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What You Need to Know About Dog Park Etiquette

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Learn dog park rules and regulations.
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Small white and brown dog high fiving its owner on a walk.

While dog parks are a great way to socialize and exercise your pet, it isn't the right place for every dog. Here's what you need to know about dog park etiquette before your first visit.

Dog parks can be great places for your dog to get exercise and socialize with other dogs, but walking through the gate for the first time can be a little overwhelming for both you and your pet. Here are some dog park tips for making the most of your first visit.

How Can You Prepare for the Dog Park?

  • Make sure your dog is trained: Teach your dog basic commands such as come, sit, and stay — all of which will make it easier to get in and out of the park. Dog parks can be overstimulating, however, so don't be surprised if your dog sits perfectly well at home but then can't hear you at the park. Work on commands for a week or two before you actually go to the park so that your dog is used to listening to commands even when they are distracted. While it may seem like a good idea to bring treats or your dog's toys for them to play with at the park, it can actually cause conflict with other dogs. (Tip: Keep treats in the car to give your dog when you get back from the park. Giving them a reward will make leaving the park more enticing.)
  • Socialize your dog: The dog park isn't the place to bring a fearful or potentially aggressive dog so they can "get used to" other dogs. Work with an experienced trainer to prepare your pup if you have any concerns.
  • Get your dog up to date on all vaccines: Many vets suggest sticking to walks or supervised socialization classes until your puppy or rescue dog has finished all of their shots.
  • Don't forget about preventives: Outdoor dog parks typically have trees, weeds, and even water features that create the ideal habitat for parasites like ticks and fleas. Mud puddles are common breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which can carry and transmit heartworms, so make sure you treat your dog with preventives for heartworm, fleas and ticks.
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How Do You Find the Right Dog Park for You?

  • Do your research ahead of time: Before heading out to a park, ask your friends, vet or local pet-supply store for recommendations. Some dog parks are better maintained than others or have more space for dogs to roam.
  • Consider your dog's size: If you have a small dog or a timid puppy, look for a park with a designated small dog area for them to get acclimated before moving on to the bigger area.
  • Choose the right time of day: Plan your first trip during the week, if possible, when the park isn't as busy. Most people usually take their dogs to the dog park on evenings and weekends.

What Is Proper Dog Park Etiquette?

  • Get to know the rules: When you get to the gate, look for a sign with dog park rules and regulations before you go in. Standard rules typically include vaccine requirements and constant supervision of your dog, but it's a good idea to read them over before you enter. Some parks require an off-leash tag, so you may want to stop by before you bring your dog to a particular park to make sure you don't need to get anything in advance.
  • Unleash your dog: As soon as you walk into the park and close the gate behind you, let your dog off their leash. If your dog is leashed when other dogs come to greet them, you or the dogs can get tangled.
  • Keep an eye on your dog's behavior: Look for signs that they might be nervous, such as ears back, tail tucked, head down, or rolling on their back. Or if your dog is being a little pushy — staring down other dogs, jumping on them, not giving them a chance to play back, or trying to mount them — it might also be a sign of nerves. In any of these situations, call your dog back to give them breaks, but make sure not to pick them up if they are being naughty or seem stressed out, as it could increase prey drive in other animals.
  • Take things slowly: If your dog is finding it hard to adjust to being in a dog park at first, start by spending only a short amount of time there and then gradually increase it as they begin to feel more comfortable and understand how to behave in that environment.
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