15 Dog Park Etiquette Rules You Should Never Break
There's no better place than a dog park for exercise and socialization. Follow these guidelines to make sure the experience stays fun.
Know the fees and requirements before you go
Most dog parks require dogs to be licensed (with tags and a collar) and fully vaccinated, says Tabytha McConnell, general manager and trainer at Zoom Room in Redondo Beach, California. Depending on where you live, expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $20 a year for the license, although it can be more if your dog isn't spayed or neutered. When you get to the park, make sure you avoid these 14 things you may be doing that your dog actually hates.
Don't take a puppy
There are several reasons not to take your puppy to the dog park—the primary one being that the puppy isn't fully vaccinated. It's also a good idea to become familiar with your puppy's level of social skills before you head to a park. "While young puppies should socialize with dogs of different sizes and ages, it's safest to do this through one-on-one interactions or puppy socialization classes," says Corinne Fritzell, behavior specialist with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York City. Wait until your puppy is at least nine months old, McConnell says. Until then, you should know how to keep your dog happily occupied at home.
Know your dog's personality
While they can be a lot of fun, dog parks can also pose challenges, and you need to make sure your dog is capable of handling them. The best way to do check is to watch how well your dog does in new situations. This is especially key if you've recently adopted an adult dog. McConnell suggests having your dog interact with other pooches, either on walks or playdates. If your pup shows any reactivity like barking, teeth-baring, or growing, he's not ready for the park. Also, if your dog gets overexcited, this could cause another dog to react, which could lead to a fight. If you have a shy dog, you don't want to make them more fearful or stressed by bringing them to the park.
Know the rules of the park
Every park has different rules so read them before you go. Some, for instance, may not allow you to bring your dog's toys or treats, as it could cause issues with other dogs, McConnell says. And your dog may not even want those to begin with—here are 19 things your dog actually wants from you.
Pack water and a bowl so that your dog has access to clean water. Along with keeping your pup hydrated, you'll be giving your dog a chance to touch base with you. "It encourages your dog to take breaks and check in with you during their playtime," Fritzell says. Also, the water facilities in parks are an excellent way for dogs to pass around illnesses like kennel cough, adds McConnell.
Don't give treats to other dogs
If the park does allow treats, give them at appropriate times and only to your dog. You don't want to hand them out in the presence of unfamiliar dogs, as it could lead to aggression and guarding, Fritzell says. Plus, some dogs may have food allergies. Surprised? Then you should read up on these 50 other things your vet probably hasn't told you.
Keep your first visit short and sweet
You want your dog to have positive associations with the dog park, which is why it's best to keep that first visit short. Go at a time when the park is quieter and let your dog get used to the setting. If there are other dogs around and your pup is interested, let them causally interact, McConnell says.
Always, always pick up your dog's poop
This should be a no-brainer no matter where you are but especially when you're at the park. "Beyond being a courteous and respectful gesture, picking up after your dog also prevents the spread of common bacteria and parasites," Fritzell says.
Don't ignore your dog
Socializing with other dog owners is a big perk of the dog park, but keep a sharp eye on your pooch at the same time. Also, if you see a lot of the people standing around and talking or even just talking on their phones, proceed with caution. "They could be missing warning signs that play is getting too rambunctious or specific dogs might not be getting along," Fritzell says. Also, if you see somebody bringing in several dogs, you may want to skip the park until they leave, as it's difficult to watch the behavior of so many dogs at once. That's just one of the pro-tips that dog trainers won't tell you for free.
Don't wait to remove an uncomfortable pooch
Always pay attention to how your dog is behaving, who your dog is playing with and where your dog is. If your dog seems uncomfortable or overexcited, or she is getting chased by another dog or is simply not enjoying the park, leave so that nothing bad happens, McConnell says. Do the same if your dog is being aggressive or getting too wound up.
Respond to your dog's body language
To help identify if your dog is enjoying the experience, focus on their body language, namely posture. Look for a relaxed body language like a loosely wagging tail, no physical tension and maybe even a play bow. Signs that indicate a scared or uncomfortable dog include a low or tucked tail, raised hair, hunched back, crouching close to the ground, and ears pinned back. Fearful dogs might also pull back their lips and show teeth with a snarl or hide behind somebody they trust. If you see these behaviors in your dog or others, take a break from the park and try again another time or consult a certified professional dog trainer for guidance, Fritzell adds. If your dog is acting this way toward other dogs, also be on the lookout for these 15 signs that your dog is secretly mad at you.
Avoid the 3 Ps: packing, possession, provoking
When gauging if your dog is doing OK at the park, three variables can come into play: The first is "packing," which is when multiple dogs are together. "While we want our dogs to play, we want to make sure they're not packing, as it can be intimidating to other dogs that aren't part of the pack," McConnell says. Dogs can also become very excited in a pack, and that could lead to fights. If packing is happening, lead your dog away to a more neutral area. Possession is the next one: If your dog is possessive or protective of you or of a stick, then any dog or person who approaches could cause your dog to react badly. Finally, if your dog is provoking—consistently going after other dogs or causing trouble, it's a good sign your pup is too excited and should leave.
Don't interrupt positive play
If your dog loves to play with other dogs, be encouraging of this positive, healthy behavior. Just keep an eye on the play so that you can spot and prevent any issues from happening. Well-mannered play includes bouncy movements, play bows, and taking turns while wrestling, Fritzell says. If you see excessive barking or stiff body language and raised fur on any of the dogs at the park, that means things probably aren't going too well, and you should take your dog out of the situation as a precaution. Giving bad commands is one of the 53 mistakes all dog owners make.
Don't keep your pup on a leash
Although you should leash dog while walking to the park, never leave that leash on your dog in the park. "The presence of a leash can be a major stressor," says Fritzell. "It prevents them from moving away from other animals and can result in a feeling of being trapped, which can lead to aggressive or defensive behavior."
Accept that the park isn't for everybody
If you've got a pup who doesn't do well at the park or prefers not to be around other dogs, no worries. "Each animal is different, and some will enjoy it more than others," Fritzell says. Go for a hike in a remote area or walk along a new route instead. You can get to know your pet even better with these 13 unbelievable (and helpful!) facts you never knew about your dog.