Dog park rules and regulations are essential to the safety and well-bring of yourself, your dog, and others in order to have a positive experience. Dog parks are one of the best places to socialize, get exercise, and breathe in nature for both your pup and yourself. You are automatically surrounded with dog lovers, and it’s not as weird when others hear your full-on dog conversations. It is vital to understand dog park etiquette and rules as it keeps yourself, others, your dog, and other dogs as safe as possible. If you are a first-timer and interested in taking your dog to their first park and want to understand the rules prior, or if you are an expert, here are some tips and tricks and answers to common questions from a professional dog park connoisseur.
What Exactly Is Dog Park Etiquette?
Most dog parks have their park rules, regulations, and dog park etiquette posted with a sign at the front gate prior to entering the park. However, there are still too many people who believe they know the rules and ignore these signs, putting everyone in potential danger. These rules are designed to promote safety and mitigate bad behavior, so they are extremely important to understand.
Dog Park Rules: What Are Dog Park ‘Dos’?
Do make sure your pup is up-to-date on all shots and vaccinations. You don’t want them to potentially infect other dogs or be vulnerable to being infected themselves. Check with your vet to make sure they are up-to-date and ready to play. There are some people who will bring their pups not in proper dog park health, such as having kennel cough. Your veterinarian may also recommend certain vaccines or precautions based on the area you live.
Do make sure you follow proper leash etiquette. Do not have your dog on a leash in a dog park. Make sure your dog is on a leash when they are not in the designated leash area. Most dog parks have double gates, so there is a space to leash and unleash your dog properly. Having one dog on a leash and others off a leash is a recipe for threatening behavior. You will see this rule in practically every dog park – this rule is designed to reduce aggressive behavior and not have dogs leashed or unleashed to feel threatened. See more why dogs feel threatened and why they bark here
Do pick up after your dog. It’s just rude and unsanitary not to pick up their waste. It can also spread diseases, parasites, worms, and just grossness.
Do make sure your dog has a collar on. It’s also safe (and in some states/counties required) to have their rabies or vaccination tags up to date and attached. There is always a chance your dog could get loose, so you want to make sure it has your contact information listed and accessible on them.
Do pay attention to your dog at all times. The dog park is not the place to bring your laptop or to be focused on texting or social media. You don’t have to be a helicopter dog parent, but you do need to be attentive. I use my phone only for stalking my dogs and taking pictures of them like paparazzi. If you want to follow dog park etiquette, follow your Instagram pals another time.
Do ask other dog parents if you can pet their dog. While most dogs at the park are friendly and appreciate the extra pets, there are always dogs who are not comfortable around other humans. You don’t know the dog’s possible trauma with a certain gender or hair color or anything that could be a trigger. It’s safer to confirm with the dog parent that you have the green light to give them all the pets.
Do work with your dog on commands, so they are attentive to you at the park. For example, having them come at your command can be extremely helpful in many scenarios. If there are threatening situations, you want your dog to come to you as quickly as possible.
Do come prepared with bags and water. While some dog parks have these amenities, you can’t always rely on that. You always want to be prepared and have waste bags and water (and a bowl- I use this portable dog water bottle that doubles as a water bottle and water bowl) when you go to the park. I typically just keep a stash of bags in my car, so I have them available whenever needed. Additionally, it’s important to note that some dog parks don’t have water at all because of the possibility of sharing bacteria, viruses, and bacteria.
Do take responsibility for your dog’s behavior. This can be key to removing your dog from situations before they happen. Dog moms and dads are responsible for destruction caused by their dogs. For example, if your dog digs a hole, you are and may be advised that they are responsible for filling in any holes dug by their dogs. A handler watching his or her dog and in control of the dog should be able to stop this quickly, but some handlers will need to be reminded of this responsibility, and it is often mentioned in posted rules.
Do read your dog’s and the other dogs vibes when you arrive. If there’s a bunch of dogs outside the gate, wait. If they aren’t feeling it, leave.
