Proper Etiquette at the Dog Park

By PetMD Editorial on May 13, 2011

Minding Your Dog's Manners

Spending an afternoon at the dog park is great for providing your dog with exercise while allowing her to socialize with other animals. While the experience can and should be fun, it can also be a challenge if Daisy’s bad manners are allowed to go unchecked. Here are some basics for a fun, trouble-free time at the dog park.

Before You’re Out the Door

Your dog should be in good health and old enough to have had her entire series of vaccinations. It’s also helpful if your dog has been through basic obedience training. A city license and/or rabies tag should be on your pet’s collar, as well as proper identification. In fact, in some parks these tags are a requirement for admittance. Be sure to pack waste bags for picking up after your dog, as well as water. You can use a resealable bowl, a collapsible bowl, or a water bottle with a special dog spout. And don’t forget to take your dog’s leash for walking her to and from the entrance of the dog park.

At the Park Entrance

When you first arrive, observe how many dogs are present and how they are behaving. Walk in slowly and let your dog calm down before letting her off leash. If your dog is behaving fearfully, or if any of the other dogs behave aggressively toward her (or she toward them), be prepared to leave right away.

When Other Animals Approach

You are responsible for your dog’s behavior in the park. As the owner, you don’t want to be too sensitive to how she is playing or being played with, but you don’t want to be negligent either. Leave the phone on silent and the book at home. It helps if you are already familiar with normal dog play before you introduce your dog to playing with other dogs.

Play is normal when dogs are relaxed and the actions are non-threatening. Barking, some growling, pawing at each other, wrestling, bowing, and chasing are all normal behaviors. You might also see some mouthing, sniffing, and even humping.

There will be episodes where an older dog will have to put a younger dog in its place for being too pushy and it appears as though the older dog is going to bite. As long as skin has not been broken, you can be sure that it was all for show. This is just one of the ways in which dogs teach each other boundaries and social behavior. Basically, as long as the dogs don't take it too far, it’s all in good fun.

If you see several dogs acting as a group or another dog crowding or chasing your dog, it’s time to break things up. If a serious fight does occur, it’s time to call your dog over and move to another play space, or leave the park entirely. If the aggressive dog’s owner is nearby, you can also have them call off their dog and take charge of the situation. And of course, if it is your dog that is being aggressive, you will need to remove her from the park immediately.

As long as everyone is playing nice and the animals have been properly socialized, your dog should have a great time, even if she has to be put in her place by a dog that does not want to play with her. It’s all part of learning how to play nice with each other -- and it’s proper dog park etiquette.

Image: Hawkins / via Flickr

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