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Dog Park Etiquette

Updated on March 3, 2014

The Basics

What to pack: as with any adventure, many experts suggest you pack a few essential items. The Dog Park is no exception.

  1. Pet-safe wipes
  2. Tennis balls you're willing to lose
  3. Treats to reinforce good behavior
  4. Water and/or water receptacle
  5. Sun screen or a sweater, depending on the weather

What to expect: if this is your first visit to a dog park, you can sometimes check online for rules and regulations. But here are the basics.

  • Follow weight-limit rules, if there are two parks, then there is most likely a 'small' (under 20 lbs) and 'large' (over 20). Signs should be posted.
  • Be up to date on ALL of your vaccinations. Like visiting a foreign country, there's a chance that another dog might not be up to date, don't risk it an infection.
  • Be sure that you have preventative medicine on board, like flea-tick drops.
  • While at the park, stay within eye-shot, or at least earshot of your companion(s).

Remember to let your dogs off of the leash once you're in the park (presumably an off-leash park), and wait for the sure-to-come turned heads at any new-comers.
Remember to let your dogs off of the leash once you're in the park (presumably an off-leash park), and wait for the sure-to-come turned heads at any new-comers.

On the way there

Step One: Once you're fully packed with water, treats, and wipes, load into the car and crack all of the windows. This allows everyone attending to be able to smell the entire way there.

Step Two: To avoid car sickness, keep your eyes forward, no matter how wonderful the surroundings are on the way to the park.

Step Three: Look for a good parking spot, and point it out to everyone you're with, ensuring that you are as close to the nearest treeline as possible.

Step Four: While the patrons rush to the gate to greet you, take your time acclimating yourself to their smells through the fence, and once you begin to enter, wait until the gates are shut before running off and unleashing your excitement.

Be sure to avoid poop, and the best way to do that is the pick it up! (This image is blurred for the modesty of Noodlez the Beagle.)
Be sure to avoid poop, and the best way to do that is the pick it up! (This image is blurred for the modesty of Noodlez the Beagle.)
Prepare for sniffing circles.
Prepare for sniffing circles.

If this isn't your first rodeo...

How was your last visit to the dog park?

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What to expect

The likelihood of the following things are high:

  • Fresh water
  • Lovely smells
  • Dirty dogs
  • Overexcited/nervous dogs
  • In Tact (not fixed) males

The likelihood of the following things are moderate:

  • Biting/yipping/nipping
  • Humping
  • Chasing/tackling
  • Drool on your coat
  • Humans giving you with unwarranted treats

The following events are the least likely, but happen half of the time:

  • Humans flirting
  • Humans forgetting to pick up after you
  • Humans sitting/walking in dog waste
  • Humans becoming over-excited or nervous and refusing to unleash you or other dogs
  • Humans discriminating over certain dogs due to stereotypes

How to avoid human conflict

When visiting the park, your human may find some of the other visitors rather sweet, or keen on the eyes. If it seems that the other human your owner is flirting with is nervous or disinterested, here are some tips:

  • Circle the two of them, in hopes of distracting your human and diffusing the tension.
  • When sniffing the other human, sooth them by leaning against them with you entire weight.
  • If your human hasn't gotten the hint yet, proceed to poop far away, and alert your human to the matter as stated above.

We must keep in mind that not everyone is keen on flirting or hooking up at the dog park. If you notice a human keeping close to a dog consistently, then that human is probably not interested in advances of any sort.

Body language is loud, and keeping to yourself is a good way to suggest you're just here for the view.

Sometimes it's pretty easy to tell which dogs are nervous.
Sometimes it's pretty easy to tell which dogs are nervous.

How to avoid the bad, ugly, and dirty

Tips to avoid a mess:

  • When you have pooped, alert your owner by running past them quickly several times.
  • Before rolling in poop that hasn't been picked up, notify your owner by staring at them from fifty yards away.
  • After rolling in poop, briskly roll in dry dirt or sand and resume your day.
  • Later you may wish to saunter by your human to allow them to pet you, the dusty poop, and in turn, begin to wipe you down with fifty pet-wipes.