Do keep a close watch on your dog’s body language. Know what your dog is feeling based on their behavior. Dog’s tails can tell a lot about their demeanor. Dogs who have their body in a bow play position are usually a sign of playfulness. Know when your dog (or other dogs) exhibit signs as well. If a dog has their lips under their teeth in a snarl position or have their ears pinned back, remove your dog from the situation. By paying attention to a dog’s body language, you can help stop issues before they happen.
Do watch your dog to make sure they aren’t overheated and exhausted. Many dogs will play until their parent makes them stop. They are not able to recognize the fact they are dehydrated, and the heat can be detrimental. They just want to play. It’s your responsibility to make sure your pup is not playing too much or in weather that expedites the rate they could suffer something fatal.
Do make sure their preventatives are up-to-date. This would include any preventative such as flea, tick, and anything else your vet has recommended. This is not only proper dog park etiquette, it can prevent your dog getting infected or infecting another dog.
Dog Park Rules: What Are Dog Park ‘Donts’?
Don’t let your toddler or small child interact with the dogs or go off on their own in the park. They could unintentionally squeeze or grab or disrupt the dog in a manner that may make them aggressive. And you don’t know all the dogs in the park, there are some bad owners who bring their untrained or aggressive dogs to the park.
Don’t bring your aggressive dog to the park. Some people bring their dogs to the park to help socialize them and correct their behavior- this is not a good idea or proper dog park etiquette! Consult a professional dog trainer and work on ways to socialize them without putting them or others at harm. Aggressive dogs are not good candidates for dog parks until they are properly trained.
Don’t take your dog to the park if they don’t feel well. They could have a virus or something that could be transferred to other dogs. Your pup needs to rest if they are sick, or they could get worse. Reschedule that puppy date.
Don’t bring their personal toys to play with. Dogs have a tendency to get possessive about their toys. Like toddlers, they can throw tantrums when being forced to share. If other dogs want to play, they may not be in the sharing mood, and it could result in a fight. If your dog does have possessive characteristics, until they are trained otherwise, it may be smart to visit dog parks that don’t have tennis balls and toys for community use.
Don’t try to break up a dog fight. The dogs may unintentionally bite you or become aggressive if they see you as a threat. Their survival mode can kick in. There are many other ways to try and deter them that would be considered proper dog park etiquette. When I am outside with my pup, I bring citronella spray that I thankfully have not had to use yet. Citronella spray can be a good deterrent because dogs don’t like the smell. It can hopefully surprise them, so the quarrel stops, plus it’s not a harmful spray. Others use hoses or water spray guns, try to make a huge sound to startle the dogs, or throw their sweatshirts/jackets on the dogs in an effort to distract them. There are many ways to approach breaking up any potential fight, but the ultimate ‘no’ is going in there and trying to get in the middle of the dogs.
Don’t take your dog who hasn’t had proper exercise that day to the park. The dog parks are not a supplement for taking your dogs for walks. If they enter a dog park super energized and rambunctious, that could result in other pups feeling threatened, and this type of dog park etiquette can be dangerous. Make sure your dog has had a chance to do outside dog stuff before going to the park.
Don’t pick your dog up. This would be like leaving your dog on the leash at the park around other dogs. It could be seen as threatening, or other dogs may jump up and try to get closer to your dog.
Don’t bring a dog in heat to the dog park. This can create fights and aggression with other dogs. Keep them at home until they are not in heat.
Don’t congregate around the gate and wait for other dogs to clear the gate area before you exit or enter. This helps keep the gates secure and lets the pups go to and from safely, and is essential with dog park etiquette.
Don’t leave your dog unattended. This is pretty obvious and is actually considered abandonment.
Don’t let your dog in with a chain or spiked collar. The last thing you want is for your dog to get caught in a choke chain with another dog.
What Types Of Dog Parks Are There?
Most dog parks will be completely fenced in. However, some parks or designated unleashed areas do not have any type of separation between roads/required leashed areas/etc. and typically have special rules, dog park etiquette, and signs to pay attention to. You need to make sure your dog has a good recall if you will be visiting these types of parks for their safety. Some parks now are even membership-based, and you must have a permit. Here are some common attributes of dog parks.
