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Dog Park 101:  Tips for Visiting Your First Off-Leash Dog Park

Dog Park 101: Tips for Visiting Your First Off-Leash Dog Park


So you’re thinking about visiting an off-leash dog park for the first time.  Or perhaps you’ve already been to a dog park and want to see if you got things right when you went the first time or if there are other tips you can add to your repertoire when you go back.  Whatever the reason, hopefully, you will gain some additional ideas on how to utilize dog parks to their fullest exercise and playtime potential and avoid any pitfalls along the way.

If your canine companion enjoys social interaction with both dogs and other people and enjoys playing and running around without constraints, then an off-leash dog park may be just the change of pace that would interest your furry friend.  As long as dog owners familiarize themselves with dog park etiquette, rules, best practices and learn about which parks or paddocks are best for their dog’s size and temperament, then there is a lot of fun to be had. 

When you know what to expect, do, and not do before visiting an off-leash dog park, the experience becomes even more fun for you and man’s best friend.  And it’s up to each dog owner to be part of the solution and not part of the problem when it comes to safely and respectfully visiting and enjoying dog parks.  They are OUR parks.  And as such, it is our responsibility to monitor, encourage rule-following, and to make sure they are kept as clean as possible while we are visiting.

The tips below are more than etiquette, rules, and best practices – they are ultimately tips that will make the outing safe, protect both you and your dog from harm, and allow the outing to be fun, stimulating, and a good social learning experience.


Come Back

The “Come” command is the most important training aid in a dog owner’s arsenal, followed closely by “Stay”.  By training your canine companion to “come” at will, you will not only make life much easier on both of you, but the successful adoption of that command by a dog will likely save its life at some point.  Running off-leash at a dog park is what a dog park is all about.  It’s a lot of fun, but only if your dog can return when the “come” command is used.  Your dog’s firm grasp of this basic, but vitally important command before visiting a dog park, will allow more fun to be had by all.


A Good Age

Puppies love playing and socializing, but it is recommended by vets and professional dog trainers that dogs be at least 4 months old and finished with their puppy series of vaccinations.  This age also allows your puppy to fully appreciate and explore his new world.  On the flip side of the age spectrum, be careful not to bring to the dog park a fragile, geriatric dog that may be susceptible to illness or injury.  This could be equally troubling.


Vaccinations are a Must

Dogs must receive all of their major vaccinations and be up to date on boosters before visiting a dog park.  It goes unspoken that a Rabies vaccination has to be up to date, but other vaccinations such as Parvo, Distemper, and Adenovirus are also needed to visit a dog park.  Bordetella, aka kennel cough, may also be a good idea along with flea and tick prevention.  Not only do fully vaccinated dogs make it safe for other dogs but people as well.


Choose the Right Dog Park

Doing some research online or checking with friends, neighbors, and family about the various dog parks in your area will pay dividends when choosing which one to visit for your first time.  You may also want to check out the park before your outing to make sure it’s properly maintained, which times are less crowded and whether there are weedy or muddy areas, excess dog waste, broken fencing, etc.  With weekends and evenings being the busiest time for dog parks, you may want to choose an off time for your first dog park experience.


Dog Parks are for Dogs

It goes without saying that dog parks are for dogs.  However, there are ample stories where pet owners bring cats or other animals to dog parks and it sometimes doesn’t go well or they are forced to leave the dog park before their outing can begin.  This is an obvious tip, but one that is sometimes forgotten to the detriment of the animals involved.


Leave Toys at Home

The last thing anyone wants is for another dog to become interested in your dog’s toy(s).  This can cause quite a stir when it could have been avoided in the first place.  It is best to leave fetch toys, noisy toys, and especially toys that may have had treats put inside or on them at some point.  They will still smell and will cause issues.


No Food Please

Just like with toys, it’s best to leave food at home as well.  This includes ALL food, canine and human.  There is no telling what reaction a dog may have to food being introduced into the scene.  Some dogs become aggressive when food is present and some foods could cause sickness if a dog is allergic or has a reaction to it.  However, you may find it strategic to have one treat in your pocket in case you need to call your dog quickly or if your dog is having trouble quitting their play date when it is time to leave.


