Dog parks are the playgrounds of the canine world—they're fun, full of cute dogs, and the easiest way for your pup to socialize. Like actual playgrounds, without proper supervision and common sense, your animal child could get hurt. Read the following dog park tips & tricks to make the most of you and your dog's precious play time.
At the minimum, bring the following items when visiting a dog park.
- Cell phone for emergencies (and documenting cuteness, too, of course!)
- Animal deterrent spray or air horn to protect both you and your pup from attacks
- Poop bags
- Cool, filtered water
- Your dog’s collar and leash
Leave the Treats and Toys at Home
While some dogs know how to share toys and treats successfully, others don’t. Introducing desirable objects like stuffed animals and snacks into a dog park is a powder keg waiting to blow. Aggressive defensiveness and fights over toys is almost a guarantee, and you or your dog could get hurt in the process.
Consider the Size of Your Dog
Some dog parks divide small dogs and large dogs to avoid potential confrontations. Others just throw every age, breed, and size all into one space. If your local park is of this last type, there’s a few things to watch out for. First, if you’re a large dog owner, never let your pooch scare or play too rough with smaller dogs—in fact, be cautious about any interaction with dogs much smaller than your own. If you’re a small dog owner, it’s probably best you find a small-breed-specific park, or find one where small and large dogs are kept separate.
Leave In-Heat and Pregnant Females at Home
Like with treats and toys, in-heat and pregnant females should never be brought to the park. For obvious reasons, this could lead to aggression, defensiveness and outright fighting.
Don’t Bring Puppies
Dog parks can be a rough environment for inexperienced, non-socialized dogs. That’s why puppies younger than 4 months should never be brought to the dog park. Young dogs are also more susceptible to infectious diseases, something dog parks are often riddled with.
Spay, Neuter, and Vaccinate Your Dog
Never, and we mean never, bring an ill, un-vaccinated, un-spayed or un-neutered dog to the dog park. This is a quick way to ruin the experience for everyone.
Master the “Come Here” Command
Do not take your pup to the dog park until you have consistent vocal control of them. Considering nearly every dog park is leash-less, the “come here” command is essential to ensure the safety of your dog. It’s best to hold off on visiting your local park until your animal friend understands and adheres to this command regularly.
Pick the Right Dog Park
If you have responsible dog owners as friends and relatives, ask them what dog parks they use most often, and which ones they recommend for your type of dog—this is often the best way to find a suitable park. (Pet Friendly Travel’s dog park locator works well, too). On the first visit to your selected dog park, carefully observe the setting before allowing your dog to enter. Are the grounds poorly maintained? Is there dog poop everywhere? Is it overly crowded? If “yes” is the answer to any of the above, keep looking—you haven’t found that perfect dog park yet.
Exercise Your Pup Beforehand
Recently exercised dogs are more relaxed, less aggressive, and overrall in a better state of mind. It might seem counterintuitive, but exercising your pup before visiting the dog park will almost always improve the experience.
Safeguard Your Dog From Fleas, Ticks and Parasites
Dog parks are notorious breeding grounds for fleas, ticks and parasites. In fact, a single, unprotected dog park visit could bring a full blown infestation to your own backyard (and living room!). Before and after dog park visits, be sure to spray both your pup and yourself with a natural, non-toxic insecticide and repellent. After your visit, you’ll need to check for ticks, too.
Size Up The Other Dog Owners
Dog owners—not dogs—determine the quality and safety of a dog park. Before letting your dog into the park, take a look around. Do the people at the park seem responsible? Do they have good control over their pups? If the answers are “no,” we advise you seek out another dog park or return another day.
Be Wary of Children
Bringing kids to the dog park is not ideal. Children’s erratic behavior, sudden movements, and general loudness can scare unfamiliar dogs, causing them to act aggressively. If you encounter children at the dog park, be wary of allowing your dog near them—the risks are simply too great. If for some reason you must bring your own child to the dog park, keep them near, watch them closely, do not allow them to run or scream, and keep them away from the other dogs.
Observe Your Dog’s Body Language
Always keep a close watch on your pup when visiting a dog park, and pay special attention to their body language (Sorry—but that means no excessive cell phone use!). Confrontations can usually be avoided simply by observing your dog’s mood. Signs of nervousness, defensiveness, or fear is the cue to relocate your dog to a safer, quieter space to play.
Know How to Break Up A Fight
It’s not fun and no one wants to think about it, but sometimes fights break out at dog parks. Knowing how to handle such a situation could save yourself an injury and maybe even your dog’s life. First, you must understand and be able to recognize the difference between playfulness and aggression: Dogs at play wag their tails, bounce on their paws, and otherwise look loose and relaxed; aggressive individuals look stiff, raise their hackles (those hairs running down their back), and appear intensely alert.
If the worst happens and your pup gets tangled in a fight with another dog, attempt to remain calm, and firmly command them to come back to you. Do not attempt to break up the fight yourself, you could be seriously injured. Instead, use the aforementioned air horn or animal deterrent spray—after all, you packed them for this exact situation. Afterwards, move your pet to another area or simply leave the park and return another day.
Remove The Leash
If your chosen park is leash-free, do not leave your dog on the leash. Dogs on leashes tend to feel less safe when surrounded by other leash-free pups, which can potentially cause aggressive defensive behavior. Plus, in a fast-paced, playful environment with dogs running around everywhere, leashes represent a serious safety hazard for both humans and other dogs.
Loudness and anxiety are things your pup and surrounding dogs will pick up on. Yelling commands at your dog, or generally acting distressed, can cause unwanted excitement among the dogs in the park, which can in turn lead to aggressive behavior. Just chill out, remain relatively quiet and relaxed, and everyone will have a much better time.