Probably 85% of the dog parks I have visited have a park dedicated for small breeds and a park dedicated for larger breeds. I have even seen a special needs dog park as the third fenced dog area in a park, which was amazing. Dog park designs can vary – some of my favorite have dog sculptures and piles of rocks for the dogs to climb. It’s interesting to visit different parks and see what unique characteristic each park has.
Parks typically have a water station (may have a fountain in a bowl shape specifically for the dogs).
There can also be washing stations to clean your dog after playtime. One of my favorite parks has two washing stations that are fenced. There is a platform to give your dog a doggy shower with a place for their leash to be hooked, so they don’t sneak away from you. I keep my dog shampoo in the car because one of my dogs has a special relationship with mud.
There are typically benches and trees for shade.
Many dog parks have obstacles for them to play with like jumping over poles or tunnels to walk through.
More and more dog parks have ponds, pools, creeks, or lakes for the dogs to swim around in. This is just wonderful during the summertime as it’s a great way to keep your dog cool when playing in the hot weather.
Most dog park hours have the park opening at sunrise, and closing at sunset.
Do Dogs Have to Be Fixed Or Neutered To Go To The Dog Park?
Some parks have their rules posted whether they allow dogs who are not fixed inside. Most daycares and parks that require memberships do not allow these types of dogs in the dog park. Typically, no, it is not a requirement to have your dog neutered or spade in order to go to the dog park. However, you need to ensure your dog is well-trained and be prepared to leave to de-escalate any situations that could arise.
Why Do Dogs Fight At The Park, And How Do I Break One Up?
Dog fights can ensue for a plethora of reasons. Dog owners who do not recognize their dog’s behavior or when they feel threatened can lead to a fight. Any type of altercation can create a fight, such as being possessive about a ball or stick or if one dog feels bullied. Dogs may have a different play style than another dog, and that can cause conflict.
Many times dog fights last for a split second. However, if this is not the case, the last thing you should do is jump in the middle of the fight to try and break up for yourself. And never kick or hit your dog. Try to separate the dogs with a hose, squirt gun, broom, jacket, a citronella spray, anything that could deter the fight. Try to make a loud noise to distract the dog, but don’t yell at your dog because that can make them more focused on their fight.
If your dog is still fighting, you and the other dog owner should approach the dogs from the rear. Do not go for their face, front legs, or collar, or you are in a position to get bit. Grab their hind legs, lift them up (like you would a wheelbarrow) and move them backwards away from each other.
How Long Should You Stay At the Dog Park?
The length of how long you stay at a dog park can vary depending on your dogs activity levels and their health. I go around 4-5 times a week because I have a blue heeler mix that is not only in-shape but has endless amounts of energy. It’s important to recognize when your dog is ready to leave the dog park. Mine typically go near the gate or sit down when they are ready to leave. I make sure to leave as soon as I see signs as your dog’s behavior could shift if other dogs want to play and interact and they want to leave.
How Can I Find Dog Parks Near Me?
Thankfully, there is an increasing amount of ways to find your local dog park spots, as well as an increase in the amount of dog parks being built! Here are the main methods and resources that I use to find dog parks:
Google “dog parks near me” and then read the reviews/look at the pictures.
I like going to Instagram and searching for the locations and see what pictures/comments others have posted.
Local city pages typically list their parks and note which are dog-friendly or contain dog parks. My pups are in Austin, so the Austin city website has a map of all designated off-leash areas and dog parks, as well as rules, safety, laws, and resources.
I go to Yelp and search for dog parks and read the reviews.
I also have downloaded the All Trails App and discovered awesome dog-friendly spots. It contains thousands of trails throughout the United States and you can filter whether dogs are allowed.
I also look up National parks since many are dog-friendly (but on-leash!) The National Dog Park government site has a helpful map where you can check out which parks in the United States are dog-friendly as well as the dog park etiquette and rules associated with that specific park.