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Dog Park Etiquette...or should I say Doggiquette!

Posted in Client Service @ Mar 6th 2014 - By Gillian Shippen, Nurse Manager & Director of Pets Need a Life Too
Dog Park Etiquette

If you’re thinking of taking your dog to the local Dog Park for a romp with some other pooches, there are a few you should know and key points to remember....

As the first visit can be stressful for the new user (both human and dog), as a first-time visitor you should consider visiting the park at non-peak times. Peak times in most parks appear to be from late afternoon to dark on weekdays, and after 9.30am on weekends.

It may take some time for newcomers of both species to get used to a park, but hopefully over time you will both come to enjoy the experience as it really is a lovely thing to watch a dog enjoying a visit to the park.

Know your dog

Dog Parks are not suitable for all dogs. Dogs that are aggressive or overly shy should not be taken into the enclosure. If you take an aggressive dog into the enclosure you are not only risking harm to others and creating a potential liability for yourself, but you are also potentially causing harm to your own dog.

You should have full control of your dog and it should come when called, that is true reliable recall.

If your dog is not well socialised with other dogs you will need to teach your dog how to behave appropriately at the park. Dogs that have not been well socialised will need to be carefully supervised to avoid aggression and other inappropriate behaviour.

You should be able to read when your dog is hot, thirsty, aggressive, fearful or happy and act accordingly. Please don’t force your dog to stay in a situation it clearly does not want to be in. This is called “flooding” and is harmful to the emotional wellbeing of your pet.

So for your first time visit:

  • Don’t go into the Dog Park enclosure if it is already crowded.
  • Leave immediately if you are concerned about anything happening, including your own dog’s behaviour.
  • When entering or leaving through the double-gated transition area, make sure there is no-one else already in this space. This will prevent the possibility of both gates being opened at the same time or dogs fighting in this confined space.
  • Quickly move away from the entrance and into the open. This will help disperse dogs that may come to greet your dog.
  • Keep walking – walking, rather than sitting or standing in one place, will encourage dogs to see the park as neutral space and reduce territorial behaviours. You are not there to socialise, your dog is.
  • Remember to take your own supply of bags and clean up after your dog. Cleaning up after those who don’t will help to keep the park clean and useable. 

When in the Park, stay alert and focussed on your dog at all times. Many people find visiting the dog park a social outing and like to chat with other dog owners; however, it is very important to always keep an eye on your dog.  Make sure your dog is not being bullied, being the bully or annoying anyone – NO MATTER WHAT BREED YOUR DOG IS – BIG OR SMALL!

It is very likely there will be groups of dogs running around the park, which can quickly become a problem if not managed. As soon as you see any signs in any dog that they are no longer happy about the situation call your dog away.

One adult cannot adequately supervise anymore than 2 dogs at a time and this is highly dependant on individual temperament (think if something happens to one dog, are you watching the other?).  It's also not advisable for children under the age of 16 years to have the responsibility of supervising a dog in this environment.

If a situation occurs don’t ignore it, or say “let them sort it out for themselves, it’s the natural way”. It is not natural for us to place our dogs in these situations. They look to us to protect them and you don’t want your dog to feel it has to sort something out every time it goes to the park – you want it to have pleasurable experiences there. 

Don’t suggest to other dog owners “your dog needs to be taught manners” and allow other dogs to admonish it; your dog could get seriously hurt and you can wind up in a whole world of long term trouble – YOU are the one to teach your dog manners.

If your dog is involved in an altercation, exchange details with the other owner, and offer to reimburse veterinary fees.

Key things to remember

Health– ensure your pet is healthy – don’t take your dog to the park if it has Kennel Cough or anything else for that matter, not only is it not fair to other dogs using the park but just think how you would feel if you weren’t well and you were forced to socialise.

Body Language – learn to read and respond to your dog’s posture and body language.  If you are not sure about canine body language, the 'doggone safe' website offers a great range of free resources including a 'Speak Dog Video' and lots of visual resources to help you learn basic dog language.  Just click here to visit the website

Packs – several dogs joining together as a pack can lead to problems.  If this occurs, lead your dog away from the group to a neutral area. Things can and will quickly get out of hand and the “pack mentality” applies well in these environments and situations.

Possession – dogs can protect their toys, treats and people. Shared toys can also lead to the spread of disease. Food (with the exception of discreet small training treats) and toys should not be taken into the park.

Behaviour – if at any time your dog becomes overly anxious, annoying or aggressive, leave the park and go back another time.

Control – dogs should be under the care of a person at least 16 years old, who must be fully responsible for the actions of their dog at all times.

Children – if you must take children to the enclosure supervise them closely. Children under the age of 14 should not enter without an adult.

No smoking in the Park – cigarette butts are dangerous for dogs.

Please DO....

  • Keep you dog under effective control at all times and remove your dog if it becomes frightened, aggressive or bothers other dogs.
  • Clean up and place faeces and rubbish in the bins provided.
  • Talk to other users before issues arise - remove your dog if you feel you are not being listened to.
  • Children may be at risk around dogs – please supervise them carefully. Prevent children from shouting, teasing and chasing dogs.
  • One adult should supervise no more than two dogs (highly dependant on individual temperament).

Please DON'T....

  •  Go into the park if your dog is unvaccinated, aggressive or on heat.
  •  Take puppies that have not completed their vaccinations.
  •  Let your dog off-lead if you do not have a reliable recall.
  •  Take in food (except discreet treats) or toys.
  •  Allow children under 14 into the enclosure without adult supervision.

If every dog owner followed these guidelines then every dog would have an enjoyable time visiting the Dog Park.  However this is not always the case so as long as you are aware of the possible issues you can remove your dog from any potentially dangerous situations BEFORE they become an issue.  And remember – you can always visit the dog park another day!

Image: Best Friends/ SEPpics/stock.xchng 

Gillian Shippen is not only a Nurse Manager, but has also written a book: 'Pets Need a Life Too - A Guide to Enriching the Life of Your Pet - Series One: Dogs' AND she runs her online website 'Pets Need a Life Too' where she sells a range of enrichment toys for pets.

Gillian is also currenlty studying 'Veterinary Behaviour Medicine' at CVE Sydney with Dr Kersti Seksel.

Click here to visit the 'Pets Need A Life Too' Page in the Vetanswers Business Directory


Liz @ Mar 11th 2014 3:13pm
Great information. Our dog is a still a puppy, so we use a very long light lead to keep control of her (although her recall to whistle is awesome). It is interesting though the number of people with their dogs off leash who avoid her. She gets to play happily without being bothered, bullied or pushed around!

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