Dog Park Dos and Don’ts

As the weather gets warmer and the days get longer, you’re bound to see an increase in traffic at your local dog park.  I know that there are mixed feelings out there on dog parks – some dog owners swear by them, and some would rather be caught on a busy street without a poo bag while your dog squats in front of everyone than go to a (gasp) dog park.

For us at Foster House, the dog park is a valuable tool (as evidenced by past posts, here, here and here).  We live in a neighborhood that isn’t very “walkable,” especially with three dogs.  Lack of sidewalks and street lights, combined with an abundance of lose dogs running around and streets that are used as busy cut-throughs make walking near Foster house frustrating at best and impossible at worst.  So if we’re going to put the dogs in the car to drive to somewhere more “walkable”  anyway, some days we decide to just hit one of Nashville’s three dog parks instead. 

Every single time we go, without fail, we’re bound to see some sort of behavior (human or canine) that makes us cringe.  As with any social situation, there’s a certain etiquette and common courtesy that should always be followed whenever bringing a dog out in public.  If you’re new to the dog park circuit, and not as lucky as Two Pitties in the City to have a secret dog park of your own, we’ve put together a few tips to help keep your dog park trips safe and fun for everybody. 

1.  DO bring your well behaved, socialized dog to the park.  While the dog park can be used as a tool to continue socialization for your dog, you should not use it to start socializing your dog.  Remember, the dog park is like canine Christmas. At Disney World.  On crack. With Justin Bieber.  For many dogs, this is the only time they’re allowed to run free off-leash.  Not to mention all the people, the other dogs, different sounds and smells – talk about sensory overload!  If your dog is fearful, nervous, toy possessive, or aggressive, you’ll want to take steps to socialize your dog before your bring him into a dog park situation.  Your dog should also have a darn near perfect recall – trust me on the importance of this one.  Example: more than once, we’ve seen dogs engage in play that was quickly escalating from fun-for-all to not-so-fun.  Oscar was not involved, but he was nearby.  A quick recall over to us, a little “sit-stay” practice, and Oscar was distracted from the action, safe out of harm’s way.

2.  DON’T leave land mines, even if no one’s looking.  Hey, nature calls, it happens.  Just – pick it up, for the love…

3.  DO watch your dog – all the time!  You may be tempted to find a nice shady spot, park yourself on a bench and check your e-mail, or pull out that novel you’ve been trying to finish.  But how can you make sure your dog is behaving himself if you have your head buried in a book?  How can you tell if it’s time to follow rule #2 if you’re engrossed in Facebook on your phone?  This is a safety precaution as well – just because you follow rule #1 and your dog is well behaved and properly socialized, not everyone at the park has read this very informative blog post.  You want to make sure your dog doesn’t find himself in an uncomfortable situation.  Most “incidents” that happen at dog parks can be avoided, if everyone is watching their own dog for signs of stress. Since your dog has a good recall (see rule #1), you can call him away from the stressful situation and give him a break.  You’ll also need to make sure he’s drinking enough water, especially as the weather heats up.  I don’t know about your dog, but some that have passed through our house get so caught up in playing that they forget to drink and take breaks.  Dogs can get dehydrated just like people can.  Watch for excessive panting and other signs of exhaustion.

4.  DON’T pick up your small dog.  This is a really great way to get a lot of dogs running over and jumping on you, which is bound to stress out you as well as your pooch.  If your dog is getting overwhelmed, he might be trying to tell you he’s had enough dog park for the day.  When it’s time to leave, simply call your dog and calmly walk him out. 

5.  DO use the double-gate entrance/exit properly.  A lot of dog parks have a double-gate system at the entrance, in which you a) walk your dog in through the first gate b) close it behind you c) unclip your dog’s leash d) enter the park with your dog through the second gate and e) close the second gate behind you.  Under no circumstances should both gates ever be open at the same time.  You risk not only your dog escaping, but other’s as well.   

I also like to encourage our dogs not to crowd the gate when another dog is coming in or going out.   Close quarters can cause stress, which can lead to defensive behaviors which can lead to an altercation – and no one wants that.

