Many dog owners see the dog park as a place to socialize their dogs, but it’s not always as easy or simple as that. There are rules to follow and expectations about behavior that you’ll need to be aware of before taking your dog to a park. Dog park etiquette is central to having a good, safe and fun time being off leash with other pets. If you are considering taking your dog to an off-leash dog park, be sure you know what to expect from the moment you pull up.
Keep Your Dog Healthy
Both you and the owners of other dogs will have certain expectations about the health of the dogs at the park. Some of these are rules posted at the park, but some are unspoken but often agreed upon as common sense dog safety. When taking your dog to the dog park:
- Make sure your dog is spayed or neutered.
- Have your dog up-to-date on all their vaccinations.
- Meet the minimum age requirement, which is usually 6 months.
- Be certain your dog’s identification tags have the most current information.
- Feed your dog a meal or treat prior to the visit to avoid “hunger tension.”
Know the Park’s Rules
Every off-leash park has its own rules and they will be posted at the front gate before you walk in. It’s important you follow these rules for the safety and sanity of other dogs and owners. If you don’t understand one of the rules, ask another park-goer. It’s likely they will have had some experience of this particular park that they can share. Some of these common rules are pretty easy to follow.
- If there are separate areas for small dogs and large dogs, make sure to stay on the side your dog belongs.
- Don’t leave harnesses or pull collars on dogs in the park.
- Avoid bringing treats into the park. Other dogs will be able to smell the treats and might pester you for them. Dogs may also become aggressive around food, so treats could cause a fight.
- Clean up after your dog, from picking up chewed up items, to throwing away feces, to putting away toys.
Manage Dog Behavior Appropriately
Being in a new dog park can make some dog owners a little anxious. It’s not always easy to predict how your dog will act— and it’s quite impossible to predict how other dogs could react. Sometimes even more anxiety-producing— you don’t know how to predict how other dog owners might react. While you can’t predict dog and human behavior, you can plan ahead by:
- Looking around the park before you go in to assess the behavior of the animals already present. Understand the climate you are about to enter so you can keep an eye on potential issues.
- Taking your dog for a long walk or a jog before going to the dog park, especially if anxiety or aggression is a possibility. Wearing him out a bit before going in can keep him calmer. If necessary, try using calming aids prior to the visit.
- Finding ways to distract or interact with your dog if there seems to be some aggression. Use replacement behaviors or distract him with a toy if he is acting aggressive.
- Stopping a dog fight by throwing a blanket, jacket or even water on the animals involved. Avoid yelling at them or stepping in to remove an animal.
- Watching your dog’s body language to see how he or she is reacting to the environment. Certain behaviors can convey that your dog is excited, anxious, scared, angry or confused.
Engage with Other Dog Owners Calmly
Most dog park participants will agree that every once in a while, things are going to happen and that could result in a dog fight, injury, or altercation. In these cases, most people can be calm and understanding, but every once in a while the stress of the dog fight can cause stress for the humans involved, as well. When dealing with an angry or upset dog owner, you can diffuse the situation by following these dos and don’ts.
- Don’t touch another person’s dog without asking. Especially do not reach for the dog’s collar or go near their faces and mouths if a fight is breaking out.
- Don’t blame the person for the altercation, and try to not blame their dog, either. Talk about the behavior, not the dog, so that the owner doesn’t feel the need to be defensive.
- Do speak to the dog owner if there are signs of potential conflict between your dogs. If their body language suggests something else happening, talk to the dog’s owner so you both are keeping an eye on things.
- Do take a moment to breathe and calm down before talking to the dog’s owner. Let go of any of your adrenaline or anxiety about the fight before interacting with the person, so you don’t unintentionally engage them aggressively.
The dog park is a place where our pets can roam free, visit friends and enjoy freedom in the great outdoors. It’s a place where we can read joy in their faces from the moment we pull into the parking lot. But that joy can quickly turn dark if we don’t follow the rules or make safety a priority. One of the easiest ways to stay on top of these guidelines is to make friends with the other dogs and humans going to the park. When you all feel like a community— or even a family— you’ll be more inclined to look after each dog and each other.