Dog Park Etiquette: How to be Safe

Behavior & training
three tan dogs playing at dog park

On the right day, a dog park can be a utopia. Dogs frolicking, chasing, slobbering, burning off their pent-up energy. Some, if not most, dog parents follow dog park rules and etiquette, making it a fun experience for all. But, if you happen to meet up with a dog or owner who is a novice or chooses to ignore the rules, it can put a damper on the day, and can even be downright dangerous.

Dog Park Rules

Knowing the rules of a dog park and how to address potential safety issues are important, so let’s review the ways to keep dog parks good for dogs.

  • Always keep your dog’s collar on, and keep a leash in hand, in case you need to get your dog under control. A safety collar is best; don’t use prong or pinch collars at the dog park.

  • Supervise your dog at all times so you can see their behavior, the actions of the dogs around them, and know when you need to clean up after them

  • Watch for signs that your dog is feeling overwhelmed or bullied. It’s better to leave and go for a walk than risk an incident. Don’t stay to “let them work it out,” take it as a sign to head out for a walk instead. Try hitting the park when fewer dogs are there to avoid overstimulating your pet

  • Leave food and treats in the car because these resources can trigger aggressive behavior

  • Carry dog aggression spray, like Halt. If everyone behaves, you’ll never need it, but it could save a life if things get ugly

  • Children or people at risk of injury should skip the dog park and work on other bonding activities, like clicker training at home

Are dog parks safe?

After those scary rules, you’re probably wondering if dog parks are safe. Certainly, it can be a good source of exercise and socialization but not all dogs should go to the dog park.

  • Dogs who have not been properly socialized with other dogs should not go to the dog park. Not only is it dangerous, but it’s unfair to your dog to put them in such an overwhelming position in the name of fun. If your dog has a history of resource guarding, aggression, or failure to come when you call them, the dog park is just setting them up for failure

  • Small dogs should only visit “small dog” parks or go when the park is empty to avoid potentially getting hurt. Don’t hesitate to leave with your small dog if a larger dog arrives

  • Under no circumstances should pregnant or in heat female dogs visit the dog park

When can a puppy go to a dog park?

Firstly, puppies should be at least 12 weeks old, though some would argue this is still too young. At a minimum, your puppy needs to be fully vaccinated, as there is no guarantee the rest of the dogs are up to date. Check with your vet to make sure it’s safe.

Secondly, there is an expression that a “dog park can ruin a good dog.” If your puppy’s first exposure to doggie playtime is with unruly, rude, or aggressive dogs, it can instill in them lifelong fear, aggression, or other undesirable behaviors. If you insist on socializing a puppy, seek out puppy classes with a positive reinforcement trainer, or do a one on one meet up with a friendly dog that you know.

I have fond memories with one of my dogs enjoying an hour or so at the dog park, but dog parks are not for every dog. Make sure a trip to the park is what your dog wants and follow all the posted rules and etiquette to set them up for a fun and safe adventure.