6.  DON’T kick my dog.  Yep, you read that right.  If my dog is jumping on you (which, he should not be doing, because I am following rule #1, but even the best trained dog can have a temporary lapse every once in awhile) leave it to me to discipline him.  Because of rule #3, I am watching him at all times, I can see him misbehaving, and I am nearby to call him away.  Do not, under any circumstances, raise your leg, bend your knee, and extend your foot at my dog, making contact with him in the chest.  Unless of course, you would like to continue this conversation in the parking lot. (**disclaimer: HBAMF does not condone violence. So just don’t kick my dog, ‘kay?)

7.  DO engage your dog.  The dog park is a great atmosphere for you and your dog to practice basic skills.  I mean, talk about distraction!  Recall, sit, down, stay – easy stuff that your well-trained dog already knows, becomes a gazillion times harder in this Disney-Christmas-Crack-Bieber environment.  Or, just pick up a ball and chuck it – hey, even if your dog isn’t into it at the moment, I promise someone’s dog will love you for throwing that ball.

8. DON’T bring in food, human or canine.  Whether it’s a bag of McDonald’s or a pocket of dog treats, food = resource = potential competition = opportunity for an altercation.  Avoid it. 

9. DO advertise your foster dog. You know who goes to dog parks?  DOG PEOPLE!  One of them just might be looking for another furry friend to add to their family.  Chat with other dog owners, talk up your rescue organization, hand out cards, mention that you happen to have an eligible bachelor (or bachelorette) with you today, if you’d like to meet him? Hey, you never know! (Tip: you may want to leave your beautifully embroidered ‘Adopt Me’ collar at home, though.)

10. DON’T bring a dog who is sick, in heat, or not up to date on all shots and vaccinations. This should be a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning.  Puppies should not go to the dog park until they have had all their shots.  If your dog is sick, you’re putting everyone else’s dog at risk of catching your pup’s ailment.  And while I am obviously a huge fan of no-babies precautions (for about a gazillion reasons, but that’s another post), if you haven’t spayed your female dog – do not bring her to the dog park if she is in heat.   

Well there you have it, my two ten cents on how to make sure your next trip to the dog park is fun & exhausting for your pups and incident-free for all.  OK, now will someone please give me a hand down off of this soap box?  Does anyone else take your pack to the dog park?  What tricks of the trade do you use to make sure everyone has a good time?  Do you have an additions to this list?  Anything you disagree with?  Please share!

If you’d like to make Cooper or Molly Tamale your dog park partner, please fill out an application with Agape Animal Rescue.



Filed under Our Foster Journey

23 responses to “Dog Park Dos and Don’ts

  1. This is an AWESOME post. If everybody were as courteous and wise as you, I very well might be a dog park person! And your post comes at an interesting time — I was about to start writing a post for later this week about the evils of dog parks 🙂
    Reading this very thoughtful entry makes me reconsider though — perhaps I’ll just link to yours and add a few other thoughts I have on dog parks . . .


  2. stampinpuppies

    Great post! All rules to live by.

    You want to know my pet peeve about dog parks?!? My pups are people groupies and it never ceases to amaze me the number of people in dog parks that are doggie snobs. I don’t know if it’s the pitbull thing or if they just don’t like any dogs but their own. I’ve seen people act like the dog has cooties. Hey it’s a “dog park” people if you don’t like dogs maybe you should go somewhere else?! Rant finished 🙂


    • LOL right! Or the people who freak out if a dog rubs against their leg and gets a little dirt on them? I see some people show up looking like they’re about ready to go out to the theater or something – don’t wear something that can’t get dirty! 🙂


  3. While Badger would love having space to run around off-leash (we are apartment-dwellers), we have not brought the dogs to a dog park because they aren’t ready. Thanks for posting this nice list of things to work toward!


  4. I wish everyone followed the dos and donts

    Stop on by for a visit


  5. These are great tips! Thanks for sharing, and thanks for the pingback! We have never taken our dogs to a real dog park, although we go to an unofficial (unfenced) neighborhood dog park several days a week. It’s great for our socialized dogs but was never ideal for our foster boy who didn’t know how to play nice.


