Dog Park Etiquette
Dog parks can be a great place to let your dog burn off some energy, socialize, and just be a dog, but it's not all fun and games if the humans don't follow dog park etiquette. Etiquette is not the same as parks' official rules, which can differ from park to park and may not cover some important courtesies like those listed below.
Ensure Proper Health
Dogs who are not spayed or neutered should not go to the dog park. Also make sure your dog is current on all his vaccinations before you bring him. If your dog is ill, don't go to the park and spread germs.
Keep Treats at Home
Don't bring food for you or your dog to the park. You don't want to cause a fight if several dogs all want the same tasty treat. The same may apply to toys. If another dog tries to play with your dog's favorite toy, your dog could become protective of his property and react aggressively.
Separate by Size
All dog parks should have separate areas for large and small dogs. If the park just has one large area, then consider bringing your dog when there are fewer visitors.
Secure the Gate
Fully close any gates as you enter and leave the park. If you are already in the park and someone new is arriving, keep your dog from rushing the gate. The newcomer should have some space to enter calmly and safely.
Watch Your Dog at All Times
Be an advocate for your dog. If he is large and playful, step in to control him when he is overwhelming another dog. Conversely, don't let other dogs bully your dog. If you see a situation that might lead to a fight, or if your dog is unhappy, remove him from the situation immediately. Don't wait for the other owner to act or wait to see if the situation will settle itself.
Perfect the Recall
Train your dog to come when you call him, regardless of distractions. A reliable recall can prevent a potential fight and is more effective than trying to reach your dog before there's trouble.
Respect Other Visitors
Some dogs like to take their time meeting other dogs. If another owner asks you to restrain your dog, don't get defensive; honor her request. Always be willing to redirect your dog's attention or to leash your dog for a while if play is getting out of hand.
Ignore Your Ego
Don't have an "I was here first" mentality. It's your responsibility to keep your dog safe. If you know that he doesn't get along with a particular dog, remove your dog from the situation. Go to the park when the other dog is not there. If that dog arrives, then leave; if that dog is already in the park, go home and come back at a different time.
Cleaning up after your dog is pretty much a universal dog park rule, and many parks even supply bags and trash bins for this purpose. Even if the park doesn't display this rule, it's good manners to pick up after your dog wherever you take him.
The Bottom Line
You are responsible for your dog. It's up to you to protect him and keep him from threatening or aggravating other dogs. Following these guidelines will ensure that all pups and owners will have a safe and fun dog park experience.
Susan M. Ewing has been a dog expert since 1977. She owned and operated a boarding kennel, participates in shows and dog performing events, and is affiliated with the Dog Writers Association of America, and has written professionally since 1964.