Animal House: Dog Park Etiquette

Proper etiquette can improve the experience you and your dog have when spending some time at dog parks.

I received several e-mails in regards to a comment I made in a about proper . Most of the e-mails were saying thank you for bringing the issue up and asked me to expound on what I meant about proper dog park etiquette. 

The first point that needs to be made is that a dog park is a public place and for public benefit and everyone, regardless of the breed they own, have the right to be there provided they act appropriately. 

I hate to mention how many times I have been sneered at or shunned because my service dog Ferris looks like an undesirable, misunderstood breed. 

The funny part is Ferris works with me every day and visits schools, works with children and in hospitals and rehabilitation centers.

It is a dog’s personality, not it’s breed that determines its nature. 

Given this, if you have a bias against certain breeds, leave them at the gate if you intend on visiting a dog park.  Every dog is welcome, and should be. 

When arriving at the dog park, do not just let the dog off the leash and run freely.  First, watch for a minute, and determine what activities are going on and speak to the other dog owners.  Ask, is it okay if we come in?  Someone may just be getting their dog under control to take them out and opening the gate at that moment could result in a dog running off. 

After entering, leave the dog on the leash for a moment and let the other dogs sniff away.  This allows for the owner to have full control of their dog in case the reaction to the other dogs is not what was expected. 

Once an owner feels comfortable that all the dogs will get a long, then the dog can be unleashed.  At this point, this is where a good trainer and good training should have already been done. There is nothing worse than a dog owner yelling the dogs name followed by “COME” a thousand times. 

Now, in part this may be because the dog is excited and seriously distracted, however, if the dog is not well trained yelling the same thing over and over isn’t going to change the fact the dog isn’t going to come. 

Only good consistent training will overcome the distractions, and in fact, the repeated use of a command without the dog reacting reduces the effectiveness of the command. 

If the owner and dog like to play fetch, that’s great!  However understand that other dogs will probably go for the ball as well and this may cause a disagreement among the dogs.  It is best to ask the people around if it’s okay to play fetch. These little ounces of respect and courtesy really go a long way.

If a dog other than the owner’s comes to them, ask if it is okay to pet the dog.  Better to ask than be bit. The same courtesy should also be extended when it comes to giving out treats.  Never give a dog that is not the one you brought a treat without checking with the owner first.  Dogs can have food allergies or sensitive stomachs and handing out treats can cause some real grief for some dog owners.  It is great to be generous, but caution first is always best. 

One of everyone’s biggest pet peeves is simply clean up after yourself and your dog.  Be prepared and have plastic baggies to pick up anything your dog leaves behind.  Also, make sure all trash is put in the proper receptacle so everyone can enjoy a clean dog park. 

Last but not least, remember not all dog owners were created equally and at times, everyone believes they are a dog expert.  What makes sense to one doesn’t to another.  It is best to leave dog training to dog trainers and enjoy the dog park as a place for recreation. 

The dog parks in our area are a wonderful public resource and of great benefit for dogs and humans alike, and with a little courtesy and understanding we all can continue to enjoy our four-footed friends and the special area that towns have generously allocated for them.


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