Good Dog: A Guide to Dog Park Etiquette

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With the onset of warm weather here in Minnesota we are all going to be getting outside more. For dog owners this means the possibility of bringing your four-legged friend to a dog park, be it on or off-leash. The dogs that utilize a dog park are just as diversified as the owners that bring them, and, just as going to dinner with your significant other has ground rules, so does taking your dog to a dog park. There is a certain level of etiquette that is needed in order to avoid conflict and make sure that everyone involved has a great time with as little stress as possible.

A suggestion that was given to me many years ago from a friend that has worked with dogs the majority of their life was this: visit a dog park without your dog the first time.

This didn’t make much sense to me, until the first time I had ever went to a dog park and brought my dog along. There were so many issues I could have avoided had I taken this advice, i.e. lack of dog poop bags, lack of water, it was an off leash park, there was a fee, etc.

The first rule of dog park etiquette is rather simple: Insist on good behavior from your dog in all of its interactions be them human or dog.

Just like people, dogs can have bad days. Maybe your dog doesn’t have as much patience as they normally would on the day you bring them out. The main point is if your dog begins to act aggressively, or you get the feeling your dog doesn’t want to be at the park, you need to remove them from the dog park as quickly as possible. If aggressiveness is the problem, then seek out a humane dog trainer to begin working on behavior modification.

It should go without saying: Clean up after your pet.

Although most dog parks will have doggy poop stations with bags, don’t assume every dog park will. Make sure you bring dog poop bags with you so you can clean up after your pet if it is necessary. This is just politeness; you wouldn’t go to a friends house and use the toilet without flushing. Cleaning up after your dog also prevents the spread of disease and makes the dog park that much more of a comfortable place to be.

Limit your use of food/toys when you are at the dog park to avoid any conflict with other dogs. Your dog may be fine with sharing with other dogs; the issue begins with dogs that may have resource guarding issues or don’t share well.

When bringing your dog to a dog park the single most important command is the recall command; Ensure your dog comes back to you when you call so that you can remove them from a play session that may be escalating, an over zealous greeting, or any other possible negative situation that may happen. If this is something that your dog needs to work on then avoiding an off leash dog park is recommended. Having a dog on a leash in an off leash area can result in injury to a dog or a person due to it being a tripping hazard. It can also increase anxiety not only in the leashed dog but dogs off leash also.

Don’t allow dogs to “work it out” when they are interacting.

This is not introducing your dog to a friend or family members dog in a controlled environment such as one of your homes. This is an environment full of dogs with different temperaments, social skills, and behaviors.  What can look like play can easily escalate into something much more  If there is a dog being a bully, calmly remove your dog from the situation and leave the dog park. There is no reason to risk your dogs well being.

Possibly the most important rule for dog park etiquette applies to the owner.  Like every good parent, be engaged with your dog while you are there. Pay attention to where your dog is and what they are doing.  Try to keep any conversations with other doggie parents to a minimum. Also don’t allow phone calls, texting, or using your smartphone to take your attention off your pet.

Be it your first or your next outing to a local dog park, it is important to keep all of this in mind. By following these rules, you and your pup are bound to have an enjoyable time.

And maybe after you can want check out one of the Twin Cities’ best dog friendly patios?