Dog Park 101
Last updated March 4, 2021
Dogs parks can be a great way to socialize your pet and get some exercise at the same time. Dog parks are also shared spaces; before you leash up Fido at head to the dog park, there are some rules you and your dog should comply with. These rules make the dog park a safe, clean environment that is also fun for pets and pet parents alike.
1. Leave a sick dog at home.
Because there are so many different dogs from different environments mixing in one place, the dog park can be a hothouse of infectious agents. Parasites like hookworms, roundworms, giardiasis, and coccidiosis thrive in feces and shared water bowls. If you think there is even a chance your pet could be infected with a contagious disease or parasite, stay at home.
Do make sure your dog is up-to-date on all vaccinations. Basic vaccinations all dogs should have include distemper, rabies, hepatitis, Bordetella (kennel cough), parvovirus, and parainfluenza. Some vaccines require booster shots, so it’s best to schedule yearly vet appointments to keep your pet fully vaccinated.
2. Pick up your pet’s messes.
It goes without saying that as a pet parent you are responsible for any little presents your dog might drop while you’re at the dog park. Some facilities might have baggies available, but always bring your own – better safe than sorry!
3. Keep an eye on your pet!
No dog likes a bully! Don’t zone out while your pet plays; watch your dog closely for any ill manners or rough play, whether it’s your pet on the giving or receiving end of the bad behavior. You should also watch your dog to ensure his or her health – ingesting feces or drinking from a shared water bowl can lead to a parasitic infection.
4. Be mindful of your pet’s age and personality.
Don’t bring puppies under four months to the park. Young dogs’ immune systems aren’t fully developed and they can catch all sorts of diseases. Dog parks are breeding grounds for intestinal parasites, parvovirus, and kennel cough.
Do know your pet’s personality. Is your dog a bit of a bully? Nobody’s pet is perfect! If your pet likes to be top dog, the dog park may not be the best option. Dog parks can be overwhelming for anxious or shy dogs. If you have any doubts about your pet’s behavior, keep Fido at home.
Do leave the park if your dog becomes a nuisance. If your dog starts humping or harassing other dogs, or even jumping on people, it’s best to pack it up and leave the park.
Some dogs are better off getting their exercise other ways. If you answer yes to any of the following, it’s wise to refrain from bringing your pet to the dog park.
- Is your pet younger than four months?
- Is your dog in heat?
- Are you unclear of your pet’s current health status?
- Is your pet shy or easily frightened, especially around other dogs?
- Has your dog every had problems bullying or being aggressive to other dogs?
- Does your dog not respond to your commands?
If you find the dog park is not an option for your pet, don’t worry, there are many other types of exercise you can do. Swimming, walking or jogging, playing fetch or tug-of-war, and hiking can all get you and your dog moving.
5. BYOB – bring your own baggies!
While the area inside the dog park may be safe to release your dog, it’s important to have your pet on a leash at all times when outside the park. Bring a sturdy leash and collar with you whenever you visit the park, along with doggie bags to pick up after your pet. Bringing your own water and bowl is essential for pet parents who are dog park regulars. Communal water bowls can host many types of parasites that can be tricky and expensive to treat. Be safe and don’t let your dog share with others!
After choosing a dog park and preparing your dog with basic commands (many trainers say your dog needs those recall skills first), you’ve got one last thing to go over – the basic guidelines of all things proper at the park.
More Dog Park Dos and Don’ts
Don’t bring your intact dog. If your dog isn’t neutered or spayed, do not bring them to the dog park. An unneutered male is a particular target, and a female in heat can most certainly come home pregnant. Also, do not bring a pregnant dog into a dog park.
Do supervise your pet at all times. Never leave your dog unattended in a dog park, especially when there are other dogs around. Avoid talking on a cell phone and don’t turn your back on your dog.
Do BYOW. (Bring your own water!) Have a bowl and bottled water on hand to quench your pet’s thirst. Communal bowls or troughs at dog parks are breeding grounds for all sorts of parasites. Hookworms, roundworms, giardia, and coccidia can all be spread through water.
Don’t bring treats or toys to the dog park. These can attract other dogs and start fights. If you want to reward your pet, do so before or after you get to the dog park.
Do stay vigilant and know when to intervene. Put your phone away so you can keep watch on your dog and those around. Stiff body language, stalking, and a pack of dogs chasing a much smaller dog are all signs to intervene before something happens. In fact, if at any point your dog doesn’t seem to be having a good time, it’s a safe bet to head home.
Dog parks are great ways to provide your pet with exercise and new playmates. Dogs benefit from both the exercise and the social time they get to spend with other dogs. When you’re at a public dog park it’s important to be mindful of others and their pets; not all dogs are as well-behaved as yours, and even your perfect pooch may not play so nice around others. Use common courtesy and follow any posted rules at the park. To find a dog park near you, use online resources like DogPark.com or DogGoes.