Dog Park Behavior and Etiquette Tips
Is the Dog Park Right for You and Your Dog?
Many people feel that the benefits of dog parks outweigh their risks. Others decide that they’re not comfortable going to dog parks. To make the best decision for you and your dog, consider the pros and cons above, read the guidelines below, and visit local dog parks without your dog just to watch and learn more.
Who Benefits Most?
- Well-socialized dogs Dog parks are best for dogs who love interacting with other dogs. They’re not for dogs who simply tolerate other dogs, dogs who only get along with certain types of dogs or dogs who routinely fight with other dogs.
- Young dogs Although adult dogs can have fun at dog parks, young dogs (under the age of two) benefit most. They can burn some of their youthful energy and gain valuable social experience with other dogs and people. Younger dogs are also more likely to enjoy multiple playmates than older dogs, who often get more picky about their friends as they mature.
- Healthy dogs To be well protected at the dog park, your dog should be fully vaccinated and have a good immune system. Since dogs do a lot of wrestling and running at the park, your dog should also be physically sound and free of chronic injuries or pain. Ask your veterinarian about your dog’s health-readiness for going to dog parks.
- Altered dogs To avoid unwanted sexual behavior at the dog park, it’s best to spay or neuter your dog before visiting the dog park.
Who’s Not an Ideal Candidate?
- Unvaccinated puppies It’s essential for young puppies to meet and interact with a variety of different dogs during their socialization period, from about 3 to 16 weeks of age. (For more information, please see our article, Socializing Your Puppy.) However, before they’ve been fully vaccinated, puppies are extremely vulnerable to potentially deadly contagious diseases, such as parvovirus. Because so many dogs frequent a dog park, the chances of exposure to dangerous pathogens are higher there. Until your puppy has had all her shots, don’t take her to the dog park. Instead, you can arrange play dates at the homes of friends and family who have healthy dogs and puppies. You can also enroll your puppy in a puppy class that includes off-leash playtime in a safe, hygienic area.
- Females in heat and unneutered males To avoid unwanted pregnancies, don’t take an unspayed female dog to the park when she’s in heat. Avoid taking an unneutered male to the dog park as well. In addition to siring accidental puppies, intact males can experience social problems. An unneutered dog’s high testosterone level can make him the target of harassment or aggression from other male dogs.
- Undersocialized, fearful, anxious or aggressive dogs Many people mistakenly believe that dogs who fear or dislike other dogs just need more socialization. However, if your dog is fearful or nervous around other dogs, exposing her to the hectic environment of a dog park will only worsen her problems. Similarly, if your dog is aggressive toward other dogs, visits to a dog park might exacerbate her behavior and put other people’s pets at risk or ruin their enjoyment of the park. If you’d like to change the way your dog behaves around other dogs, please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate a qualified expert who can assist you.
- Bullies Some dogs, because of their personalities or learning experiences, just don’t play well with others. Dogs who bully can traumatize their weaker or more timid playmates or provoke fights. If bullies are allowed to practice their behavior at the dog park, their behavior often worsens over time-and bad experiences with bullies can cause aggression problems in other dogs.
- Dog dorks Some dogs don’t bully other dogs on purpose, but they lack more refined social skills and just aren’t capable of playing politely. Despite their good intentions, they seem socially clueless. They’re usually high-energy dogs who enjoy play with lively wrestling, hard mouthing and crashing into other dogs like canine bumper cars. When their playmates dislike the rough treatment and try to communicate their desire to quit playing, these dogs don’t seem to understand. They can also hurt or upset people at the dog park if they jump up and mouth on hands, arms or legs. Because rough players can easily spoil the fun for other dogs and their people, they’re not good candidates for dog parks either.