1 year old. He had lots of energy to burn, and our regular walks weren’t cutting it.

Timidly, I approached the dog park by my work for the first time, not sure what to expect. Lucky for me, the people there were incredibly kind and taught me the ropes.

Ever since that fateful first day, we go to the dog park at least four times a week. (When Toby was a crazy puppy, it was at least 5-6 times.) The dog park is a big part of our routine.

In all the years of going to the dog park, I’ve picked up a thing or two about dog park etiquette including what to do and what definitely NOT to do.

7 Rules for dog park etiquette:

  1. Make sure your dog is ready
  2. Take off the leash
  3. Go to the appropriate area of the park
  4. Don’t forget the poop bags
  5. Don’t bring toys you don’t want to share
  6. Don’t forget to watch your dog at all times
  7. Keep an eye on other dogs
dog agility park

1. 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.

As a rule, veterinarians recommend a dog meets the following criteria before their first trip to the park:

  • At least 12 weeks old
  • Up to date on all vaccinations
  • No females in heat or pregnant
  • Has basic recall skills and will come when called
  • Plays well with others and isn’t aggressive (try out these socialization tips)

2. Take off the leash

This is my biggest pet peeve. Dog parks all have big giant signs that say you need to remove your dog from their leash and let them move freely. Yet so many people ignore this.

Why aren’t leashed dogs allowed?

A dog park is a place for pups to run and play, so it’s really confusing to a dog why the others get to frolic freely and they don’t.

And if another dog does engage your dog, the leash adds an element of danger since they could get tangled up and trip you or one of the dogs. Not to mention the fact being tied up while other dogs run around them is a recipe for anxiety and fear.

As soon as you get inside the fence, unclip your leash. If you want your dog to stay near you, grab their collar instead.

3. 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!

dogs in dog park

4. Don’t forget the poop bags

Picking up poop is probably the least fun part of pet ownership. And with dogs, it feels like a constant endeavor.

Some dog parks offer poop bags. Others require you to bring your own. Either way, don’t get caught without one.

There’s a high chance your dog will take a #2 somewhere at the park and you’ll have to pick it up. Leaving it there is not only messy but also unsanitary, so always have poop bags on hand.

5. Don’t bring toys you don’t want to share

This is my #2 biggest pet peeve. (Am I starting to sound like a crab? I hope not!)

I’ve seen dog owners throughout the year bring a toy to the park that they only want their dog to play with. But at a dog park, it doesn’t work that way.

When you bring a toy out in an open play environment, dogs see this as being fair game. You can’t get mad when another dog grabs your toy. Or even if they damage it.

A few months ago we were at the park, and Toby was playing with a very fast Aussie. The owner whipped out a fancy frisbee and launched it in their direction. The Aussie overran the frisbee and slow-poke Toby grabbed it and started to run playfully in circles. The owner was quite irked. That was his dog’s toy! I couldn’t believe it.

After wrestling the frisbee away from Toby, I returned it to the owner and hightailed it out there. That just wasn’t fair to Toby or me.

As a rule of thumb, don’t bring a toy you wouldn’t mind parting with.

6. Don’t forget to watch your dog at all times

This one is easier said than done. It’s so easy to get talking to another person. Or to get distracted by the other dogs. Or to sneak a peek at your phone.

But it’s oh-so important to keep an eye on your dog at all times so you’re always aware of what’s going on.

7. Keep an 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.

Dogs can tend to play a little rough, but 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 dogs “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.

dog walking in the snow

Bonus Tip: Read reviews

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 (try searching google maps for your park) 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.

Remember Your Dog Park Etiquette & Enjoy the Park!

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 dog park etiquette tips, your experience will be positive and safe.

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