Proper Dog Park Etiqutte
One of the best parts about having a dog is that it’s pretty much mandatory to get outside at least once a day. But aside from the occasional stop and sniff along the way, dogs don’t really get a chance to play with each other during their daily walks. That’s why dog parks were invented.
However, going to the dog park is not always a cake walk. There are rules in the dog park — for both the dogs and their people — and it is important to follow the rules so that everyone can have fun without worry.
There are also some unspoken rules of dog park behavior; that is, the customs, or etiquette of proper social behavior at the dog park. Here is a primer on what you can expect at most dog parks.
What to Know Before You Go to the Dog Park
A lot of dog parks have a website, or are hosted by their municipality’s website, where you can find their rules and suggestions. Most all have rules regarding vaccinations. That is a given and it is important for everyone’s safety. Make sure your dog is up to date on his vaccinations and that you have tags or papers to prove it. Not all dog parks have that rule, or enforce the rule, and that is particularly possible with public parks. It is important to know either way so that you can determine your dog’s risk with other, possibly unvaccinated, dogs.
There are also rules on behavior, age, the type of collar the dog is allowed to wear at the dog park (e.g., no spiked collars), how many dogs per person, and age limitations of people allowed in the fenced area. There may be other rules that you will wish to know. If the dog park you want to visit does not have a website, try calling an information number, or going to the park without your dog to check it out.
Common Dog Park Rules
The rules may depend on whether the park is public or private, but generally, there are basic rules that apply to almost all dog parks. Many parks are off leash, but not all. It is important to know whether the park is on leash or off leash before you set your dog free to run. In either case, keep your dog on a leash until you are safely within the confines of the closed, gated area.
All dog parks have a “scoop your poop” rule. Lots of parks equip the play areas with waste bag stations, but not all do, and they may run out of bags, besides. Always have your own supply of waste bags with you, just in case. Bring enough to share so that you can help a fellow dog caretaker who has run out. Making sure that your dog’s ID is on is not just helpful for park workers to confirm vaccinations, they also are insurance that your dog will be returned to you in the off chance that he gets out of the enclosed space and makes a run for it.
It is generally not advisable to take children under the age of 16, especially small children, into a dog park. Most parks have this written in the rules, though some make allowances for people who are able to closely supervise their children. There are very good reasons for why children are not allowed in dog parks. Children have a tendency to scream, run, throw and grab, any of which can cause a dog to react aggressively or fearfully, bring out the dog’s prey drive, or just lead to an excited dog knocking a small child onto the ground. In the end, you are responsible for your child’s safety — you cannot hold other people responsible. Leave the dog park to the dogs.
Age limitations apply to dogs, too. Because they are still in the process of being vaccinated, and because they are vulnerable to disease or injury, puppies under the age of four months are not allowed in dog parks. Check ahead of time to be sure.
If your dog is female, do not take her to the dog park when she is in heat — ever.
No human food or drinks besides water, no glass containers (i.e., water bottles), no dog treats (except for very small training treats, and even they are not advisable), no toys (including Frisbee and balls, to avoid fighting), and absolutely no alcohol or smoking.
Other Dog Park Rules
We've already established that bullying is never cool. However, there are some dog behaviors that might look sketchy to a human, but that are absolutely normal for dogs. Dogs will play the parts of predator prey with each other, typically switching roles throughout the day. They will pretend hunt, pretend fight, even pretend sex — i.e., humping. And on that last behavior … humans tend to make a much bigger deal out of dogs mounting each other than the behavior warrants. Of course, good luck convincing that lady who’s making fire eyes at you and your “humper.” If necessary, gently separate the dogs and try to distract them, but punishing and yelling at the dogs are not an appropriate response to the behavior.