Tips to avoid unwanted advances:

  • When a frisky canine comes by, sniffing, nudging, and mounting-- try lowering your backside to suggest that you're in no mood.
  • If that canine insists, perhaps walking away will help.
  • When that doesn't work, try booping them with your muzzle, surely they'll get the hint.
  • If they think that you're trying to boop them with a kiss and continue to hump, the only other options are the following:
  1. Growl
  2. Snap/nip
  3. Run to your owner

The issue of fighting and biting

Level of conflict
What this means
Action to take
Chasing or barking
This most likely means a playful time.
Avoid them if you're not interested, or join in if you'e in need of blowing off steam.
Tackling and pinning
This is an attempt at intimidation, but could be innocent and playful
Once again, avoid this. If you're involved in this activity, return to your owner to alert them of your discomfort. Allowing your human to know of the situation will tell you whether or not to be calm. If they're calm, you can be calm.
Growling, biting, ontop of any of the above
These is fighting words. Either one of the dogs feels threatened, or one of the dogs is intimidating. Either way, this could lead to injuries.
If unaviodable, then yelps, whines, barks, and fleeing to your owner is all you can do. When two dogs get worked up, it's easy to get carried away. *PROTIP* Stay within eyeshot of your human at all times, and maintain a good relationship with them to ensure that you can trust that they'll get you out of a sticky situation.
By now you will realize that I am relaying this article via the perspective of a dog. I am doing this because, so much of the time, I see humans instigating and exasperating conflict at the dog park.
Prepare as best you can, and you're sure to have as good a time as a pitbull in a puddle.
Prepare as best you can, and you're sure to have as good a time as a pitbull in a puddle.

If you happen to be a human reading this

For the best way to ensure that you have a good, even great time at the dog park (even if it's your first visit), here are my Protips:

  • Keep calm, especially during a fight. If you contain your dog on the leash for the entirety of the visit, then you may as well not have come at all. If your dog is the only, or one of the few dogs leashed, then this gives other dogs power over them. Relax, allow your dog to roam free, run around, and run to whomever they like.
  • If a fight breaks out, even if it's not your dog, remain calm. No amount of screaming, cursing, panicking or hitting your dog is going to help. None of these things are proactive in any situation. Command your dog in a calm, but confident manner to come to you, even if they are not involved in the conflict.
  • Avoid excessive treat-giving. If you notice someone at the park dishing out the treats to any and all dogs, and you're not interested in them giving your dog any, then speak with that person about how you feel. It's smart to avoid giving any dogs, other than your own, food. More so, if you're giving all of the dogs treats, some will get more than others, creating conflict. This is a sure-fire way to start a fight.
  • Keep your dog within eye-shot at all times.
  • Keep your dog within reach of water at all times.
  • Keep your dog at the top of your priorities while at the park. They're here to socialize, exercise, and vocalize any issue with you. Keep your eyes and ears open.

Top Ten Dog Parks in the US

Pilgrim Bark Park:
Provincetown, MA, USA

get directions

Features: Near to some restaurants which allow dogs, fall dog festival, adorned with community art

Thornberry Off-Leash Dog Park:
Iowa City, IA, USA

get directions

Features: Biodegradable bags and receptacles which biodegrade the bags underground, Pond, 12 acres large.

Millie Bush Dog Park:
Houston, TX, USA

get directions

Features: three ponds, cleaning stations, plenty of shade and benches in 13 acres

Freedom Bark Park:
Lowell, IN 46356, USA

get directions

Features: sand bunker digging area, prairie grass, Halloween parades

Dog Wood Park :
Jacksonville, FL, USA

get directions

Features: agility course, raised warm-water tubs, many special events

Beneful Dream Dog Park:
Alabaster, AL, USA

get directions

Features: synthetic turf, water pads, senior dog hill

Bea Arthur Dog Park:
Norfolk, VA, USA

get directions

Features: open 24/7, water ramps, free of charge

Point Isabel Regional Shoreline and Dog Park:
Richmond, CA, USA

get directions

Features: 23 acres, free of charge, waterfront landscape

Jackass Acres, K-9 Korral:
New River, AZ, USA

get directions

Features: green dog park, solar water, metal artwork from recycled cars, recycled turf

Fort Woof:
Fort Worth, TX, USA

get directions

Features: obstacles and agility equipment, extended hours, many hydrants

My final piece of advice

The common theme of all good dog parks listed above are the interactive and spacious environment. No matter how large or small a park or yard is, as long as you're playing with your dog and socializing with them in some form, the trip is going to be successful.

Much of the time when I hear about or witness bad trips to the park, it's due to lack of stimulus. Some parks can't afford to have agility tracks and 50 acres of land. If the only other thing in the dark park is other dogs, then things can get out of hand. Playing with you dog in the company of other canines, however, is a great way to ease them into their species' clique.

You can't expect every owner to be on their toes, or be aware of the protocol. Some owners will automatically dislike you and/or your dog just because of their breed. If you can brush off their negative energy and keep an eye on your pooch, then you're ahead of the game.

As long as you prepare, have an active and interactive time, and keep calm, you will be at less of a risk to fights or other unwanted confrontation.


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