Bringing your dog to the dog park is supposed to be a fun and safe experience for everyone, but your routine dog park trip can be ruined when people don't follow proper dog park etiquette.
Dog parks are an excellent environment to let your dog get additional exercise, socialize, and explore. The best dog parks are the ones with a respectful community of pets and people.
Finding the Right Dog Park for You
We'll get into both the well-known and the less-known rules of the dog park, but first, consider the type of dog park that would best suit you and your dog.
Most people have a favourite local dog park, but every park has a different layout and amenities, and it's own unique culture. Make sure you are going to a park that best suits yours and your dog's needs.
Finding the right dog park sometimes takes some shopping around. Check out a few parks to make sure that it has the space, security, and amenities that will enhance both yours and your dog's dog park experience.
Things like water fountains and bathrooms are a plus for you and will allow you to enjoy longer trips to the dog park.
Or you may prefer a more diverse terrain, offering walking trails, lakes, and open fields so that your dog can participate in a variety of experiences.
For dogs that are new to the dog park, and those still practicing their off-leash skills, you might consider a fenced dog park. This allows you to practice your dog's off-leash skills without the risk of him getting lost or running into traffic.
Check out a few parks to help you find the one that will be safest, and the most fun for your and your dog.
Dog Park Etiquette
When we talk about dog parks, we often think of off-leash dog parks. The rules we'll dive into are mostly specific to these types of parks, but even parks and walking trails that allow dogs on a leash still require certain etiquette to keep it a safe and welcoming place for all who use it.
Being a good dog park patron requires a little bit of common sense and a lot of courtesy. To help you show respect to your dog park and other dog owners who share the privilege of having these safe play areas for dogs and people, we broke down dog park etiquette into two categories:
- Dog park etiquette for doggy behaviour
- Dog park etiquette for people behaviour
Dog Park Etiquette for Doggy Behaviour
Some of these rules may seem obvious; some are even posted at the park, so you don't forget. Here are 10 rules that you and your dog should follow when you go to the dog park:
1. Pick up after your dog (and yourself)
This is the most obvious rule, but sometimes it gets forgotten. Don't forget your poop bags (bring more than one, just in case), but if you do, many dog parks offer complimentary poop bags.
Many cities in Canada have by-laws prohibiting leaving your pet's poop behind for someone else to pick up or step on (yuck!), or worse, for a dog to roll in or eat (double yuck!). If you get caught, you could be stuck with a hefty fine. How much are you willing to pay to get out of picking up after your dog?
If you do forget your poop bags, don't be afraid to ask a fellow pet owner for a spare. Most dog owners bring extras and will gladly donate a bag if it means you can clean up your dog's poop.
Make sure you pick up after yourself too. If you bring a coffee, make sure that the coffee cup ends up in the proper bin or bring it back home with you to dispose of. Wrappers and debris from human snacks can be irresistible to a curious pup and could be very dangerous if ingested.
2. Bring a Leash
Even if you're at an off-leash dog park, you should carry a leash with you. This will come in handy if your dog is unwilling to leave, or if he needs to be removed from a stressful situation.
Remember that dog parks may be off-leash, but the parking lot and trails may not be. Observe areas with leash requirements for the safety of your dog and others.
3. Vaccinated Dogs Only
Respect other people's pets by never bringing an unvaccinated puppy to the dog park. It often seems like a great idea to take a young pup to the dog park to make some friends and build confidence, but vaccinations are important.
Some vaccinations like rabies may even be required by law. This will keep your dog and other dogs safe, and protect your pup if he meets some wildlife friends or finds some roadkill that looks tasty.
It's also recommended not to take a sick dog to the dog park. If your dog is feeling under the weather, it's safer for him and other dogs to stay home and allow your dog to recover.
4. Collar and ID Please
Speaking of vaccinations, your dog should be wearing a collar with up-to-date rabies tags, city licenses, and personal ID.
The collar allows you to wrangle up your pet in an emergency, and his ID tags will be essential should he get lost or run into a city by-law officer.
5. Practice Good Recall
Dogs at off-leash parks need to have good recall skills. You may need to call your dog back to you from a distance, so make sure he knows your vocal commands.
6. Dogs in Heat
Dogs giving off strong pheromones, like females in heat or un-neutered males, might not be right for the dog park. This can lead to fights or other less PG-13 activities. If you do bring pets with heightened hormones, make sure you keep a close eye on them to keep them safe.
7. The Dogs per Person Rule
Never go to the dog park with more dogs than you can handle alone. A good rule of thumb is to stick to one or two dogs per person. This allows you to keep a closer eye on your dog(s) and ensure that you can control them if they need to be recalled and leash.
Additionally, showing up with a small gang of dogs can be very intimidating to other dogs at the park. Even friendly dogs can provoke or frighten other dogs if they approach them incorrectly, and it's even riskier when a group of dogs approach together.
8. Don't Give Food to Strangers
You may bring along a few tasty dog treats for your dog to encourage good recall or reward for good behaviour, but remember that other dogs will figure this out pretty quickly.
A pocket full of dog treats can make you the most popular person at the dog park, which may sound fun, but resist feeding someone else's dog without asking. You never know what kind of allergies or health problems a dog might have, or worse, it could bring out food aggression. Always, always ask first!
Think of it this way: If you brought your human child to the playground, would you want a stranger offering them unknown food? Probably not, right? Best of intentions or not, it's rude and potentially dangerous.
