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Dog Park Behavior and Etiquette Tips

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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 ideal features:

  • 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 park.
  • 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 play safely.

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 instead.
  • 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.

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