A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

15 Dog Park Etiquette Rules Everyone Should Follow

Updated: Jan. 12, 2024

Follow these dog park etiquette rules to ensure it stays a fun—and safe—space for you and your pooch

Six dogs in a dog park, United States
meaghanbrowning/Getty Images

Dog park etiquette rules all pup parents need to keep in mind

Taking your dog on a fun trip to the dog park has numerous benefits for your four-legged best pal, including a healthy boost of socialization and exercise. You and your dog will experience all sorts of different dogs there, from large dogs that love to run to fluffy dogs that can’t help but roll around in the grass. Talk about some adorable characters! As great as the dog park sounds, there are a couple of things to keep in mind, including your own dog’s behavior (more on that later) and, of course, the dog park etiquette rules both you and Fido need to know.

Being aware of these dog etiquette rules will help keep everyone at the park safe and happy, ensuring a pawsitively wonderful experience. We’ve rounded up some of the most common etiquette rules to remember before you head out with your pup, ensuring you both are kind and courteous guests.

Get Reader’s Digest’s Read Up newsletter for more pet insights, humor, cleaning, travel, tech and fun facts all week long.

Young smiling african lady in casual clothes iron and hugging dog while sitting in park
Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

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.

A purebred German Shepherd puppy lies on the sidewalk against a wooden wall. ears to the side.looking into the camera
Kirill Gorshkov/Getty Images

Don’t take a puppy

There are several reasons not to take your puppy to the dog park, with the primary one being that the puppy isn’t fully vaccinated. It’s also a good idea to become familiar with your puppy’s 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 9 months old, McConnell says. If they’re at home, keep them busy with these brain games for dogs.

A woman feeding a rescued black Shih Tzu in the park at sunset
Ana Rocio Garcia Franco/Getty Images

Know your dog’s personality before taking them to the dog park

Dog parks can be fun for our furry pals, but they can also pose challenges—and your dog needs to be capable of handling them. The best way to check your dog’s capability is to watch how well they do 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 growling, 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. While you’re at it, find out why dogs bark at other dogs.

Pit bull dog playing in the park. Green grass, dirt floor and wooden stakes all around. Selective focus
Diego Thomazini/Getty Images

Know the rules of the dog 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. They may also have rules for pet owners, like not allowing children under a certain age in the park and not permitting smoking on the premises.

Young German shepherd dog drinking water during summer heat
Aleksandra Dabrowa/Shutterstock

Bring water

Pack water and a bowl (or even a portable dog water bottle) so your dog has access to clean water. Along with keeping your pup hydrated, you’ll give 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.

Beagle dog waiting for the food. Woman gives her Beagle the dog food.
Branislav Nenin/Shutterstock

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. And while you may occasionally spoil your pooch with human snacks, there are some common foods dogs shouldn’t eat, no matter where they are.

Dog resting on the garden
Chalabala/Getty Images

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 calm dogs around and your pup is interested, let them casually interact, McConnell says.

Garbage Can for clean parks in Linz Upper Austria
Ralf Punkenhofer/Shutterstock

Always (and we mean always) pick up your dog’s poop

This should be a no-brainer no matter where you are, but it’s especially true at the dog park. “Beyond being a courteous and respectful gesture, picking up after your dog also prevents the spread of common bacteria and parasites,” Fritzell says. Many dog parks provide dog poop bags, but it’s best to pack your own, just in case they run out.

Female Shiba Inu playing with a stick in dappled sunlight on a green grass with white daisies background in springtime, El Buen Retiro Park, Madrid, Spain, Europe.
By Eve Livesey/Getty Images

Don’t ignore your dog

Making friends 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 people standing around and talking, or even just looking at 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.

Two shepherd dogs fight on the farm
Serhii Prystupa/Getty Images

Don’t wait to remove an uncomfortable pooch

Always pay attention to where your dog is, how your dog is behaving and which dogs (and people) your dog is playing with. If your dog seems uncomfortable or overexcited, she’s getting chased by another dog or she’s simply not enjoying the park, leave promptly so that nothing bad happens, McConnell says. Do the same if your dog is being aggressive or getting too wound up.

Yorkie and black dog touching noses in park
Brian Bumby/Getty Images

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 someone they trust.

If you see these behaviors in your dog or other dogs, take a break from the park and try again another time, or consult a certified professional dog trainer for guidance, Fritzell adds.

Australian Shepherds at Play
John McKeen/Getty Images

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.

Labrador retriever and German shorthaired pointer having a tug of war, United States
meaghanbrowning/Getty Images

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 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.

Dog on lead and owner walking quickly through park alley during obedience training class
alexei_tm/Getty Images

Don’t keep your pup on a leash

Although you should leash your 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.”

three dogs smiling at the Dog Park
Jennifer A Smith/Getty Images

Accept that the park isn’t for everybody

If you’ve got a pup that 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.