How Should YOU Behave at the Dog Park?
Going to the dog park is a wonderful opportunity for your dog to run, play, socialize, and burn off all that built-up energy. Many owners also take advantage of the opportunity to socialize with fellow dog owners. Most of the time, a trip to the dog park is a wonderful time, filled with fun and happiness.
However, as with most public places, it's important to be courteous to other humans and mindful of other dogs. There is usually a basic, unspoken code of conduct at dog parks. It is expected that all humans follow this code. So whether you are a newcomer or a seasoned regular, it's important that you stay up-to-code at the park; for the sake of you, your dog, and everyone else.
Dog Park Rules
Any dog park you go to will have written rules clearly posted on the outside of the gates. These are important, as they will likely be strictly enforced by city law enforcement and animal control. While rules may vary a bit from one park to another, they will state something along the lines of:
- All dogs must be under constant supervision / Dogs must never be left unattended.
- You are legally responsible for the behavior of your dog.
- You MUST clean up after your dog.
- Keep the doors closed at all times.
- There must be no more than two dogs per human (some parks may allow only one).
- No food or drink allowed in the park.
- Dogs must be up to date on shots.
- No in-heat females allowed.
- No sick dogs allowed.
- No puppies allowed (usually under four months of age, because four months is when puppies typically receive vaccinations).
As I said, all parks will have slightly different rules. If you're not sure, go scope out your city's dog park before you take your dog there, just so you're familiar with the rules ahead of time. Also, many city dog parks have a web site that lists the park rules (as well as scheduled down times and special events). It might be a good idea to see what kind of information is available to you online.
The Unspoken Code of Conduct
I've often found that there is a great deal that is expected of dog owners that is not outlined in the park rules. As you spend more time at the dog park, new situations are likely to arise. When I was new to the dog park, there were many occurrences that I didn't know how to react to. It took a few years of learning and talking with other dog owners for me to learn the "Unspoken Code," which covers a variety of common situations. For example:
There are certain behaviors that are not appreciated by other dog owners in the park. Some of the biggies include:
- Not watching your dog. Although it says in the park rules that dogs must never be left unattended, many people think this simply means that you must be in the park with your dog. That is often not true. Many people tend to be distracted by socializing with other dog owners or talking on the phone. Some dog owners will even read a book while their dog is playing. The problem with this is that owners who are engaging in these activities will not notice if their dog is misbehaving. They will not notice if their dog makes a poo-poo. Inattentive owners inadvertently pawn responsibility for their dog off on other owners. Your dog will turn to others for entertainment, and may get too unruly.
- Not watching your children. The same goes for any children that you decide to bring to the park. While it is generally a good thing for your children to be exposed to animals at an early age, you should always keep an eye on them at the dog park. Children can get just as unruly as the dogs, and they can cause just as much trouble if they're not closely supervised.
- Feeding other people's dogs. Many owners do bring treats to the park, as they are often used as an aid to training. If you do this, it's important that you are careful not to give your treats to other dogs. It's not just courtesy, it may affect that dog's health! You never know if a dog has an allergy or is on a special diet. Just be safe and always ask the owner if it's okay before you offer up a treat.
- Excessive yelling. While it's expected that owners keep their dogs under voice control at all times, there is a point where it becomes excessive. Some people will sit down, and scream at their dog across the park for every little move he makes. Often times, the dog doesn't listen (as screaming is NOT an effective training method), and the owner just keeps screaming. At some point, this behavior is going to make the experience unpleasant for everyone else. If you think your dog is misbehaving, physically remove him from the park.
- Allowing your dog to be a "bully." Dogs tend to play rough. But there is a definite line between playing and bullying. If you know your dog is being a bully to the other dogs, please remove him from the park.
Aside from the big no-no's, there are a few behaviors that are typically observed at the park which make the experience easier for everyone. Some of those are:
- Keep the door clear. The dogs will tend to run to the gate when a new dog enters the park. While it's clear that they all just want to say 'hi,' this can easily overwhelm the new dog. Most owners call their dog away from the gate, and hold onto him until the new dog has entered the park.
- Stick to your side. Most dog parks have a separate area designated for large and small dogs. Please stick to your respective side, for the safety of all dogs present. In the event that you are the only one on your side and your dog is lonely, ask first. Make sure it's okay with all owners on the other side that your dog crosses the border. Most of the time they won't mind, but you never know if there is a dog present who won't do well with a dog of the opposite size category.
Dog Park Dynamic
As people come and go, the dynamic in the park will change. Many people typically frequent the park on the same days, at the same times. You may find that you and your dog fit in better with certain groups, or that there is one certain dog that yours doesn't get along with at all. Take note of these things, and try to go at a time where the typical group is one you and your dog fit well with.
Most importantly, just have fun while you're at the dog park. Use the time to bond with your dog, get some exercise, make some new friends.
If you have any questions, ask them! Other owners at the dog park are usually very friendly and enjoy bonding with others over their dogs.