Etiquette at the Dog Park

There's no doubt about it, taking your dog to the dog park involves a certain amount of good manners. Here's our guide to "keeping your nose clean" while your dog hangs out with his or her friends.

Group of Dogs at the Park
Dog parks are for everyone to have fun!

1. Shut the gate.

This may be obvious, but as the head of a household that contains children who could not do this if their lives depended on it, I thought it was worth mentioning. A good dog park will have double gates, creating a holding area between the two. The proper protocol is to open the first gate only when the second gate is closed. Doing this assures that no dog can ever escape as long as everyone follows the rules.

If there is already a dog in the holding area, wait until that dog has exited before you open the gate on your side. That way, you won’t accidentally end up with both gates open at once.

Once the gate is closed, give it a little tug to make sure it is latched. Many dogs are smart enough to figure out how to open a partially latched gate, and you’d hate to be responsible for someone’s prize-winning French Poodle getting lost in the big city. The best parks make it idiot-proof by providing latches that lock securely all by themselves, but not all parks have this handy feature.

Small Dog Looking over Fence
Be alert- keep your dogs with the same size in the pack to avoid stress.

2. Keep the dogs separated by size.

It’s a universal truth that small dogs usually don’t realize they are small. Even well-meaning big dogs can seriously injure a small dog in the course of rough-housing. And there’s not a small dog in the world who will back down to prevent such an injury. It’s best to keep the small dogs with the small dogs, and the big dogs with the big dogs. If the park doesn’t provide physical separation, you might want to suggest that an alternate day schedule be used to prevent a little one from getting stepped on.

Puppies should be kept with the smaller dogs until they exceed 30 – 40 pounds. After that point, they should be able to keep up with the big dogs without a problem.

3. Watch for signs of aggression.

One of the best parts about going to a dog park is that you get to interact with other dog people while your pets play together. Just make sure you don’t get so caught up in socializing that you fail to keep an eye on your dog’s behavior. If your dog starts showing any signs of aggression toward canine or human playmates, it’s time to leave.

Kids running in park with dog
Stay attentive with kids. Your dog may be protective, and other dogs may react differenty too.

Aggression doesn’t necessarily mean that your dog is bad; it might simply indicate he or she is getting overwhelmed. Too much playtime can tire a dog out, leaving him or her crabby and ready to rest. You are the one who’s responsible for recognizing that your dog needs to leave – your dog doesn’t have the cognitive prowess to know that he or she is tired and cranky.

Some dogs get along with every other dog they meet. Others may prefer dogs of the same gender or dogs who are more dominant or more submissive than they themselves are. You might want to introduce your dog to a group of strangers from outside the dog park fence so you can judge his or her reaction to the others before entering. Also, take the time to observe how the other dogs react to your dog.

If you bring your kids with you to the dog park, your dog might decide to protect them, and act in a manner different than usual. Make sure you educate your kids on how to approach the other dogs, too, in case some of them are child-averse.

Lastly, sometimes your dog might just be having a bad day. Whether he or she is ill, elderly, or just doesn’t want to be bothered, any specific day just might not be a good day to play. Pay special attention to your dog as you enter the park to make sure he or she is treating the other dogs with respect.

Signs of aggression include bared teeth, a wrinkled muzzle, and raised hackles. Your dog may or may not growl. His or her overall posture will be leaning backwards rather than rushing forward to greet the other dogs. It’s your obligation to give your dog a chance to succeed by removing him or her from the park at the first sign of aggression, rather than waiting until someone gets hurt.

Dog Waste Bin
Be respectful of others--pick up!

4. Clean up after your dog.

It should go without saying, but unfortunately it doesn’t. Your mother doesn’t work at the ball park, so you will have to be the one who cleans up after your dog. Many parks offer poop bags for patrons’ use but if not, you’ll have to bring your own. I find the easiest way to clean up is to simply open the bag over my hand, then pick up the poop, pull the bag back over my hand, and tie it closed. Then you can simply deposit it in the nearest trash can.

5. Clean up after yourself.

Again, assuming you have some common sense and decency, this one is a no-brainer. But for some, this seems to be a challenge. If you bring a newspaper, or a snack, or even if you unwrap a new dog toy while you’re at the dog park, please, for the love of God, clean up the trash!

No one wants to bring their dog to play at a park that is swimming in litter, and very few dog parks have paid staff to provide anything beyond emptying the garbage cans and mowing the grass.

Be considerate and clean up after yourself and your kids.

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