Dog Park Etiquette

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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