10 Tips for Having a Successful Dog Park Visit

If you’ve ever been to an off-leash dog park, then you’re probably familiar with the hierarchy that dogs (and sometimes their owners!) tend to form with one another. Similar to junior high, you’ll see all sorts of canines: shy and outgoing, large and small, aggressive and passive, and dominant and submissive. To ensure that you and your dog will have a great trip to the park, try out these ten tips:

1. Train your dog before going to a park.
Having a well-behaved dog can make the difference between a relaxing outing and a living nightmare. Try out an obedience class, or just work on commands on your own, especially “come,” “leave it,” and “stay.” Be sure to practice these commands outside of your home (particularly in places with distractions) to prepare Fido for the real thing.

2. Get your dog worn out before you get there.
If your dog spends most of his time alone during the day, then the prospect of a visit to the park can send him over the edge with excitement. But arriving at the park with a dog in a frenzied state usually doesn’t yield great consequences. Try going for a run before you enter the fenced area to burn off some of that excess energy.

3. Learn to interpret your dog’s behavior.
Most owners are pretty in-tune with the personality of their pup. Knowing whether your dog is submissive or aggressive beforehand can help you avoid potential conflicts.

4. Follow the rules.
Nothing can ruin a dog park experience like one person breaking the rules. Whether it’s having your oversized dog in the small-breed area (or vice versa), bringing a dog that is not spayed or neutered, not cleaning up your pup’s mess, or not waiting until your dog is the right age (usually 4 months AND fully vaccinated), all of these faux pas usually result in dirty looks from your fellow dog owners, or possibly dismissal from the park. 

5. Start on leash.
If you’ve never been to the park with your pup, let your first visit be on leash. You may even not want to enter the actual fenced area in the beginning and just let your dog get accustomed to the sights, smells, and sounds of a new environment. For your first trip, try to visit when the park is not very crowded.

6. Respect other pet owners.
All dog lovers know that our pups are like kids, so learn how to respectfully communicate with other dog owners: don’t be afraid to say “would you mind calling your dog off? My Fido is still getting used to the park and we’re trying to take it slow.” Also be ready to remove your dog from a situation if asked, even you believe your dog’s behavior is friendly.

7. Understand ALL dogs’ behavior.
Dogs aren’t people, after all, so don’t be surprised if they don’t sit down to a game of solitaire. Playful mouthing, chasing, barking, wrestling, and biting between the shoulder blades are all very common canine behaviors. Playful stances and bouncing are great indicators of positive interactions, while growling, showing teeth, or standing unusually still may be signs to separate a doggy duo until they calm down.

8. Leave the treats at home.
While it may seem like a nice gesture, bringing dog treats or food to the park usually yields disastrous consequences. Even dogs that live in the same household can show food aggression towards each other, so save the treats for when you get home.

9. Know how to separate a dog fight.
While an all-out fight can seem like the worst-case senior, be prepared for it. Never reach your hand in between the dogs, even to grab their collar. Clap your hands, make noise, or spray the dogs with water. If both owners are present, each owner can grab their dogs’ hind legs and pull them away from each other at the same time.

10. Know when to leave.
Unfortunately, not all dogs are meant for dog parks. The park can be a great place for well-socialized, playful, and friendly dogs, but not so much for fearful, anxious, or aggressive dogs. Learn to read your dog’s behavior and know when to call it quits for the day. Remember that you are responsible for your dog’s behavior, and that includes financial responsibility for any injury or accident caused by your pup.