In her post Due Diligence at the Dog Park , Marisa Landau suggests 10 tips to ensure a fun, safe trip to the dog park. She covers about every base there is with dog park etiquette in this well written opinion article. I agree with most of her tips wholeheartedly. They are great general rules that all dog park users should follow (Disclaimer: These are transcribed directly from her article – I did not write these myself). For instance:
- Supervise your dog at all times. Just because your dog gets along with everyone doesn’t mean it is a good idea to totally lose sight of him. You are responsible for your dog’s actions and you never know what other dogs will do, particularly when there are multiple dogs present. When dogs get together in a group they tend to develop a pack mentality, which can be dangerous if they gang up on other dogs. If you see your dog “ganging up” on another dog, pull him aside and have him take a break to settle down a bit.
- Prevent altercations before they occur. Although nobody likes to be the owner of a “trouble-maker,” you need to be responsible and consider the safety of the other dogs and people in the park. Like people, some dogs just don’t mesh and that is okay. If your dog is constantly clashing with another dog it may be time to leave and come back another time. Signs that another dog has “had enough” are flattened ears, tail between the legs, or constantly rolling onto his back.
- Respect the comfort zones of other people and their dogs. There is a fine line between rough-housing and fighting, and some people either don’t know how to tell the two apart or simply don’t want their dog playing rough. If a person is not comfortable with their dog rough-housing with yours, that is their prerogative. Although you might know your dog is just playing when he pins another dog on the ground, other owners may not be comfortable with it and they are entitled to limit the type of interactions their dog has.
- Don’t wear your Sunday best to the dog park. I can’t tell you how many people wear white pants and high heels to the park, only to scowl and roll their eyes when they leave with muddy paw prints. It’s a dog park people — dogs jump and roll in the mud so dress accordingly!
- Look out for your fellow dog park attendees. The dog park can be a great way to meet people and creates a very communal environment. Dog owners tend to watch out for each other to reinforce a safe and fun atmosphere. Do you see someone’s dog squatting in the corner while they aren’t looking? Politely let them know and they will most likely thank you for keeping an eye out. Nobody wants to have the reputation of not picking up after their dog. Which brings me to my next point…
- Always pick up after your dog! Don’t pretend you are looking at your phone or petting another dog so that you “don’t see” your dog going to the bathroom. There is a good chance that someone else did see it and you better believe someone will eventually confront you about it! Nobody wants to be known as “that owner” who doesn’t pick up after their dog.
- Be careful not to let any dogs loose when you enter and exit the dog park. Many dogs come to the dog park because they cannot be off-leash in an unfenced area and some of these dogs also happen to be escape artists. Don’t walk in and leave the gate wide open — come in and close the gate quickly. If there are other dogs and people waiting to enter or exit the park, wait for them to pass before you go through the gate.
However, I didn’t agree with ALL of her etiquette rules. Here are two rules I always break and why.
- Separate big and small dogs. In parks that designate “small dog” and “big dog” sides, make sure you stick to the appropriate side of the park based on your dog’s size. The difference in body size alone can create a hazard for small dogs as they can easily get stepped on or rolled by the bigger dogs. In addition, sometimes bigger dogs will corner and chase smaller dogs, not necessarily out of aggression but because they might see little dogs as prey. A fluffy little white Maltese bolting across the park can look an awful lot like a rabbit in the eyes of a dog that is bred to hunt!
I understand her point about some bigger dogs not mixing with small dogs because of their prey drive and because big dogs can accidentally step on a smaller dog and injure them. However, a dog of ANY size can decide my dog is “prey” or physically harm my dog. As long as you are aware of the special risks that come with having a small dog and are willing to leave the area if your dog is in danger or causes a big rukus you should not have to keep your dog in the small dog area only. I want my dog to be socialized towards dogs of all sizes. If I always keep my dogs from big ones they won’t know the correct way to behave when they encounter them. The bottom line is, as it ALWAYS is, take responsibility for the behavior and safety of your own dog and act accordingly. Having to stay away from big dogs is just silly.
- Don’t bring treats or food into a dog park. Bringing food items into a dog park is like bringing honey into a beehive. You may be the most popular person at the park to the dogs, but you also run the risk of starting a fight. The presence of food can create unnecessary tension and can cause some dogs to become territorial. In addition, not all dogs have the best manners and there is a good chance your sandwich will be knocked out of your hand and scarfed down by a hungry park guest.
Marissa seems to be implying here that she is talking not bringing your lunch, or human food, into the dog park. However, most dog park rules state that you should not bring food of any kind into parks, including dog treats, so I suspect she is also referring to that kind of food too. While it is true that having treats in your pocket can make you a dog magnet but the owner should have enough control over their dog to call them away from you if your attempts to push them away don’t work. I break this rule all of the time.
While your dog should already have good manners before you bring them to a dog park, a dog park can be a good place to practice obedience drills such as reliable recall among intense distractions. Where else do you get this kind of opportunity? Most positive training obedience classes will teach you to practice recall on your dog using treats. If my dogs know that if they come when called they get good things like a treat, the are WAY more likely to do it consistently. I use the treats as a reward for them any time they do what I ask them – especially at a dog park.
I might mention here that, although tempting, you should NEVER feed someone else’s dog treats at the dog park without asking permission first. Many dogs have allergies or are on special diets for fitness or medical reasons. Just giving someone’s dog a treat is disrespectful and one of the main reasons why many people don’t like people who bring dog treats into the off-leash park.
So here are some great rules to live by when you visit your local off-leash park and two that, in my opinion, you can ignore. What do you think?