Don’t Let Things Heat Up

In a perfect world, all dogs would be spayed or neutered upon entering a dog park.  But, some are not for various reasons.  If you bring a female dog to the park and it is not spayed, be sure she is not in heat.  This can cause multiple problems if she is.  The male dogs will follow her around and could easily become aggressive.  And she likely won’t have a good time with all that attention. 

A dog that isn’t neutered can cause equally as much trouble and it won’t be fun for other dogs or dog owners.  So, avoid dog parks if your dog is not neutered.


Lose the Leash – but Keep it Handy

Fenced in dog parks are for off-leash play.  So, lose the leash as soon as you and your dog are comfortable with the surroundings.  But, be sure to keep it handy…just in case.  You never know when things could get dicey and you need to quickly put your pooch back on leash - especially if a fight has to be broken up or you need to leave abruptly.


Be on the Lookout

It’s up to each dog owner to know where their canine companion is at all times.  You want to be able to intervene at a moment’s notice if something happens.  Don’t be the one reading a book and not paying attention and don’t rely on other dog owners to let you know that something is up with your dog.  Be ready to use the “come” command if something doesn’t look right.  Most dog park situations can be prevented if dog owners are paying attention at all times and are prepared to jump into action if needed.


Follow the Rules

Be sure to know all the dog park rules ahead of time and be willing to follow the rules.  Dog park rules are put in place to protect dogs and their owners and need to be followed to ensure a safe outing.  If dog rules aren’t followed, you could be fined by the municipality that owns the dog park.


Keep It Clean

We all know that if a dog does his business while on a walk that we, as dog owners, need to pick it up.  The same applies at a dog park.  Not only is it unsanitary to leave dog waste, but other dogs could eat it, step in it, or even roll around in it.  Dog owners could also step in it and track it around making an even bigger mess.  Be prepared and bring dog waste bags with you, even though there may be some available at the dog park.


Non-Aggressive Park

Dog parks are for non-aggressive dogs.  Some dogs just don’t get along with other dogs and pose a hazard for everyone.  This could be a lack of training, a trait the dog has inherited, or the environment in which the dog has been raised.  Some dogs do well with other dogs most of the time but can change moods suddenly.  If you sense that your dog is changing his attitude and may want to fight with other dogs, leave the park as soon as possible.


Be Prepared

Don’t try to do too much.  Know how many dogs you can handle and don’t try to bring more dogs to the dog park than what you are comfortable handling, especially if it is your first time to visit a dog park.  It’s also good to be prepared in other areas such as having a collapsible water bowl and water and a dog first aid kit handy which would include Kwik Stop styptic powder or similar, to quickly stop bleeding from a cut, torn nail, etc.  Also, gauze, non-stick wrap bandages, cotton balls, hydrogen peroxide, antibiotic spray or ointment, Milk of Magnesia, muzzle, and tweezers can come in handy if an accident occurs.


Have Fun

The whole point of going to a dog park for an adventure with your pooch is to have fun.  Sometimes with all the preparation involved in getting to and from and maintaining order once there, we can forget about simply having fun.  Your dog will enjoy the opportunity to interact with other dogs and people, run free, and be himself.  Just stand back and enjoy watching how your dog interacts with other dogs and how they react to him.   Be sure to watch body language and maybe even give the “come” command from time to time to practice his coming back in case it’s ever urgently needed to avoid a bad situation.


Dog parks have become quite common in most medium to large cities worldwide.  There are a lot more opportunities to interact and bond with canines in a group setting nowadays compared with years past.  As long as proper precautions are taken ahead of time, rules are followed, dog owners come prepared for any situation, and abundant supervision takes place while there, a fun time can be had by all.  And in the end, it’s all about having fun and enjoying a memorable outing with man’s best friend.


Congratulation to the winner of Halloween Photo Contest, Rebeca & Pinina!

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