Dog Park Etiquette

Ummmm, or if you do, please pick up after your empty dog

Most dog owners are aware of dog ownership laws when out and about with a dog. There are the obvious rules such as picking up after your dog and walking off lead in off lead areas etc. What I want to discuss today are the more subtle rules, or dog park etiquette.

Perhaps one of the most important, but less obvious rules is that your dog should not ‘rush’ at other dogs or people, particularly if the other dog is on lead. Dogs that rush tend to approach people and dogs with as much speed as possible. It can scare owners and their dogs. If your dog has a tendency to rush, you will need to work on recall, and be vigilant about your environment, you must see the distraction before your dog does so that they do not continue this behaviour. Your dog might be the most friendly dog but other people and dogs may not know this.

Dogs that rush at other dogs are usually deficient in their social skills. You can manage this by teaching heeling, asking your dog to heel towards another dog will allow for a much calmer, more controlled greeting. Usually, for dogs who rush, once they get close to another dog they are OK, provided the other dog is also calm. Once you have heeled up to another dog you can release your dog and allow them to interact freely. It’s just about managing the greeting.

Another dog park etiquette rule, that perhaps only the most dog savvy people know, is to not stand still for too long. I see this at dog parks all the time, what tends to happen is when people stand still for too long, their dog becomes bored and often will engage in unwanted behaviour. Such behaviour includes, rough play, bullying, barking, digging, humping, stealing toys and jumping.

Standing still for too long can also lead to tension between dogs, they may start out playing nicely but someone gets hurt because there is no break in the play. I would often go to the ‘standing around’ area of the dog park but I would only stay long enough for Ben to meet and greet some dogs, then we would go off on our walk. Often, after an hour or so, I would come back to the ‘standing around area’ and the same people would still be there. Dont get lazy with your walk, keep moving with your dog to keep them busy.

Often people that stand around too much also have problems recalling their dogs. You are just not that interesting if you are standing still for too long. Keep your dogs’ focus on you by moving, become your dogs most interesting thing at the park and they will never want to leave you. This takes energy and preparation but it is worth it in the end.

If you are the most interesting thing at the park, your dog is less likely to engage in behaviours such as humping, jumping and stealing other dogs toys. If any of these are a problem for you do not put your dog in a position to practice these behaviours. Keep moving, take some food and toys to the park, play with your dog and anticipate and redirect to change behaviour. Again, this requires effort and vigilance, but the less likely your dog is engaging in these behaviours the less likely they will do it in the future.

You should always take food to the park with you for your own dog. However, you will find that you may have other dogs coming up to you too. Never feed a strangers dog at the dog park. I made the mistake of feeding someone else’s dog once (after having been given permission to do so), as I lowered my hand down to feed the dog it attacked (nothing serious) the dog next to it! Since then I have never fed a dog at the park again.

Dogs playing at the park can also cause concern for some people. Generally, if both dogs are happy and relaxed in their play it can continue. Become familiar with canine body language so you can intervene as needed. Again, by continuing to move with your dog you will reduce the likelihood of play escalating to aggression or bullying behaviour. The etiquette is that should your dog be the one creating discomfort for others they should be removed from the situation.

Play is constructive if the dogs’ behaviours are changing. If one dog is fixed in only one behaviour pattern such as pushing, body slamming or chasing, without any break or change of behaviour, the play can become antisocial. Always actively supervise your dogs’ play and watch for any anxiety or fixed behaviour pattern in either dog.

People at the dog park love their dogs, being mindful of the how your dogs’ behaviour is impacting on others is respectful. Supervise your dog actively, and move around the park to keep your dog out of mischief. The dog park can be a great bonding opportunity for you and your dog. Play, laugh and train there together.


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11 Responses to Dog Park Etiquette

  1. Ailsa says:

    Hi Katarina, I have 2 chihuahas (2yo)we have just started going to our local off-leash with my husband & I. what & find that larger dogs tend to chase them or charge them it is usually dogs where the owners are standing around it occurs whether we are walking or have stopped. it sometimes starts as a very intense activity or becomes either intense or the larger dog wont stop chasing our dog who become scared. When we ask the owner to call their dog we are told its ok our dog wont hurt yours or are advised that the dog feeds of of our own anxiety. this is all very fine but we know our dogs are in distress and we need these owners to get their dog under control so that we can also control ours. because they are small other owners think it is cute when our dog has finally had enough & snaps at their larger dog. I dont know how to educate these owners without sounding like I am telling them their dog is a brute or them making them think that I am the inconsiderate one. what do I say to them? Or should we stop taking them? (Id hate to do that though as most of the interaction is pretty good & we usally keep them walking unless we are at the water )

    • katarina says:

      Hi Ailsa,
      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately there is little you can do to control other people and their dogs, this in one of the reasons I started this blog, and wrote this post- to educate people that ‘rushing’ dog behaviour is inappropriate. I’m sorry that you and your dogs have had such experiences.