9. Sharing is Caring (When it Comes to Toys)
If you choose to bring a toy to the dog park, be prepared to share. In fact, be prepared to lose it entirely. Popular dog park toys, like tennis balls and frisbees, are a great activity, but your dog won't be the only one to chase down that toy.
Make sure your dog is comfortable sharing his toys and avoid bringing anything that can't be easily replaced. Toys at the dog park get easily damaged, lost, or stolen by other playful pups.
This one may seem a bit odd, but it's highly recommended. Yes, the dog park is a great place to blow off steam and stimulate your dog, but overstimulated dogs can easily get aggressive or erratic.
If your dog has been cooped up all day while you were at work, then it's best to take a short walk, play in the yard, or do some training before you head to the park. This may prevent your dog from being a complete lunatic when the leash comes off.
People Etiquette at the Dog Park
Making sure your dog is well behaved is important, but the rules apply to you too! Fostering a safe and courteous dog park environment requires you to practice good dog park etiquette. Here are some mostly obvious dog park rules for people:
1. Follow the Rules
Every dog park and every city will have at least a few posted rules to help keep everyone safe and to warn you of any by-laws that apply.
These rules are there, and enforced, for everyone's safety, so it's important to respect them and other patrons of the dog park.
2. Pay Attention
The dog park is not a free dog daycare and is not designed for dogs to run wild and unsupervised. Get off your phone (your Instafam can wait!) and pay attention to your pet.
You are responsible for your dog's safety and behaviour, so keep them in sight at all times, and be prepared to recall them if they get too far from you, or start an unpleasant interaction with another dog or some wildlife.
3. Know Your Dog
This rule ties in with paying attention. Being able to recognize your dog's body language and behaviour will allow you to prevent dangerous situations and unwanted interactions. Familiarize yourself with common dog body language and make sure you understand your dog's comfort level.
An anxious dog may thrive in smaller groups or with a dog's his own size. Putting him in a situation that causes him anxiety may trigger his fight or flight responses.
4. No Kids Allowed
This is not a hard rule or a by-law, but more of a suggestion. The dog park is a place for dogs to run and play with other dogs. Young children and loose dogs can quickly lead to disaster, so it's best not to bring young kids to the dog park unless they know how to behave around free-running animals.
Children don't recognize dog body language and often don't respect boundaries. When you are in an area with strange dogs, your child could easily get bit, knocked down, or just frightened.
5. Ask to Pet
One of the best parts about going to the dog park is that you get to interact with other dogs, too, but wait! Just because you are a dog lover, doesn't mean that the dogs at the park are people lovers.
Even if a dog runs up to you, it's always safest to ask the owner if you can pet their dog. Getting handsy with a strange dog could lead to a bite.
6. The Benefit of the Doubt
Not everyone knows the unspoken dog park etiquette that we've laid out in this article, so try not to jump to conclusions if you notice a person or their pet bending or breaking a rule.
It's easy to get frustrated when someone's actions, or lack of action, negatively affect your dog park experience but try to work it out like an adult.
Let's say you see someone leaving behind their dog's poop. Politely offer them a spare poop bag. They might have forgotten their poop bags at home and will be grateful that you were there to save the day.
Dog Park Safety
Now that you know how you and your dog should behave at the dog park, here are a few safety tips for first-time dog park goers:
1. Collars Only
All that extra gear could get damaged, or worse, your dog or another dog could get injured during a casual puppy wrestling match. Take off any extra gear before you enter the dog park and leave just your dogs collar.
There is one exemption to this rule, which is life jackets. If your dog park borders a body of water and your dog likes to swim, then a dog life jacket is recommended to keep them safe.
2. Get the Lay of the Land
If this is your first time at a dog park, it's a good idea to get to know the area before you bring your dog. Pull up a map or do a quick walk of the perimeter of the park so that you can note any entrances/exits, bodies of water, and areas with dense trees that your dog could get lost in.
Some dog parks are adjacent to busy roads, private property, and areas that require your dog to be on a leash.
3. Respect the Gate
Many dog parks, both fenced and not, have a gate or physical boundary at the entrance. This area should be treated with respect. If an actual gate is present, make sure you close the gate behind you to prevent curious dogs from wandering out of the park.
Even if it's just an open boundary, it's best not to crowd the area. Clogging up this junction can lead to unwanted interactions with leashed pets or dogs that prefer to have more personal space.
4. First Aid
Accidents happen, and minor scrapes, bumps, or bug bites are bound to happen, too. Be prepared by bringing along a pet first aid kit. Leave it in the car or carry it in a backpack. It's one of those things that you'd rather on hand just in case.
You might also want to bring along some clean-up gear. Your dog will get messy. Whether it's drool or mud, or something worse, having some Earthbath pet wipes, a Dirty Dog Shammy Towel, or a Baxter & Bella slicker brush can help to reduce the amount of dirt and debris that ends up in the car or follows you home.
Practice Common Sense
This might seem like a lot of rules, but dog park etiquette is based on plain old common sense. You probably follow these rules already, without even thinking because you have common courtesy for those around you.
If you've never taken your dog to the park before, make sure you familiarize yourself with these rules. Start small by picking days and times with less foot traffic to allow your dog to adjust to this new environment and community.
Just remember that the dog park is supposed to be a fun, respectful, and safe space for all dogs and people, not just you and your dog. Be a good dog parent and practice good dog park etiquette!
Did we miss any dog park etiquette that helps ensure a safe and respectful dog park experience? We'd love to hear them. Share them with us in the comments below!