Play It Safe and Be Polite: Dog Park Rules You Should Never Break

Dogs running in dog park
Dogs require direct supervision when they're in the park, so stop texting, talking on the phone or reading a book and give your pet your full attention.

We all know how the dog park works, right? Our dogs get to play with their canine buddies while we catch up with the other pet parents. It’s a fun, easy outing that everyone enjoys.

But the dog park has some specific — and important — rules. Most dog parks have these rules posted at the entrance. But too many dog owners overlook or ignore the rules, assuming that they have it all figured out. Unfortunately, this can be dangerous for both the dogs and their humans.

Dog park rules are designed both to ensure good manners and help promote safety. For this reason, it’s important to know the do's and don’ts of the dog park and to follow them every time you and your pooch visit the park.

Dog Park Do’s

Do make sure your dog is up to date on his vaccinations and parasite control. This includes rabies, distemper and kennel cough vaccines as well as flea, tick and intestinal parasite control. Talk to your veterinarian to ensure your dog is protected and that you are doing your part to protect other dogs. Your vet may recommend additional precautions, such as leptospirosis or canine influenza vaccines, depending upon your location and any perceived risk.

Do keep your dog on leash until he is in the designated enclosed off-leash area. This is good manners (your off-leash dog may scare a leashed dog by running up to say hello) and also a safety precaution (an unleashed dog may dart out in front of a car in a busy parking lot, with tragic consequences).

Do remove your dog’s leash before he joins the other dogs to play. Most dog parks have a holding pen at the entrance where you can safely stop and remove your dog’s leash. The prohibition of leashes in the park’s play areas is designed to reduce aggressive behavior — off-leash dogs are more easily able to use appropriate body language to discourage unwanted interactions or to move away from a dog they deem threatening than dogs restricted by a leash.

Do teach your dog to enter the dog park in a calm, orderly manner. Dogs that are wound up and reactive get other dogs worked up, which can in turn make aggressive behavior more likely. Take the time to teach your dog a calm approach.

Do restrict your dog’s play to size-appropriate areas. Dog parks are typically divided into play areas for small and large dogs, and it's important that your pooch stays in the right section. Your small dog may get along with larger dogs in other settings (or vice versa), but the dog park isn’t your backyard. A larger dog can unintentionally injure a small dog, even in friendly play. There is also a possibility that a larger dog will see a small dog as prey, which could result in a serious injury or even death.

Do keep unaltered dogs away from the park. Or at the very least, carefully monitor your dog and his or her behavior. Unaltered dogs, especially females in heat, can cause conflicts between other dogs — and, even more important, can increase the risk of unintentional mating and subsequent puppies.

Do pick up your dog’s poop. Cleaning up your dog’s mess is good manners — and more important, it helps to protect against the spread of parasites.

Dog Park Don’ts

Don’t take a puppy to the dog park. Your puppy is not ready for the park — or any high-traffic areas — until he is at least 12 to 16 weeks of age and has had all his vaccinations. Consult your veterinarian to see when the time is right for your puppy.

Don’t take young children, toddlers or babies to the dog park. Their small size and lack of experience with dogs can create a dangerous situation for the child and the dog. An overexcited dog may unintentionally knock over or injure a child while greeting or playing. A dog who is afraid of children may react aggressively to a child’s attempt to make friends. In rare cases, a dog may view a child as prey. Regardless of the situation, the risks to the child can be significant.

Don’t take your dog’s valuables to the park. A dog that guards and become aggressive with certain items — including specific foods or toys — can pose a risk to himself and others if he feels like his belongings are threatened. Leave your dog’s favorite things at home and keep in mind that a dog that exhibits guarding tendencies may not be able to handle a dog park where toys like tennis balls or Frisbees are allowed.

Don’t get distracted. Talking on your phone, texting, emailing and Facebooking are all dog park don’ts. Your dog needs to be actively supervised at all times, even when you are visiting with the other pet parents or greeting one of your pooch’s friends. And of course it goes without saying, but never, ever leave your dog unattended in the park, even for a moment.

Don’t bring a hyper, under-exercised dog to the park. A wound-up canine’s overzealous interactions can cause other dogs to feel threatened. If you have an excitable dog, take him for a long walk or jog or play fetch in the yard before you head to the dog park — whatever it takes to burn some energy and get him ready to play nicely with his friends.

Don’t allow your dog to hump or mount other dogs. Humping can be part of normal play, but not all dogs, or their humans, react nicely to it and aggressive responses may occur — from the dog and his human. Instead, redirect your dog or remove him from the park if his humping becomes excessive.

Don’t use visits to the dog park to socialize an aggressive dog. Canines that are aggressive with people or other dogs should never be taken to the dog park. Period. Taking an aggressive dog to a park rarely resolves the problem; instead, it puts other dogs and people at risk. If you are concerned about your dog’s aggressive behavior, seek professional guidance in dealing with the issue and avoid the dog park until it has been resolved.

Don’t get in the middle of a dog fight. This is a good way to get bitten — in an aroused state, your dog (or someone else’s) may unintentionally injure you. The dog may also see you as a threat and redirect his aggression toward you. Instead of jumping in between two fighting dogs, use other tactics for breaking up a dog fight.

How did you do at following these rules? Do you have any you would add to the list?

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