Dog Park Do’s and Don’ts

Dog parks have become increasingly popular in the United States, especially in metropolitan areas where backyards and open spaces for running and playing are rare. While dog parks can be great places for dogs to get some exercise and meet other furballs, they aren’t appropriate for all dogs, and they aren’t free-for-alls! If you do end up at a dog park, you should be prepared to follow some basic guidelines.

Check out these dos and don’ts to find out if your pup is a good fit for a dog park and what rules you should follow before and during a visit.

DO take your dog to the park if he or she is well-socialized.

A dog park can be a great place for a confident, well-socialized pup who loves interacting with other dogs and knows how to play nicely. A dog park is not, however, a good place to give your dog’s behavior a test drive. If you aren’t sure how your dog is going to act around other dogs, they probably aren’t ready for the dog park.

To socialize your dog and give them the confidence they deserve before entering a park, try introducing them to other dogs while on leash, arrange small group play-dates with dogs you know, and consider taking an obedience class where your dog will meet new friends and learn commands that will keep them safe.

DON’T take your dog to the park if he or she is aggressive, fearful, anxious, or undersocialized.

If your dog has a behavioral issue, taking them to the dog park can not only be dangerous, it can also make their problem worse. A fearful, anxious, aggressive, or undersocialized dog who is thrown into a new and unfamiliar environment will probably only become more fearful, anxious, or aggressive, and may even lash out. Additionally, their inappropriate behavior may cause other dogs to lash out.  If you need help with your dog’s behavioral problem, considering contacting a trainer or animal behaviorist.

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DO make sure that your dog is up to date on their vaccinations and protected from fleas.

Because so many dogs come and go at dog parks, the chances of picking up a disease or fleas are fairly high. This is why unvaccinated puppies definitely should NOT go to dog parks, and that goes for unvaccinated adult dogs, too. In addition, make sure that your dog is protected with a flea preventative, as fleas can easily pass from dog-to-dog or ground-to-dog at the park. As a rule, it’s not a bad idea to consult your veterinarian about your dog’s overall health before visiting a dog park.

DON’T take intact male dogs or female dogs who are in heat.

Intact male dogs and in-heat female dogs mixing together at a dog park not only increases the risk of accidental pregnancy, it can also lead to behavioral problems such as sex-related aggression. If you take your dog to the dog park and see a lot of intact male dogs, it’s probably a good idea to leave and go back at another time.

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DO find a good dog park.

Do your research before taking your dog to the park. Here are some great questions to find the answers to before you choose a park:

Is there enough space for a large group of dogs?
If the space is too cramped, the mood could get tense.

Are there separate areas for small and big dogs?
It is usually safest to separate the bigs from the littles to avoid injuries and the littles getting frightened.

Is the park gated and secure?
Even if your dog has good recall, it’s best to find an enclosed space where your dog won’t be able to run off.

Is there water and shade?
Especially in warmer months, your dog should have access to clean water and a cool, shady place to take a breather.

Are there clean-up stations?
Most good dog parks have trash cans and poop bags available.

DO keep an eye on your dog.

The dog park is not the place to read the newspaper or respond to emails on your phone; you should be fully engaged with what your dog is doing at all times. Look out for signs that your dog is being bullied (such as being repeatedly knocked over or chased by another dog), or that your dog is bullying, and step in if necessary and safe to do so.

Additionally, you should look out for situations that could turn into a fight. While wrestling and rolling around on the ground are normal dog behaviors, they can sometimes escalate and get serious. If you notice that the situation is becoming tense, step in and separate the dogs, but again, only if it is safe to do so. A fight that is already in motion may not be safe to enter, but you can try to use a loud sound such as clapping to distract the dogs long enough to call your dog away. Be careful not to grab a dog in the middle of a fight by the collar — they could react by biting.

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DON’T let dogs clump together too long.

When a couple of dogs or a group of dogs play together too long, the play can get intense and tensions may arise. In addition, a pack or “clique” of dogs may start bullying other dogs. To avoid these situations, move around the park and introduce your dog to other dogs. Reward your dog with a treat for following you and playing nicely with new friends.

DON’T expect other pet parents to follow all the rules.

Just because you did your homework and made sure that your dog was well-suited to the dog park doesn’t mean that all pet parents are doing the same. Many aggressive, anxious, and undersocialized dogs end up at the dog park, and it is your responsibility to keep an eye out and keep your pal safe. If you notice that the vibe at the dog park isn’t feeling quite right or you see a lot of distracted, indifferent pet parents, it may be better to leave the park and come back another time.

Do you take your dog to the dog park? Leave a comment and tell us about your experience, and consider signing up for PetPlus to save on pet medications, supplies, boarding, and more.

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3 Comments

  1. 1

    We have a yellow lab (9-years old) and a black lab (8-months old). We tried Currie Dog Park in Wauwatosa, WI, but found people do NOT watch their dogs. Also, there are MANY aggressive dogs at this park. It was not a good fit for us. So we don’t go there anymore. We have found a better (“non-official”) park where we can hike, the dogs can swim, and other dog owners have control of their pets, and the dogs are friendly.

  2. 2

    please remember not to take food or dog treats to a dogpark——I need to know what my dog is eating—is there someone giving out dog treats? also if there is food there is jealousy and aggressiveness, dangerous

  3. 3

    We took our Weimaraner to Minooka a few years ago. There were a group of dogs chasing a ball and playing together. After the third ball toss, our dog was severely bitten on his side by another dog chasing after the ball, showing jealousy. Because our dog has short fur and little to no fat on him, the two bites (large) near his abdomen required emergency surgery. His stomach lining was nicked, therefore, the possibility of bacteria and infection was high. The two bites were sew back together with a drain. He was on pain pills for a week and antibiotics for a month. His scar remains.
    The dog that bit him, the owner stated, “That wasn’t my dog. My dog on nips on the sides of other dogs.” He refused to take ownership of his dog’s aggressive behavior.
    Before this, I actually saw a lady drop her two dogs off at the dog park and left the park. She returned about an hour later to pick them up!
    You just never know what you’ll find at the park. Most of the time it’s great; however, you always have to be on guard!

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