      People need to be aware that small dogs do not take kindly to being bounded up to (even in a friendly way), and it may lead to more generalised aggressive behaviour from your little ones. You should not tolerate it, but as I said earlier, there is little you can do after the fact. Here’s what I suggest….

      Get to know the dogs at your local park, if the ‘rushing’ and less obedient dogs are there, remain out of sight and walk elsewhere at the park. This means that you will need to be vigilant about your environment, watch the dogs from afar, and I would suggest getting to know the older, quieter and more obedient dogs. This much is in your control. You are in charge of your own dogs’ emotional wellbeing, this means not putting them in situations where they will be frightened. Go to the park, look around and make a risk assessment of what you see.

      If the worst happens and they do get rushed, crouch down and allow your dogs to shelter in the space under your legs, then nicely explain to the owner that they feel intimidated by larger dogs bounding up to them. But, this should not happen very often as now you will be more aware of what is going on in the environment.

      Anticipate events before they happen and you will not have to react, your vigilance is going to be your dogs best protection. Be picky about the kinds of dogs you have them around.

      All the best.

  2. Ailsa says:

    Thankyou very much for your advice it makes it easier when you know what to do! and now I can say to my husband that we should go the other way when required as this comes from knowlege/advice received from a reputable trainer

  3. Suellen says:

    For the last weeks l have been walking with my 5 month old Airedale at off leash dog parks and am happy for him to meet and play with other dogs and chat with their owners. He has been bullied by mature stronger dogs occasionally and since reading this post a week ago l have seen it coming and promptly moved on and kept moving! We now have much happier walks!
    I love this blog,
    Thanks for all the great advice !

    • katarina says:

      Thanks for your comment Suellen, all of you hard work now will pay off when you have a confident, well mannered dog who will have the freedom to be off lead. Much of the walking you do at this stage will require that you keep a close eye on your puppy to ensure he has many positive experiences. Keep up the good work.

  4. Jacqui says:

    Hey, we recently saved a 9 month old kelpie x cattle dog ( we think) from death row. He is the most Beautifully natured, obedient , gentle dog. We just started taking him off the leash in the dog park near our home. I have never had a dog and learning about park etiquette. If off the lead and he starts to wonder off and not listening to my whistle what do I do? Most the time I have my toddler in her pram!
    My feel listens to my husband better then me?

  5. Tanysha says:

    My dog is one of the ones who rush other dogs! Try as I might, if he wants to do it he will! I have a whippet, male 2.5 yo desexed. We mainly go there to play fetch and stretch his legs as he has very rarely been interested in playing with other dogs. He tends to rush at dogs slightly smaller than himself, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t done it to larger dogs. He doesn’t do this very often, maybe once every 5 visits, but it is very embarrassing and no good for the other dogs or their owners. He has a mainly accurate recall, but whippets can be stubborn if they want to do their own thing. I keep away from other dogs as best as is possible, because I know he can do this, but what can I do other than reinforce his recall? (Which after today I am set on getting perfect!)

    • katarina says:

      Hi Tanysha,
      I just love whippets! Absolutely working on his recall is the first step, once his recall is trained you will be able to call him back to you as soon as he starts rushing. If he’s not interested in play with other dogs I would assume that
      a) he’s worried about other dogs and doing it to keep them away rather than from a place of excited play.
      b) that he does not know how to appropriately approach and interact with other dogs.

      Without knowing his full background and seeing him in action it’s hard to give you any other advice, but regardless recall will be vital to keep him and others safe. Check out my articles and videos on recall….

      Breaking Down The Recall

      The Recall In Action

      The Recall One Year On

      • Tanysha says:

        Thanks for your reply, I would assume his lack of interest in other dogs is the main reason for this. He’s never afraid of anything, not big dogs, not little dogs, not thunder or lightening. Because of his lack of interest in other dogs he hasn’t been socialised, in a sense. We have been going to dog parks regularly since he was 6 months old and attended puppy school at 12 weeks. So he hasn’t been devoid of dog company, he just chooses to avoid them. I get a sense that he rushes them to attempt to intimidate/tease them into chasing him – even though no dog can keep up at our local park, and he’s well aware of that! But even so I want to put a stop to it as best I can. After the incident today, (he ended up with a nipped ear) I practiced his recall and he did it spot on every time. I don’t know what else to do except hope that I catch him before he decides to do it again and his mind is set and he ignores me.

        • katarina says:

          Many Whippets love to be chased and that’s fine but there are rules of engagement/interaction that all dogs should understand and this comes from early appropriate socialisation and good management by the handler. It will be your job to only put him in situations where he is able to behave appropriately, it means being vigilant on walks and getting him around the right kinds of dogs too. I’ve got an article coming out soon addressing this very issue, stay tuned.

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