Playing Well With Others: The Ultimate Guide to Dog Park Etiquette
Remember your first day of school? Finding a place to sit, making new friends, and navigating the culture of an unfamiliar place all probably conspired to make the day a challenging one. Your first visit to a dog park can be a very similar situation. Both you and your dog may be a bit nervous as you tread across a park to walk through the dog park’s gate. Though every dog park is a bit different, with its own culture and set of rules, written and un-written, every good dog park embraces owners who know and follow the rules. Become such an owner by following these tips for good dog park etiquette:
Before you even consider taking your dog to the dog park, assess his or her behavior. If your dog has a history of fighting, biting, being fearful in new situations or unfriendly behavior, the dog park is not the place for her. A single bite can upend your life, resulting in lawsuits, fines, and even your incarceration or the euthanization of your dog. No matter how fun the dog park might seem, it’s just not worth the risk if your dog is aggressive.
Though dog parks welcome dogs off-leash, the surrounding area will not. No matter how well-behaved your dog is, keep him or her on a leash on the way to the entrance gate. Remember, unleashed dogs can approach dangerous dogs, run into traffic, and make foolish decisions that get them hurt or worse, so don’t convince yourself that your dog’s friendly disposition is a good reason to leave her off-leash outside the confines of the fence.
The Importance of Clean-up
Dog waste carries diseases and can end up in rivers, streams or oceans. It’s also just gross to step or sit in an unexpected pile of dog waste, and most municipalities cite dog owners who don’t clean up after their dogs. If you don’t clean up after your dog at the park, you may soon be the most unpopular dog and owner team in the group.
Observing Your Dog
The dog park is not the place to sit down, get lost in a book, or start texting your 17 best friends. Keep your dog safe by keeping an eye on her. If you don’t pay attention, the other dog owners will likely shy away from you and your pooch and your dog may become the object of bullying—or even become the bully himself!
Getting to Know Others
Dog park attendees are friendly people who are really into their dogs, which makes them a great group to get to know. Don’t isolate yourself in a lonely corner, refusing to make eye contact or engage in small talk. Take some time to get to know other visitors. You’ll soon become familiar with other “regulars,” and this could mean more play dates for your dog, and an additional pair of eyes to watch your dog when you’re distracted, and even a burgeoning friendship for you.
Intervening When Things Get Out of Control
Responsible dog owners know the difference between rough play and aggression. They know when humping, rough play or multiple dogs ganging up on one dog has grown out of control. They can tell the difference between a happy dog and one that is about to bite out of fear. Brush up on canine body language before you go to the dog park, and refresh yourself on your dog’s own behavioral cues. If your dog gets out of control or is being harassed by another dog to the point that one is cowering or tucking his tail while being aggressively harassed, you must intervene to stop things from escalating to a dangerous situation. Dogfights can quickly turn deadly, so if you’re not sure whether it’s time to intervene, remember that the costs of intervening too late far outpace the risks of intervening too early. No one will fault you for being an overly cautious pet parent.