Dog park rules and etiquette
For dogs that get along well with others of their kind and enjoy the interaction, a dog park can be a fun place to burn off some energy and socialize. However, dog parks also have the potential to be a "free for all" situation, especially if you are unaware of the standard etiquette and unwritten rules to be followed that keep the dog park safe and fun for all - humans and their dogs!
When you are on a house or pet sit with dogs, it's good to check out with the home owner whether their dogs are used to visiting dog parks.
In some countries, like Australia and the USA, it's much more common, and dogs are used to this social experience, but in other countries solitary walks are more the norm.
Having an understanding about dog park etiquette will help you and the dog in your care, have a stress free experience.
Know your dog's temperament
An essential aspect of proper dog park etiquette is knowing your dog's personality and temperament, and being aware if it's safe for your dog to join the other dogs.
Some pups can be too pushy and overwhelming for shy dogs, and others don't get along with those who are more significant in size than they are.
Check with the home owner just how socialized your charges are. Knowing how your dog will react to a group of dogs in the dog park will help you know when it's time to leave, especially if there is a dog yours doesn't get along well with.
As a pet sitter, you'll find that other dog owners will probably know more than you about how your dog gets along with others. Dog parks are often just as social for the owners… strike up a conversation and see what you can find out.
Appropriate behavior for your dog
Even if your dog is generally friendly, not all dogs will always appreciate the type of play your dog enjoys. There are a few best practices for appropriate dog behavior at the dog park, and if you notice your dog displaying anything inappropriate, you should take the opportunity to call your dog away and put on a leash before an incident can occur.
A veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Sophia Yin, covers many of the things we do and don't want to see from our dogs at the dog park. One of her recommendations is to not allow your dog to rush to a group of dogs.
It's no fun to be mobbed!
You should also make sure your dog doesn't steal toys from other dogs. If you know that your dog guards his/her toys, or might take toys from other dogs, look for a dog park that doesn't allow toys and check to make sure nobody has broken those rules when you arrive.
Also, watch out for your dog if they are "pushy" or "rude" in their greetings, or are playing too roughly with other dogs. Not all dogs will want to be friends with your dog, so even if your dog is trying to play, you must intervene to keep the other dog from feeling like they need to defend themselves.
Ensure that you keep your dog from hogging all the play space and jumping on other owners. One of the most important aspects of attending a dog park with your dog is paying attention. Unlike a dog daycare, where you drop your dog off to be supervised by a staff member, the person responsible for watching your dog is you.
Some of Dr. Sophia Yin's recommendations for how to practice proper behavior to lead to an enjoyable dog park visit, include training your dog to focus on you.
Try to get your dog to stay engaged with you rather than just running in a free for all with other dogs. Make sure your dog's recall is sound - when you call your dog it should return to you. Following these recommendations, you can help make the dog park visit safe and enjoyable for all participants.
As a pet sitter it's a good idea to attend the park first with the homeowner on your handover – this will give you an opportunity to see how good you dogs recall is, whether they respond to treats and generally how well socialized they are.
Health, safety and the dog park
Another consideration, besides your dog's temperament and obedience training, is the health of your dog. The American Kennel Club has several recommendations for safely enjoying a dog park and keeping your dog healthy.
According to advice from ThePets, don't take young puppies to the dog park until they are at least 4 months and have received all of their vaccines. A dog park can harbour disease. It’s important to remember that even if you are a responsible dog carer, not everyone using the dog park has the same standards.
One way you can help keep your dog healthy is by bringing your own bowl and water. Several easily communicable diseases can be spread through communal water bowls, such as a form of highly contagious (but benign) mouth warts.
Taking your own water and bowl will let you keep your dog hydrated while avoiding the increased risk of disease using shared water bowls.
Part of being responsible means cleaning up after your dog at the dog park and only taking healthy dogs. If your dog is sick, it's time to stay home.
There are also some injuries where dogs should not be exercised, especially in a boisterous dog park. For example, if your dog has something like a torn cruciate ligament you are likely to have a very explicit exercise routine, which won't involve running around at a dog park.
You'll also want to keep female dogs in heat away from the dog park for obvious reasons. Dogs in heat can also be the catalyst for fights between other dogs.
Another way to keep your dog safe is to make sure that your small pet sit dogs play with other small dogs - they can incite prey drive in large dogs or accidentally be injured in full on play with a dog more significant than themselves.
Additional manners for the dog park
Dog trainer and daughter of a veterinarian, Mikkel Becker, contributes some other ideas for do's and don'ts to enjoy your time at the dog park with your dog. As always, follow any posted rules for your individual dog park and recommended suggestions.
Mikkel notes that it's essential to keep your dog on a leash until you are in the dog park entry, to prevent your dog from running off or scaring dogs outside the dog park. It's equally important to remove your dog's leash before letting them play in the park because keeping your dog on a leash comes with an increased risk of dog fights since your dog can't "escape" with a rope holding them in place.
It's also essential to make sure your dog is under control and calm before entering the dog park. While you might consider the dog park to be where your over-excited dog burns off their energy, it can also increase the risk of high arousal situations.
Ask for some basic obedience before your dog enters the dog park and try taking your dog on a walk first or playing fetch at home to take the edge off before letting them play.
Pay attention to your dog in the park
Finally, make sure you are paying 100% attention to your charge. If you have kids, leave them at home. You should be focusing on your dog, and remember not all dogs will get along with kids, nor have the manners not to knock them over or cause accidental harm.
Keep your phone in your pocket and closely watch your dog, so they don't hump or bully other dogs, or start long and rousing games of chase.
Remember, dog walkers tend to have steady routines. Find out what times your dog normally goes to the park. If he or she is used to playing with a particular set of dogs at a certain time of the day, you may find this provides an altogether easier experience.
If ever in doubt about your dog's behavior or interaction with other dogs, play safe and leave the park.
guest post - Vicki S
Vicki is a professional writer for ThePets.net who adores animals and helps readers get along well with their pets. She specializes in dog feeding and nutrition, cat and kitten food, dog care and training, aquarium fish owner tips.
Last updated on May 12th, 2023