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The Dos and Don’ts of Dog Park Etiquette

New kid on the block? Follow this trainer’s tips before letting your pet run wild.

by Kate Sheofsky | expert review by Robert Haussmann, CPDT-KA
July 27, 2021
dogs at dog park drinking water and playing in pool
Page Light Studios / Shutterstock

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“Wanna go to the park?!”

If those are your dog’s favorite words, this article is for you. If you’ve never said those words to your dog but want to start, this article is also for you. The park can be a fun way for your pup to socialize and get some exercise — as long as you follow some basic dog park rules. We asked Robert Haussmann, certified dog trainer and co-founder of Dogboy NYC, for tips on how you and your pup can be the cool kids at the park and not that dog and that human.

Pre-Park Prep

The best way to ensure that your dog has a good day at the park is not to go...until you’re ready. Turns out, there are a few things you should know and do before your pup makes their dog park debut.

Know your dog

Does your dog like to chase but not wrestle? Wrestle but not chase? Casually sniff things while never getting too close to another living thing? Understanding your dog’s likes and dislikes will help you determine if the dog park is something they are likely to enjoy, plus make it easier to assess if your dog is having a good time once they’re there.

Understand dog body language

Dogs tell us a lot through their body language — if we know what to look for. “Sometimes, the signs they give are obvious (growling, snapping, raising their hackles). Other times, they’re more subtle (lip licking, yawning, avoiding eye contact),” says Haussmann. “It’s important to understand what the different visual cues mean so you know if your dog is feeling defensive, overwhelmed, nervous, etc.”

Have a grip on basic obedience

The dog park is not the place to learn dog obedience. They should already reliably come when called and respond to commands like “drop it.” Says Haussmann, “If your dog doesn’t come unless you pull a piece of bacon out of your pocket that sends all the other dogs into a frenzy, that could be challenging for everyone involved.”

Ease into socialization

Your dog’s first experience with other dogs shouldn’t be at a crowded dog park. It’s best to ease them into social situations — especially when they’re puppies. Haussmann recommends one-on-one playdates and puppy socialization classes so puppies can learn how to interact before taking them to a park with adult dogs. 

Feeling good about all of the above? Before hitting up the park, read on for some dog park dos and don’ts after the jump...

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Dog Park Dos

1. Do time your visits

If your dog is new to the dog park or tends to get overwhelmed, 10 a.m. on Saturday when the park is packed probably isn’t the best time to go. Opt for off-peak times when the vibe is likely to be more low-key.

2. Do burn some energy before you arrive

“If you have a dog who’s high energy, you may want to take them for a walk before going into the park,” says Haussmann. “That will tire them out a little, so they’re not too over-zealous when they get around the other dogs.”

3. Do keep a close eye on your dog

Not helicopter parent close. But close. “Dogs need to learn how to read signs and resolve conflict non-violently on their own,” says Haussmann. “You don’t need to rush in and insert yourself into every situation. But if your dog is clearly bothering other dogs (bullying a young pup, not giving a dog space to get away) your dog may need to come out of the park for a while.” 

4. Do check in with other pet parents

If you’re not sure if your dog’s style of play is working for another dog, ask the owner. If they feel uncomfortable, consider removing your dog so the other pup gets a break. Says Haussman, “Dog parks are a community. We all need to work together to keep everyone happy and healthy.”

5. Do act as a social coordinator

Dogs need their crew. If your pup is playing well with a group of dogs, find their owners and see if you can coordinate days and times to come to the park together. 

6. Do clean up after your dog

Picking up poop sucks. Being judged for not picking up poop sucks more. Some parks will have poop bag dispensers on site but be sure you bring your own too, just in case. 

7. Do bring water

There will likely be a water source at the park. Still, to avoid any potentially contagious diseases, it’s best to have your own water bowl at the ready.

Ready for some dog park don’ts?

Ask a Vet

Sudden scratching? Finicky food eater? Loose poop? Whatever pet health question is on your mind, our veterinary pros are here to help.

Dog Park Don’ts

1. Don’t bring treats or toys

But aren’t treats and toys the best? They are! Just not always at the park. “Dogs can be competitive around food and toys,” cautions Haussmann. “And some dogs can become reactive or aggressive, especially in high-arousal situations when they’re jazzed from playing. Younger dogs, in particular, can struggle when an element of competition gets introduced into the area.”

2. Don’t multitask

Remember, you’re at the park to spend time with your dog. It’s not the place to catch up on emails or scroll through your social feed. Your dog is counting on you to help them stay safe and have fun.

3. Don’t bring your dog if they’re sick

3. Your dog should have their vaccinations before heading to the park, but you should also be on the lookout for signs that your pup might not be feeling well. A touch of diarrhea, an isolated bout of vomiting, or a minor cough may not be anything serious or contagious, but better safe than sorry. 

4. Don’t pick your dog up

Think there’s no harm in scooping your dog up when it’s time to take a break? Think again. “Dogs can get freaked out when they see another dog get picked up,” says Haussmann. “They may respond by jumping up or nipping at your dog, and your dog could end up getting hurt.” 

5. Don’t go if it’s too hot. Or too cold.

Not every day is a good day to go to the park. If it’s a sizzling day, your pup could be at risk for heat exhaustion or paw injuries from hot surfaces. Freezing days could be uncomfortable or even dangerous for your dog if they’re outside for too long.

If you only remember one thing, Haussman says, “Advocate for your dog. That’s one of your most important jobs as a pet parent.” Trips to the park are meant to be fun adventures for your pup. It’s okay to tell people what your dog does or doesn’t like. And if for some reason the dog park just isn’t your dog’s thing, that’s okay too — there are plenty of other ways you can exercise and socialize your dog.

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Kate Sheofsky

Kate Sheofsky hails from San Francisco, where she developed a love of writing, Giants baseball, and houses she can’t afford. She currently lives in Portland, OR, and works as a freelance writer and content strategist. When not typing away on her laptop, she enjoys tooling around the city with her two rescue pups searching for tasty food and sunny patios.