Tips for Fun (and Safety) at the Dog Park

Now that spring is here (and summer is rapidly approaching!), dog parks are coming alive with the sounds of frolicking pups. For many dogs, these off-leash parks are an important part of their social lives and great sources of exercise.

Sadly, dog parks aren't for everyone. Dogs with aggression issues or poor social skills aren't good candidates for the dog park. However, if your dog is friendly and enjoys playing with other dogs, they can be terrific outlets for pent-up physical and mental energy. Like any social gathering, though, there are rules governing off-leash parks that everyone should know before taking their dogs to them.


Dog Park Basics

The first thing you need to do if you want to take Fido to the dog park is locate dog parks near you and find out what rules and requirements each one has. For example, some dog parks have fees (that usually go toward its maintenance), vaccine requirements, and more - including written rules governing behavior while physically at the park. Luckily, you can find many of these things online!

Of course, the written rules for expected behavior are also usually posted at or near the park's entrance, so if you can't find any information online, go to the park and take a look. The major rules usually boil down to "play nice" and "clean up after your dog." There are many others, though, including rules about leashes, toys, food, and more. It pays to know exactly what you're getting into before bringing Fido - setting expectations up front ensures everyone has as good a time as possible.

While you're there scoping out the park, pay attention to how dogs and owners are actually behaving - are they following the rules? Do the dogs play well with each other? What about the owners?

If everything looks good and you're comfortable bringing your best furry friend there, there's just one more question to ask yourself: "is my dog ready for the dog park?"


Who Should NOT Visit the Dog Park

Sadly, some dogs just aren't ready for the dog park. How do you know, though?

  • First, puppies less than 4 months old shouldn't go to dog parks. The reason is that they aren't completely vaccinated until they're about 16 weeks (or 4 months) old and, so, are at risk for catching communicable diseases.
  • Second, dogs in heat should not visit the dog park. In-heat females can start fights among male dogs (even neutered male dogs, sometimes) competing for her attention - and no one wants a fight at the dog park!
  • To go with our first point, any dog who shows signs of illness should stay away. Contagious diseases like kennel cough and canine influenza can spread like wildfire among a group of dogs. While many dog parks require vaccinations for these diseases, the fact is, sometimes dogs catch bacterial and/or viral infections, anyway. Besides, you probably don't like going out socializing when you don't feel well. Why would Fido?
  • Additionally, any dog with aggression issues (or is very fearful) should stay away. Dog parks are meant for well-socialized dogs. If your dog has trouble peacefully and happily interacting with other dogs, your first step is to discuss your dog’s behavior with your veterinarian and reach out to a trainer who specializes in dog aggression.
  • Finally, if your dog doesn't respond to basic obedience commands like come, sit and stay, you should wait to visit the dog park. Spend the time continuing Fido's training, instead - it will give you more time to bond and will improve Fido's safety when you're out and about.


Additional Rules of the Dog Park (Besides Cleaning Up)

There are a few other things you'll want to do to make sure everyone has a good time at the dog park.

  • First, keep an eye on your dog. When play gets overly rough, intervene. You don’t want it to result in injury - which can happen even in friendly play - or an all out dog fight. So pay attention and don’t get so involved in conversation that you ignore your pup.
  • Leave the food (including treats) in the car or at home. Food at the dog park can create aggression (resource guarding) among some dogs. Even if yours is friendly and happy to share, you don’t know who else is there and whether they have dietary restrictions. (Treats and food are against some dog parks' rules.)
  • Make sure your dog is being polite, to people and other dogs, alike. While the park is supposed to be fun, that doesn't mean Fido can run completely wild. Just as you wouldn't want to see your pup being bullied by other dogs (or people), you don't want Fido to be the culprit, either.
  • Don’t pick up your dog. If your dog is smaller than the others and you see he’s being bullied, don’t pick him up. That’s an invitation to the bigger dog to jump on you to get to your pup. Instead, calmly invite your dog to walk away with you. (This is where good training is helpful. Trust us, your dog will thank you.)
  • Leave favorite toys at home. Not every dog loves to share, and even the friendliest may get suddenly possessive of his/her ball if it’s in the mouth of a stranger.

Remember, dogs are like toddlers. They require (and appreciate) your guidance, and it’s up to you to keep them safe. Not sure if your dog is ready for the dog park? Err on the side of caution and consult your veterinarian. 

Need to make an appointment? Give us a call or fill out our online form!


Blog Category: