Dos and Don’ts at the Dog Park

Dos and Don’ts at the Dog Park
Photo by Kendall Lane on Unsplash

Keeping your dogs safe and happy is half the fun

There are two types of dog owners in this world: those who love dog parks, and those who hate them. Both groups make some valid points in their arguments for and against these puppy playgrounds. I myself have been ardently pro and vehemently con at various times in my life, depending on the temperament of my dog at the time.

These days, I am lucky to have a rescued German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix who adores the dog park. I rescued her when she was a baby and had the great good fortune to enroll her in puppy training classes with her six other littermates. She loved the playtime at the end of each class, and she’s grown up to be a confident social butterfly who loves nearly all other dogs. In the past I’ve had rescues who liked certain dogs and others who loathed all canines.

The list I’ve compiled here is based on my experiences in dog parks since adopting Ruby. The goal is to help you prepare yourself and your dog for a happy and safe experience at the park. So, without further ado…

The Dos

  • Do bring a stainless steel bowl and plenty of water, for your dog and for the other dogs. Bringing extra water is a good way to make friends with other dog owners, and that will make the time spent at dog park more enjoyable for you too.
  • Do make sure your dog has a rabies tag and is up to date on vaccines and preventatives.
  • Do keep an eye on your dog. Don’t be that person who spends the entire time on the phone; or, worse yet, leaves the dog park to sit in the car and take a nap.
  • Do make sure your dog has a rabies tag and is up to date on flea/tick/heartworm preventatives.
  • Do bring bags to pick up your dog’s poop. Some dog parks have poop stations that include bags, and some don’t. Sometimes poop stations are out of bags. BRING YOUR OWN POOP BAGS. In fact, bring extra, in case someone else needs one. There’s always that one dog owner who pretends not to notice that Foofoo is taking a dump. Don’t be that person.
  • Do be aware of weather conditions and don’t stay too long (or perhaps don’t go at all, depending on your dog) if it’s sweltering or freezing.
Photo of insanely cute dog by the author

The Don’ts

  • Don’t bring small children to the dog park. They might be okay with Tiny the Maltese, but Samson the Great Dane might be another story. When I see people bringing wobbly little toddlers to the park because “they looooove puppies,” that’s my cue to leash up Ruby and go. And speaking of leashes…
  • Don’t keep your dog leashed in the park. Dogs who have no problem meeting other dogs can get pretty reactive on a leash; the act of pulling on the leash to meet another dog can make dogs more aggressive. If you want to keep your dog leashed in the park because you want to protect them, or you think they aren’t going to do well off leash with other dogs, then dog park might not be much fun for them, and you should probably just leave the park and go for a walk.
  • Don’t bring your dog’s favorite toy or treats. Look, dogs are sometimes like toddlers who haven’t learned to share. If you bring Max’s cherished squeaky light-up ball, chances are good that the other dogs are going to think it’s pretty awesome too, and they’re going to take it. If you bring tasty treats for your dog, all the other pups are going to want treats too, and some might not be too subtle about their desire. In fact, just today I forgot I had two knobs of duck jerky in my jeans, and before I knew it, my pocket had been chewed up by an assertive (and hangry) Standard Poodle. Lesson learned.
  • Don’t bring your dog to dog park if she’s in heat. I don’t really need to explain this one, right?
  • Don’t, please don’t bring the rescue dog you just adopted yesterday to the dog park. I’ve been a German Shepherd Dog rescue volunteer for 23 years, and one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve seen is when a family adopts one of our awesome dogs (some of whom have been abused, neglected, lost, tied up outside, and have never had a family of their own) and then takes them immediately to the dog park to meet everyone. This never works out. At best, the dog is traumatized, hides under a picnic table shaking and terrified, and doesn’t learn to trust you. At worst, the dog reacts out of terror and bites, then is taken to animal control and killed. I can’t write more about this because the angry heartbroken tears are already burning my eyes.

Owner, know thy dog

Dog parks aren’t for everyone. It’s up to you to know your dog well enough to determine if he or she is going to love playing off-lead in a park with other dogs, or if that would be a disaster. Keep in mind that there are steps you can take to ensure (to the best of your ability) that you and your dog have a positive and happy experience in the park. Ruby and I go to dog park once a week and I’m pretty sure I love it as much as she does. A park full of dogs??? Isn’t that what Heaven is? I’m pretty sure it is.

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