Dog Park Behavior and Etiquette Tips
Before You Go
Choosing a Park
There are all kinds of dog parks. Some are situated in open areas, some
include walking trails through the woods, and some are located at beaches or
near lakes. Some are enclosed by fences and others aren’t. Some parks are
formal-recognized by a city or county, with rules created and enforced by a
board or committee. Others are just areas where people gather informally to let
their dogs play.
Ideal Dog Park Features
Though they vary in design and terrain, the best dog parks should have a few
Enough space for normal interaction The area should be big enough
for dogs to run around and space themselves out. If there’s not enough square
footage available, a park can easily get crowded. Crowding can lead to tension
among dogs and, as a result, fights can erupt.
Secure fencing and gates Even if your dog reliably comes when
called, it’s safest to take her to a securely enclosed area to play off leash.
Before you let your dog run free at a dog park, make sure that fencing is
sturdy and free of holes. It’s also best if the park enclosure incorporates
double gates or an interior “holding pen” at the entrance, so people and their
dogs can enter and exit without accidentally letting other dogs slip out of the
Clean-up stations A dog park should have trash cans and bags
available for people to clean up after their dogs.
Water and shelter Especially in warmer climates, exercising dogs
should have access to both drinking water and shade.
A separate area for small dogs Small dogs need exercise and play
time too, but they can sometimes get injured or frightened by larger dogs. Many
dog parks designate separate areas for smaller or younger dogs so that they can
Preview the Park and Prepare
Go Alone and Observe
It’s important to visit the dog park a few times without your dog,
just to check it out in advance.
- Note the park features. Are you comfortable with them? Do they meet your
needs? Also read any posted rules and make sure you agree with them. Can you
bring treats and toys with you? Does your dog need a special license? Do you
need to pay a fee to use the dog park?
- Go to the park at different times, on different days. Note the best days
and times of day to visit. If the park’s always packed on weekend mornings or
weekdays after work, for example, you can take your dog at off-peak hours
- Observe the park-goers. Are people actively supervising their dogs or are
they letting them run amok while they chat and sip lattés? Does anyone in
particular seem to have trouble effectively controlling his or her dog? Are
there specific dogs who consistently play too roughly or fight with other dogs?
If you identify people or dogs who seem to cause problems, you can avoid
visiting the park when they’re around.
Prepare in Advance
- Think about what you’ll need to bring. Find some comfortable clothes and
shoes to wear. Put together a dog-park kit that includes essentials, like a
leash, water for you and your dog, bags for clean-up, toys and treats.
- Teaching your dog a few key skills helps keep her safe and contributes to a
more enjoyable dog-park experience for all park users. One essential skill is a
reliable recall. Please see our article, Teaching
Your Dog to Come When Called. Sit, down, stay, drop it, leave it and settle
are also very useful. For general information about dog training, please see Training
Your Dog. Don’t hesitate to contact a Certified Professional Dog Trainer
(CPDT) for group or private classes in dog training. Please see our article, Finding Professional
Help, to locate a CPDT in your area.
- It will help to train yourself, too. Learning about canine body language
and communication will help you interpret what’s going on during play and
prevent conflict before it escalates to a fight. Please see our article, Canine Body Language,
for illustrations and information about how dogs communicate.