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Dog Park Etiquette 101

Three dogs on bench at the dog park

Dog parks are popping up all over the place these days. Every major city has at least one, and hundreds of towns of all sizes now have parks where dogs are free to roam off leash. These grassy confines usually offer amenities such as toys, obstacle courses, fresh drinking water and areas reserved specifically for pets to “do their business.” There are also strict rules about how canines and humans alike should behave at dog parks. If all pet owners respect these rules, taking your pup to the park can be an enriching experience. Inevitably, however, you’ll run into some pet parents who don’t think the rules apply to them. That’s when you run into problems and your dog can be injured or banned from the area. To prevent this, always be aware of the general rules of dog park etiquette as well as those specific to the location.

Be Prepared

Before Fido’s first trip to the dog park, practice all of his commands with him several times a day so that he’s reminded of what good behavior is and to ensure that other dogs and their owners won’t be on the defensive. Take treats and fresh water for your dog. While many parks offer fresh water, if the water bowls are empty, your dog could quickly become dehydrated. Always make sure your dog has his rabies tags on his collar and that you have his vaccination records handy in case of an incident. Know your dog’s moods and be ready to respond to any cues – verbal or non-verbal – that tells you he is tired or needs to be removed from the park.

Dog Park Basics

There are some rules that every dog park has regarding behavior. Keep these in mind any time you visit, as these are non-negotiable.

  • Do not take your dog off his leash until he has calmed down a bit and is ready to meet other dogs without getting overly excited.
  • Know the difference between canine play and actual aggression. Some degree of playful nipping or biting is normal. If a dog’s skin is broken, however, it is time to immediately stop a play session and get your dog (or the other dog) treated properly.
  • Never offer dog treats to someone else’s pet. You don’t know what kind of diet it is on, whether it has food allergies, etc. You may also trigger protective food behavior that could lead to problems.
  • Never leave your dog at the park while you take a walk or run errands. You must be available immediately at all times if you let your dog off the leash.
  • Make sure Fido will return to you when you call, even if he sees something fascinating that captures his attention.
  • Be sure your dog knows how to properly greet other dogs and people. Jumping up and putting both front paws on another person’s legs or chest is NOT an appropriate greeting.
  • Don’t assume that there will be dog poo bags and a disposal container for your dog’s waste. While many dog parks do offer these amenities, you may be there on the one day that they aren’t restocked, so take several poo bags with you and always clean up after your best friend. If there is no appropriate container to dispose of it, take it with you and dispose of it at home.

Behavior Issues at Dog Parks

No matter how well-behaved your dog is at home or in familiar surroundings, once he gets to the dog park, his excitement and desire to play may kick into overdrive. Be sure you can control his behavior appropriately:

  • Keep boisterous, overly excited dogs under control. That means no jumping onto people and no assurances that, “Oh, he’s just playing!” If the person in question doesn’t look like she’s enjoying your bestie’s behavior, rein your dog in and apologize profusely.
  • If your pet is particularly shy or doesn’t like to be petted by strangers, make sure he is wearing an appropriate harness that clearly says, “Do Not Pet,” or something similar. This doesn’t mean you get a free pass to not watch him. Keep a dog with these kinds of issues close to you at all times and be vigilant.
  • Never let your dog charge up to a dog that is on a leash. Many times, a canine is leashed within the dog park because it is either nervous or reactive. Respect their boundaries.
  • If there are water bowls available for the animals in the dog park, make sure your pet understands that he has to share with others. Don’t let him splash the water out of the bowl or try to protect it.
  • If another dog is on leash, be sure to ask his owner whether your dog can play with him, then introduce them while your dog is still on leash so that you can quickly remove either one from the situation if an introduction doesn’t go well.

If you follow the advice above and keep a close eye on your dog while he’s making friends and playing with other canines, your trip to the dog park should be a rewarding one for both you and your best friend.

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