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Dog Park Behavior and Etiquette Tips

ASPCA logoDog parks are becoming more popular all across the United States. They range in size and design but all share the same purpose: to provide a place where dogs can run freely off-leash and socialize with other dogs. Although they’re not for everyone, dog parks can benefit both people and their pets. Read on to find out if a trip to the dog park is right for you and your dog as well as what to do before you visit and once you’re there.

To Go or Not to Go

Benefits

Many behavior problems in dogs are caused by a lack of physical and mental activity. Dogs were born to lead active lives. They’ve worked alongside people for thousands of years, hunting game, herding and protecting livestock, and controlling vermin. Dogs’ wild relatives lead busy lives, too. Their days are full of hunting, scavenging, avoiding predators and complex social interaction. Most pet dogs, on the other hand, spend the majority of their time alone at home, napping on couches and eating food from bowls-no hunting or scavenging required. Many become bored, lonely and overweight. They have excess energy and no way to expend it, so it’s not surprising that they often come up with activities on their own, like unstuffing couches, raiding trash cans and gnawing on shoes.

To keep your dog happy, healthy and out of trouble, you’ll need to find ways to exercise her brain and body. If she enjoys the company of her own kind, visits to your local dog park can greatly enrich her life. Benefits of going to the dog park include:

  • Physical and mental exercise for dogs Your dog can zoom around off-leash to her heart’s content, investigate new smells, wrestle with her dog buddies and fetch toys until she happily collapses. Many dogs are so mentally and physically exhausted by a trip to the dog park that they snooze for hours afterwards.
  • Opportunities to maintain social skills Dogs are like us, highly social animals, and many enjoy spending time with their own species. At the dog park, your dog gets practice reading a variety of other dogs’ body language and using her own communication skills, and she gets used to meeting unfamiliar dogs on a frequent basis. These valuable experiences can help guard against the development of fear and aggression problems around other dogs.
  • Fun for pet parents Dogs aren’t the only ones who enjoy dog parks. People do, too. They can exercise their dogs without much effort, socialize with other dog lovers, bond and play with their dogs, practice their off-leash training skills, and enjoy the entertaining antics of frolicking dogs.

Dog Park Downsides

Despite the many benefits dog parks provide, it’s important to be aware of the risks before you decide to become a dog-park devotee:

  • Health risks Healthy, vaccinated dogs are at low risk of becoming ill as a result of visiting the dog park. There are health risks any time your dog interacts with other dogs, just as there are for us when we interact with other people. Talk to your veterinarian about the risks and whether she recommends vaccinating for Bordatella (“kennel cough”) if you become a regular park user. Fleas are everywhere-including on squirrels, rabbits and raccoons-so the key to flea control is providing adequate protection on your pet. Your dog could get injured in a fight or during overly rambunctious play. It’s highly unlikely, but small dogs could even be killed at a dog park because larger dogs sometimes perceive smaller dogs as prey.
  • Dog problems For some dogs, especially those who are naturally shy or easily overwhelmed, a visit to the dog park can be stressful. If your dog has unpleasant experiences with other dogs-if they bully or fight with her, intimidate her or just play too roughly-she might decide she doesn’t like them at all! She could start growling, barking, snarling, snapping and lunging to drive other dogs away, and even biting if they approach.
  • People problems Everyone has a different perspective, and some people have strong opinions about dog behavior. Pet parents don’t always agree about what’s normal dog behavior, what’s acceptable during play, what kind of behavior is truly aggressive, which dog behaviors are obnoxious, whether or not one dog is bullying another or who’s at fault in an altercation. People might argue about how to respond when problems between dogs arise. Since there’s rarely an authority figure to appeal to at a dog park, disagreements can get heated and result in human behavior problems!

WebMD Veterinary Reference from ASPCA Virtual Pet Behaviorist

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