Dog Parks 101
Updated: Jun 2, 2020
So you've heard about the benefits of visiting dog parks and you're eager to provide your pup with the socialization they crave. Here's the catch: it's up to you to make sure you're using them right. As is the case with any free public resource, dog parks become an easy thing to abuse.
There are a few written and unspoken rules you're expected to follow. To help you avoid social faux pas, we've compiled some things to consider before you make your first trip to the dog park.
Before You Go
In order to reap the many benefits of dog parks, you need to ensure you and your dog are both ready.
Give Them Time to Grow
While you've probably heard that it's important to socialize puppies, dog parks are not the appropriate places to do so for a number of reasons. Never take a dog under four months of age into these environments.
Consider the Medical Concerns
Being up-to-date on your dog's vaccines will protect them and the other dogs at the park. In fact, this is one of the main reasons dog parks aren't right for puppies. They won't have the appropriate vaccinations—which typically include those for distemper, parainfluenza, DHPP, and rabies—until that four month mark.
You should also consider having your pet protected against fleas and ticks before leading them into a dog park. Getting them spayed or neutered first is highly recommended, and it’s actually required by some parks as well.
Invest in Training
In order to properly handle your dog in the chaos that is a dog park, you'll need to teach them to respond to you. Conveniently, taking your pup to etiquette or training classes is another great way to socialize them and develop desirable behavior in a more structured environment before being thrown into a dog park.
Though it's not required that you put your dog through vigorous training before exposing them to dog parks, you should at least have some method of recall well learned. Being able to call your pup back to you at a moment's notice will go a long way toward avoiding scuffles.
Know Your Dog
The fact of the matter is dog parks aren't going to be for every dog. Before you take your pup to one, consider their personality and needs. If they're a female in heat, if they have consistent issues with resource guarding, or if they're generally not able to handle interactions with other dogs, consider staying home.
Things to Bring Along
You'll want to pack a few supplies for your trip. We recommend having the following on hand:
A portable water bottle
Your dog's leash, of course
A favorite fetch toy, ex. tennis ball (but keep in mind that these will need to be put away immediately if any dog starts to get possessive)
Though you'll want to refer to the specific park's rules and regulations to make sure all your supplies are allowed, the list above is fairly standard.
It's important to note that dog treats are not listed, and for good reason. Offering your pup a snack can cause jealousy and aggression in other dogs.
Entering a dog park might seem like a no-brainer of an activity, but how you approach it sets the tone for the whole visit. Extra caution can save you from an overwhelming situation.
Read Any Posted Rules
Many dog parks display the rules of the park on a plaque outside the fence. Be sure to take a moment to familiarize yourself with them before going inside. If there isn't a visible list, go the extra mile and search the dog park by name. You might be able to find a website with the rules clearly displayed.
If you still can't find them, some common rules to keep in mind include:
Dogs must be supervised at all times
Aggressive dogs must be removed immediately by their owners
Clean up after your pets
No smoking, alcohol, or food allowed
No young children
A lot of dog parks will also offer their set guidelines on when and where dogs should wear their leashes and collars, as well as the types of toys permitted within the park's boundaries.
Survey the Activity
Before you even make it through the first gate, make a quick assessment of the activity in the park. If there's a fight in progress or if the park looks overly full, it's in your dog's best interest if you keep walking. You can always try again on a different day.
Any good dog park will have a double-gated entrance to protect against dogs getting loose. If someone is coming or going from one of the gates, DO NOT open the other gate. The double gate setup is to help prevent dogs from running out as someone comes or goes, and the two gates should never be open at the same time.
Ensuring Safe Play
Once you're inside, you'll have to monitor your dog in order to keep them safe. The trick to doing this well is to have a clear picture of how your pup displays their moods and the common signals of displeasure to look for in other dogs. For dogs, as for people, communication is key.
Some warning signals to be on the lookout for include:
Ears pinned back against the head
Tail between legs
Licking of lips
The stiffening of hair along the spine
Of course, some doggie arguments escalate too fast for people to catch. If your dog should get into a fight, there are a couple options open to you.
For example, if you can coordinate with the owner of the other dog, the two of you can use the wheelbarrow method to break up the fight. This involves getting a secure hold on your dog's back legs and carefully walking the two pups away from each other. Another commonly suggested method is distraction, generally in the form of loud noises or water.
One thing you should never do if you see two dogs fighting is to put your face or your hands close to the dogs' faces. Biting is likely.
After the fight is broken up or comes to a natural conclusion, you'll want to get your dog to a safe space. This means leaving the park immediately. And again, anticipating and acting to prevent a problem is always best.
Remember To Have Fun!
If you approach a visit to a dog park right, your dog will have a grand time playing with fast-made friends.