  6. Has someone KICKED your dog in the past?! I have no idea what I would do if someone did that!

    Great info, by the way! Although I do have one thing to say about your first rule. Turk, who is very defensive of a leash and doesn’t do well with other dogs in our home, does totally awesome at dog parks. I think the freedom of being off leash and being able to run faster than most of the other dogs makes it an ideal environment for him to socialize with other dogs in a healthy way. Obviously, we watch him carefully for signs of stress and he always returns when we call him, otherwise we wouldn’t take him there. I am sure my situation is probably more the exception than the rule, but I thought I’d throw that out there! 🙂


    • Great point, Emily! Like people, every dog is different. Every person knows their own dog best, and what situations they can handle. These are just my own thoughts, and rather than hard-and-fast-gospel trush, I hope readers just take them as guidelines. 🙂

      …except for the kicking thing. I’m pretty firm on that! (And yes, unfortunately that actually happened. Some *explative* was breaking rule #4 and Oscar jumped. Oh MAN you should have heard me yell!)


      • I think your guidelines are great – and I totally agree with them – just wanted to point out (aka defend) my unique situation! 😉 I can’t imagine how upset you must have been when Oscar was kicked. That’s just awful! 😦


  7. This is a great post! I wish everyone would follow the rules to. I also would add to no bring your dog in off leash. That can also cause issues with the restraint dog. I’ve seen a lot of people do this and it’s caused the leashed dog to snap at the other dogs that are saying hi. We love our dog park and have only had one minor problem with what I call ‘canine bullying’ but Trinity knows that mommy will protect her. I’m a sap. 😉


    • People shouldn’t bring there dogs in on leash. Sorry about that!


      • That’s a good point – I think it goes back to knowing your own dog and what they can handle. Our first foster dog (Tucker) was very comfortable on the leash – it seemed to make him feel safe. When we took him the first time, we kept him on the leash and walked him around the perimeter for a couple of laps before letting him off. It went much better than if we had just thrown him to the wolves, so to speak! 😉


  8. Rob

    I agree with everything there except the no knees to a jumping dog. I find it completely acceptable to knee away a jumping dog that is invading my personal space. They nip,we knee .Otherthan that great list!


    • Thanks Rob! I actually totally agree – if a dog is jumping on you, and their owner is not following rule #3 and is nowhere to be found, I’m all for defending yourself! That being said, a raised knee to block a jump is much different than a deliberate kick, just like a dog’s play nip is much different than a deliberate bite. In my situation, a lady had picked up her dog (a no-no), and Oscar jumped on her, I was no more than 10 feet away. I saw her pick up her dog, and could anticipate what was about to happen. I had started walking closer and calling Oscar away before he even raised up. He still got a foot to the chest. I’m sorry, the incident is still fresh and rattled me pretty badly, so I’m pretty sensitive about it! Thanks for reading and for your input! 🙂


  9. If everyone were as polite as you, maybe I could start going to the dog park again. You should head north and teach dog owners in NYC some dog park manners!

    While I stopped going due in part to continued, flagrant violations of rules 1 and 3 above, I mostly stopped going because dog owners would bring their small children into the dog run. While my dog has been trained to ignore children on the street and in my building, she has a high prey drive, so she doesn’t do well with kids running and screaming around her.

    I recognize that this is my/her issue (which is why I spent so much time training her to ignore children in everyday situations), but even if she was great with children, I still think the dog park should be a safe place for dogs to be dogs and the playground should be a safe place for children to be children. I think bringing a small child into a dog run is just a horrible accident (and quite frankly, lawsuit) waiting to happen.

    Have you encountered this situation and if so, how did you handle it? I tried discussing it several times and framed it as a general safety issue and people either laughed or got really angry.


    • Couldn’t agree more. Luckily most kids I’ve encountered at the dog park have been older, and pretty used to being around dogs. It’s the very young ones who shriek and run around yelling or begging to be picked up that freak the dogs out – and in my opinion, have absolutely no place in a dog park.


  10. Yes, we need to go to our secret park because so many people don’t follow these rules. In Chicago too many people use it as their only form of exercise (or just picking up a date?) so you get these excited dogs looking to release energy with a lot of owners not watching or paying attention. Plus our parks are super small with a high density of dogs in one spot. Great list!


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