Dog parks play an important role in the socialization of your canine companion. But anywhere you go (whether it’s with fido or without), there are going to be unwritten rules: stand to the right of the escalator and walk on the left; let people get off the metro before you get on; don’t microwave fish at the office.
There are unwritten rules at the dog park, too. Some are more obvious than others, like those based on common courtesy. Others are designed to ensure all guests (four-legged or otherwise) are safe at all times. While we’ll be sharing tips on dog park etiquette that fall into both of these categories, it’s those of the latter that will help you avoid dog bites… a bad situation that can quickly turn into a nightmare scenario for any owner.
Here are the unwritten rules of the dog park that everyone should follow:
- Doodoo do’s and don’ts. Always pick up after him or her. Most dog parks will have plastic bags and a waste receptacle handy so that you can quickly take care of any messes your dog makes. Leaving a canine landmine behind for someone else to step in is not only a major breach of social etiquette, but is just plain unhygienic as well. Don’t think it will go unnoticed by the other owners.
- Watch your dog. The dog park is not a daycare that you can drop your doodle off at while you run errands, nor is it the time or place for you to chat up the cutie with the corgi. You need to remain attentive at all times to call your dog back to you the second you sense trouble, to break up a fight, or to pick up after her once she’s done her business.
- Make sure s/he’s vaccinated. Unvaccinated dogs pose a health risk to all the other pets at the park. Just like humans, dogs have their own communicable diseases too. Similarly, don’t bring your pup out to be socialized if they haven’t received preventative treatments for fleas, ticks, heartworm, etc. Those mosquitoes really do bother.
- Don’t bring the puppy. Yes, we know, he’s so cute… but a dog park is not the place for your puppy to learn socialization for the first time. Puppies tend to bite and nip, which can be very annoying to older dogs. It’s best to wait until your dog is at least 6 months old and has already been properly socialized before thinking about bringing them.
- Bring your own water/bowl. Many parks have communal water bowls for the pups to drink out of, but just like you wouldn’t want to share a glass with everyone in Central Park, your dog probably shouldn’t either. You don’t know how long that water has been sitting there, or whether the dog that last drank from it was sick, and you really don’t want to find out.
- Don’t let the play get out of hand. Sometimes dogs get scrappy with one another. This is perfectly normal, but if the play starts to get particularly aggressive, or evolves into an all out fight, you need to know how to break it up. Here’s what WebMD recommends you do if things get out of hand:
- “Give it a moment. Most doggie duels end as quickly as they started.”
- “If they go at it for more than a few seconds, try to squirt them with a hose or water pistol, or use a long stick to push them apart. Don’t step in with your hands or body.”
- “If they’re still fighting after about 3 seconds, you and the other owner should approach the dogs from the rear. Gently grab their back legs at the top of the leg and lift them up like a wheelbarrow then start moving back. Don’t reach for the collar. Your dog could bite you by reflex.”
- Keep your leash on you. You won’t be able to regain control of your dog and make a hasty exit if you’ve left your leash at home. Whether it’s a case of your dog being overly aggressive with another, or vice versa, you need to be prepared. This also means your dog should never go to the park without a collar. To that end, consider the worst case scenario: someone leaves the gate open, and your best friend breaks loose.
- Learn to read dog behavior. For these, we go to a series of dog park posters from the The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IIABC):
The Bottom Line:
Dogs are pack animals. It’s why they need socialization just as much as we humans do. A dog park is the perfect place for your dog to not only exercise, but to get in some great playtime and maybe meet some fellow furry friends. But they are also places that are not without their pitfalls. If one of the other four-legged guests at the park becomes aggressive, there’s a chance they might get bitten. There’s also the possibility that your dog could catch something that isn’t a ball or frisbee. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to the dog park. It just means you should be prepared, and stay aware.
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Check Out These References for Further Reading:
Dog Park Etiquette: 7 Rules for a Well-Behaved Pet, Page 1.” WebMD. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
“Dog Park Etiquette: 7 Rules for a Well-Behaved Pet, Page 2.” WebMD. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
“California Dog-Bite Laws.” NOLO.com. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
“Dog Posters.” IIABC. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
“Common Dog Behavior Issues.” ASPCA. Retrieved 28 February 2020.