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Dog Park Etiquette: Is Your Dog Ready?

Dogs at a dog park

If you think your dog could benefit from a trip to the dog park, then it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with some basic dog park 101, dos, and don'ts. Dog parks are a great place for pups to be social, play, and blow-off steam. Plus, they can be an excellent way for you to meet fellow dog lovers and establish some regular pup playdates. However, if you're going to bring your pooch to the park, ensure you and your canine companion know how to be model guests by staying up-to-date on dog park etiquette.

Pros and Cons of Going to the Dog Park

Like most things, a visit to the dog park has its good points and not-so-good points. It's up to you as a responsible pet parent to know what the pros and cons are and decide if going to the dog park is right for you and your pup.

Dog Park Pros

  • Socializing with Other Dogs - Dog parks are an excellent way for dogs to interact with other pups and be social. However, it’s essential that you socialize your pup properly before introducing him to the dog park; the park is not the place to work on socialization. 
  • Bonding Time with Your Pup - You and your pup can have some fun bonding and playing together when you visit the park. Of course, your dog is simply happy to be with you no matter where you are, but a dog park provides ample space to interact with your dog off-leash.
  • Exercise - Obviously, the ability to run around off-leash also gives your pup plenty of exercise, far beyond what he could get on a walk around the block.  
  • Stimulation - Many dog parks include various features like doggy tunnels, hurdles, and other equipment that can add some challenging and stimulating tasks to your pup’s day.

Dog Park Cons

  • Health Issues - A dog park can be a prime place for your dog to pick up a slew of bacteria and parasites, fleas, and things like tick bites, which can cause Lyme Disease. You can combat some of this by ensuring your pup is up-to-date on all of his vaccinations and giving him monthly flea, tick, and heartworm prevention. Also, don’t let your pup drink from any communal water bowl. Instead, bring a doggy dish from home that you can fill as needed at the water station. Some parks require visitors to register and show proof of vaccinations before they can use the park. Sometimes, they may even charge a small annual fee. However, steps like this can ensure a healthier and safer environment for your pup to play.
  • Potential Accidents and Injuries - When you put many dogs together, it’s not uncommon for accidents to happen. A fight can break out, a dog can get hurt, or you can end up with a dog bite yourself. Although many doggy duels end as quickly as they start, some can get pretty nasty and scary and require intervention. When this happens, it can result in injury to both dogs and humans.
Dog on leash

Dog Park Dos

Before you head to the park, make sure you're ready to practice proper dog park etiquette.

Ensure you do these things when enjoying the dog park:
  • Clean up after your dog. Many dog parks provide poop-pick-up stations, but it’s always a good idea to bring your own waste disposal bags, just in case. 
  • Try to visit the park when it’s not super busy. If a park is overcrowded, there’s more potential for problems. 
  • Make sure you take the time to train and socialize your dog. Dog parks are not the place to train your pup or let him get used to other dogs. This needs to happen prior to your first dog park adventure. 
  • Ensure your dog is current on all of his vaccinationsThis helps protect your pup and other dogs, too, from diseases like Rabies and Parvo, among others.
  • Bring your own water bowl for your pup. Using a communal bowl can spread bacteria, disease, and other parasites. If you don’t want to carry too much with you, consider a collapsible travel bowl
  • Enter slowly and remove your pup’s leash. Most dog parks feature a double-gated entry for safety. Before you enter the park, wait for the area to be clear, then go through the first gate. Give your pup (and the other dogs) some time to adjust to your dog’s arrival, then go through the second gate. As soon as you get in the park, take off your dog’s leash, so he feels free to roam.
  • Watch your dog. While the dog park might be a good place to meet a fellow dog owner with the perfect playmate for your pup, it’s not the place for you to socialize. Your eyes should be on your dog at all times, so you can recognize any possible signals that he is nervous, uncomfortable, or just wants to go home. For example, if your small pup would rather hang out between your legs then run around, it’s probably best to leave. Some parks have separate areas for large dogs and small dogs, so if your pup seems nervous, try staying in the small dog area and see if that changes things.
Dog taking treat

Dog Park Don'ts

It’s also important to know what you shouldn’t do when you head to the dog park:
  • Don’t bring treats or toys with you. Not all dogs get the idea of sharing. It’s best to keep food items out of the park to avoid issues. You could try and bring a ball or Frisbee with you; just be aware of nearby pups that might want to get in on the action.
  • Don’t bring young children with you. Not all dogs get along well with young children, and that’s okay because a dog park is a place for dogs to play, not kids. In fact, many dog parks have rules about not permitting children under a certain age, sometimes as old as 16. Think about it, most kids’ playgrounds have rules about no pets, so it’s only fair that dogs get the same courtesy.
  • Don’t remove your dog’s collar. Yes, a dog park is supposed to be fenced-in so your dog can’t run away, but sometimes, a pup escapes. Make sure your dog has proper identification in case he gets away from you.
  • Don’t forget your pup’s leash. Even though a dog park’s whole idea is to let dogs run off-leash, you still need to have a leash handy. You never know when you have to get your dog out of a situation quickly. Plus, your dog should be on a leash on his way to and from the park, anyway. 
  • Don’t assume every pup wants to play. If an owner is having a good time with her dog, she might want to keep things just the way they are. Don’t assume your dog can just play with any dog in the dog park. It’s always polite to ask permission first. If you do find a pooch that seems to get along really well with your pup, share contact information with the owner to set up some future playdates, either at the park or elsewhere.

Don't Take Your Pup to the Dog Park If…

Even if you're the poster child for perfect park behavior, some pups are better off steering clear of the dog park, typically due to health and safety reasons. If any of the following describe your pooch, the dog park might not be the best option:

  • Puppies younger than four months
  • Dogs in heat
  • Dogs that are not spayed or neutered
  • Unvaccinated dogs or dogs with an infectious illness
  • Dogs that are not adequately trained or socialized
  • Dogs that are not on any type of heartworm or flea prevention
  • Senior dogs that could get hurt by an overly rambunctious pup
  • Dogs that have ever shown any type of aggression

With the right know-how, a trip to the dog park can be a great way to spend time with your pup and let him have some fun. However, if you find that the dog park isn’t a good fit for your pooch, that’s fine, too. There are all sorts of ways to bond and play with your beloved canine companion! For more ideas, check out the rest of our blog; you’ll find loads of tips and resources to help you take the very best care of your pet.

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