Welcome to our series “Canine Safety Central,” that’s all about keeping your favorite dog safe. We’ll explore a variety of situations throughout the series and provide tips on how to help keep your dog and everyone around them safe and healthy. In this post, we talk about dog park etiquette.
The Unwritten Dog Park Rules
The local dog park is a fun and frenzied place for a dog to play and socialize with other dogs. If you’re watching this canine chaos from the outside, it may have you wondering, “Are there rules at the dog park?” Well, many dog parks post rules by the gate, but there are also a few unwritten dog park rules that everyone should follow to keep all dogs and their owners safe. It’s also important to know that not all dogs should play in a public place with other dogs.
Puppy’s First Time at the Dog Park May Need to Wait
If you’re wondering “When can puppies go to the dog park?,” it depends on each puppy. You’ll need to make sure they’ve had their full vaccination schedule, they’re up-to-date on parasite preventatives and your veterinarian has given them the all-clear. You’ll also need to make sure your puppy is well socialized. Our guide on how to socialize a dog can help you with this.
Going to the Dog Park Isn’t for Every Dog
It may seem like a good idea to many dog owners, but visiting dog parks is not the best socialization method, for either young or adult dogs. They can easily become overwhelmed with the constant attention from new friends, particularly if it’s a busy day.
If your dog is ready for group socialization, invite a small group of well-behaved dogs (who you are familiar with) to a gathering in a controlled environment like a fenced backyard. Save a trip to the park for when they’re comfortable with meeting new friends.
Keep in mind that there are some dogs who may never be comfortable around unfamiliar dogs, so should never play in a dog park. This includes dogs who are antisocial, fearful, anxious, reactive or aggressive. Our article on signs your dog is antisocial has tips on how to help antisocial dogs and how to read stressed or fearful dog body language.
Small-dog syndrome is a real thing, and some of the behaviors small dogs with this syndrome display are due to fear. It helps to make sure smaller dogs interact with larger dogs during their socialization training (and vice versa). You could also look for parks that are separated by dog sizes so that dogs who are intimidated by size can feel more comfortable playing together.
Your Dog Should Know Basic Obedience Commands
Your dog knowing basic commands is almost a necessity for visiting most dog parks. Especially convincing your dog to “come,” which will help you avoid chasing after them for ten minutes or yelling their name and constantly being ignored.
It’s also important to have some control of your off-leash dog if they’re starting to become a little rambunctious with their friends. Other people will certainly appreciate it if you’re able to rein in your boisterous dog and keep the peace. Bringing some treats, toys or other things your dog loves can help encourage your dog to come back to you.
Do a Dog Park Safety Check First
Your dog is going to be so excited to get in there and play with the other dogs. But before you let your dog play, do a safety check first. Is the fence strong and hole-free? Does the gate latch securely? If it looks like everything is a go, then remove your dog’s leash and possibly their halter so they don’t get caught up during play.
The #1 Rule for Dog Owners Is Clean Up #2s
It’s likely the first written rule of every park as well, but that’s because it’s an important one. No one wants to walk through a park trying to avoid your dog’s poop. Always make sure you have plenty of poop bags with you — don’t rely on the park to provide them. Be courteous to your fellow pet parents and canine friends; pick up waste right away and dispose of it properly.
Pay Attention to the Behavior of Your Dog and Other Dogs
It’s a good idea to only bring one dog to the park at a time. That way you can pay attention to what your dog is getting up to and whether you need to go clean up after them. Paying attention to dog behavior (and not your phone) should be your number one priority.
While you’re watching them, look at your dog’s body language. Are they cowering? Licking or panting more than usual? Are their hackles raised? You should be aware of the signs of a stressed or aggressive dog and take those signs seriously if you see them. Call your dog away at the first indication that something isn’t right.
If your dog is involved in a dog fight, do not try to separate the dogs because you can be seriously injured. Instead, make loud noises to try to distract them or find some water to spray them down.
Can Your Dog’s Health Handle the Dog Park Environment?
The dog park is the perfect place for a germ and parasite swap. There are many dogs getting up close and personal, drool is flying, and pee and poop (hopefully just remnants) are everywhere. It’s the ideal environment for spreading contagious (and some potentially deadly) diseases like parvovirus, canine influenza and kennel cough, as well as internal (e.g., intestinal worms) and external (e.g., fleas and ticks) parasites.
So before you take your dog for an off-leash play session, make sure they’re current on their vaccinations and parasite preventatives. If you’re a regular park visitor, you should ask your veterinarian about vaccinating your dog against Bordetella (a cause of kennel cough). This is a non-core vaccine, which means it’s not given to every dog.
Vaccinating your dog may not completely prevent an infection, but it will make it less likely, and if they do get an infection, the signs are likely to be milder. If you have a pup who hasn’t completed their first vaccination series yet or a sick dog who is immunocompromised, it’s best to keep them away. Of course, keeping sick dogs away from any public place is always important.
Are Dog Parks Good for Dogs?
If your dog checks all the boxes we mentioned above and will have a comfortable and safe dog park experience, it’s certainly a great place to take them. They’ll get to socialize with other active dogs and run off excess energy in a fun way.