Dog Park Etiquette 101

Dog Park Etiquette 101

Most of us have a basic understanding of the dog park – our dogs get the chance to play with their canine friends while we catch up with our favorite pet parents. It’s generally a fun, easy trip to the park that everyone enjoys. But the dog parks do have specific — and important — rules. In most cases, these rules are posted at the entrance of the dog park. These rules have been designed and posted to ensure good manners and help safety for every visitor, making it important to know the do’s and don’ts of the dog park. Below are a few rules you should follow every time you and your pooch visit the park.

Dog Park Do’s

Make sure your dog is protected by a current vaccination schedule and parasite control. Your pup should be up to date on rabies, distemper and kennel cough vaccines and protected by flea, tick and intestinal parasite control. Not only will your diligence in these areas protect you and your pet, it will also protect other animals from infections and infestations. Talk to your vet to determine if additional precautions, such as leptospirosis or canine influenza vaccines, might be necessary based on your location and increased risks.

Keep your dog on leash until he is within the designated, enclosed off-leash area. Your off-leash dog may scare a leashed dog that is not ready to visit the dog park when he runs up to say hello, creating a tense and potentially dangerous situation. It is also safer for your dog – the dog park is a safe, enclosed space where your dog can roam, but outside of that enclosure, your unleashed dog may dart out in front of a car in a busy parking lot, with tragic consequences.

Remove your dog’s leash before allowing him to join the other dogs to play. Most dog parks provide a holding pen at the entrance where you can safely remove your dog’s leash. Prohibiting leash use in the park’s play areas generally reduces aggressive behavior. Off-leash dogs are more likely to use appropriate body language to discourage unwanted interactions or run away from a dog that seems threatening than dogs restricted by a leash. Also, some dogs can become protective of their humans when they are tethered together, which can cause a normally happy go lucky pup to become aggressive.

Teach your dog to enter the dog park in a calm, orderly manner. If your pup is over excited and reactive, he may affect the other dogs in the part and make aggressive behavior more likely. Take the time to teach your dog how to relax and enter the park without making a fuss.

Dog Park in Charlottesville, VirginiaRestrict your dog’s play to size-appropriate areas. Many dog parks are divided into play areas for small and large dogs, and it’s important to keep your pup in the right section. While your small dog may get along with larger dogs in other places (or vice versa), the dog park isn’t your backyard. Larger dogs can unintentionally injure a small dog, even if they only intend to play. Be respectful of other dogs and if necessary, make sure your dog stays away from dogs who may not be a match in play.

Keep unneutered/unspayed dogs away from the park. Or at the very least, watch your dog carefully and monitor his or her behavior. Unaltered dogs, especially females in heat, can be the source of conflicts between other dogs. More importantly, unmonitored interaction between unaltered dogs can increase the risk of unintentional mating and subsequent puppies.

Pick up your dog’s poop. Cleaning up your dog’s mess is good manners, and in most jurisdictions it is the law to pick up after your dog. It prevents other guests, dogs, and you from stepping in an unpleasant surprise. Picking up after your dog also helps to protect against the spread of parasites.

Dog Park Don’ts

Don’t take your new puppy to the dog park. Puppies not ready for the park — or any high-traffic areas — until they are at least 12 to 16 weeks of age and have had all scheduled vaccinations. Talk to your veterinarian to see when the time is right for your puppy to visit the park.

Don’t take young children, toddlers or babies with you. The size and lack of experience children show with dogs can create a dangerous environment for the child and the dog. Overly excited dogs may unintentionally knock over or injure a child in greeting or play. Some dogs are afraid of children and may react aggressively to a child’s attempt to make friends. No matter what the scenario may be, the risks to a child in the dog park can be significant.

Don’t take your dog’s toys or bones to the park. A dog that guards can become aggressive with certain items — including food, rawhides, or toys — and can pose a risk if he feels like his belongings are threatened. Leave your dog’s favorite things at home and consider that a dog that exhibits guarding tendencies may not be able comfortable at a dog park where toys like tennis balls or Frisbees are allowed.

Dog-Friendly Park in CharlottesvilleDon’t allow yourself to be distracted. Talking on your phone, texting, emailing and Facebooking are all bad ideas at the dog park. Your dog should be actively supervised at all times, even when you are talking with the other pet parents or greeting one of your dog’s friends. And of course it goes without saying – never, ever allow your dog to be unattended in the park, even for a moment.

Don’t bring a hyper, pent-up dog to the park. When your dog is overzealous, his interactions can cause other dogs to feel threatened. If your dog is extremely excitable, take him for a long walk or run, or play fetch in the yard before you head to the park. Burning off some energy can help get him ready to play nicely with his friends.

Don’t allow your dog to mount other dogs. Mounting or “humping” can be part of normal play, but many dogs and their humans react poorly to the behavior, resulting in possible aggressive responses — from the dog and his human. It can also be a sign of dominance which may result in a power struggle. Instead, redirect your dog or remove him from the park if his humping becomes a nuisance.

Don’t make the dog park part of your plan to socialize an aggressive dog. Dogs with aggressive tendencies toward people or other dogs should never be taken to the dog park. Period. Introducing an aggressive dog to a park rarely resolves the problem; instead, it puts other dogs and people at risk. If you are worried about your dog’s aggressive behavior, seek professional guidance from a trainer or your veterinarian to deal with the issue and avoid the dog park until it has been resolved.

Don’t get in the middle of a dog fight. This is a good way to get bitten — in the midst of an aroused state, your dog (or someone else’s) may unintentionally injure you. Dogs may also see you as a threat and focus their aggression toward you. Rather than jumping in between two fighting dogs, use other tactics for breaking up a dog fight, like a squirt gun, dumping water on them, or shaking a noisy object like a can filled with pennies.

With a little respect and some attention to the rules, the dog park can be a great place for you and your pup to enjoy some outside time and reconnect with friends. Remember your manners, and have a great time!