15 Helpful Dog Park Tips – Keeping Dog Park Visits Positive

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15 Helpful Dog Park TipsAfter getting some great feedback from last week’s post “Are Dog Parks Good or Bad for Your Dog?”, I wanted to follow up with some dog park tips and additional information I think you’ll find useful. If you feel the dog park environment is a good fit for exercising and socializing your dog, check out the helpful tips below.

15 Helpful Dog Park Tips

1. Pick the Right Dog Park
All dog parks should have separate areas for large and small dogs, since small dogs could easily be injured by large, energetic dogs. The park should also have double gates at the entrance so you can safely remove your dog’s leash before entering the off-leash area of the park. The larger the park, the better, because there’s more room for the dogs to exercise and spread out if they need some extra space. Large parks with a variety of land features such as ponds, hills and trees are ideal.
2. Check the Park Rules
Yeah, rules can be a drag, but following the park rules will help ensure your pup will stay safe and have a good experience at the park.
3. Choose the Best Time to Visit
When first exploring a new dog park, visit during off-peak hours when it’s less busy. This will allow you and your dog to get comfortable with the park without the added excitement of a crowded park environment.
4. Got Treats?
Have you ever visited a dog park and forgot you had a few treats in your pocket? Yes, you’re quickly reminded and hounded by the master sniffers at the park while you try to figure out how to get out of the awkward situation. Most parks have rules against bringing in food or treats and it’s best to leave the treats at home. Some dogs may have resource guarding issues with food and can become pretty insistent if they think you’re holding out on them.
5. Keep Your Dog Hydrated
Your pup will probably work up quite a thirst while playing at the park. Be sure to take an adequate amount of water, if it’s not provided or if you prefer that your dog not share a community water bowl or doggie water fountain.
6. Toys or No Toys?
Some dog parks don’t allow toys, but most do and you’re likely to find several abandoned tennis balls scattered around the grounds. It’s best to leave high-valued toys at home to avoid any problems with resource guarding. If you do take toys to the park, expect that other dogs will likely want to join in on the fun and may snatch and lose your dog’s toys or engage you in a lively game of keep away.
7. Scope Out the Park
You want your dog to have a fun and positive experience at the park, so before entering, take a few minutes to observe the behavior of the dogs inside. Are the dogs relaxed and playing well together? If you notice a lot of tension or fights breaking out, come back another time.
8. Check Your Dog’s Attitude
Is you dog overly-excited, anxious or tense? Just as you don’t want to enter a park full of tense dogs, you also don’t want to take a tense or overly exuberant dog into a dog park. Exercise your dog first or linger outside the fence (away from the gate) and allow your dog to calm down before entering. Also, work on training good door and gate manners.
9. Collar and Leash Tips
Flat collars, that can easily be removed, are the best choice for your dog when visiting a dog park. Dogs often play bite while wrestling and playing and their teeth can become entangled in another dog’s choke collar, prong collar or harness and could cause an injury or escalate into a fight. Some owners are reluctant to remove their dog’s leash in off-leash areas because they feel that the leash gives them more control over their dog, but leashes can cause tripping or entanglement problems and many dogs become reactive when leashed around other off-leash dogs, as they feel they can’t defend themselves properly.
10. How to Enter the Park
Remove your dog’s leash once securely between the two closed gates, then open the inner gate and enter the park with your dog. Once inside, don’t hover near the entrance. Walk around with your dog while interacting and playing with her. It can be intimidating for a dog to enter the park when several dogs are hanging out around the entrance.
11. How to Enjoy the Park
Don’t force your dog to play or interact with other dogs. Instead, allow her to adjust and enjoy the park and other dogs at her own pace. Keep moving with your dog while you play and explore together.
12. Reinforcing Recall
Interrupt your dog’s play occasionally and call your dog to Come. When she comes to you, give her lots of praise and send her right back to have some more fun. There will be times when you’ll need to call your dog away from a tense situation, so having good recall is essential at the dog park and practice makes perfect.
13. Be Watchful
Stay focused on your dog at all times. You can still be friendly and chat with other dog owners, but don’t ignore your dog. Always be proactive when you see a situation that could escalate into a problem.
14. Poop Duty
Be a responsible dog owner by promptly picking up after your dog. Carrying a spare poop bag in your pocket at all times makes it easy to pick up after your dog quickly, instead of walking to fetch a bag near the park entrance, then wandering around trying to locate the poop. Kudos to those amazing dog owners that pickup after others who don’t.
15. Leaving the Park
Always be prepared to leave if your dog becomes aggressive with other dogs, is uncomfortable at the park or if the atmosphere becomes a negative environment. When it’s time to leave the park, call your dog to Come but then wait a short time before leaving so your dog doesn’t associate coming to you with immediately leaving the park and ending the fun.

What Should You Do When Playing Becomes Too Intense?

This is a common dog park debate that occurs often between dog owners while at the park. Some owners intervene and stop the play, while others feel the dogs should work it out on their own. Since dogs have different types of play styles, learning about canine body language can be helpful in determining whether dogs are playing and having fun together or whether a fight is about to break out.

Two Dogs at Water Dog ParkWhen dogs are playing, they can sometimes growl and expose their teeth to each other as they play bite, but their bodies are loose and wiggly with very fluid movement. You’ll notice lots of play bows and bouncy, puppy-like movements with open or smiling mouths. Dogs that are playing in a positive way take turns pretending to be the aggressor. They’ll occasionally freeze for a second or two before continuing to play, wrestle or chase.

It’s time to intervene if your dog is mounting other dogs, body slamming or rolling dogs, relentlessly chasing a dog (without taking turns being chased) or if you notice other types of bullying behavior. A dog that is being bullied normally has a tucked tail and is trying to get away, rather than acting playful. Also watch for stiff or tense body postures or play that continues to intensify without breaks in the action. If you notice any of these behaviors, call your dog to you or take control of your dog and have her take a short break to calm down. When intervening, try to avoid the impulse to pick up a small dog since the lifting action can trigger a chasing or treeing instinct in a dog with a strong prey drive.

How to Break Up a Dog Fight

Luckily, most dog fights sound much worse than what they are and it’s normally more about vocal posturing or trash talking than trying to inflict pain and injury on each other. Still, we tend to go into full panic mode when it happens.

The important thing to remember is that you can get seriously injured while trying to break up a dog fight, so try to stay calm and think before reacting. Many times dog owners get bit when trying to reach into the middle of a fight to grab their dog by the collar. While there’s no fool-proof way of breaking up a fight without risking injury to yourself, here are some suggestions.

  • Yell or clap loudly to try to distract the dogs. This seems to work better before the fight escalates in intensity; otherwise, it can aggravate the situation.
  • If you have water close by, throwing a bucket of water on the dogs or hosing them down usually works well to end a fight.
  • Miniature air horns or citronella spray cans can be very effective in breaking up a fight, but how many people carry these, right?
  • If you have another person to help, each of you can grab a dog by their hind legs (grab up high, near the body to prevent injuring the dog’s legs), then lift the hind legs off the ground, like a wheelbarrow. Pull the dogs several feet apart while rotating each dog in a circle until the dogs calm down. Keep them far apart and facing away from each other while you get them restrained on leashes.

I hope you find these dog park tips useful! I would love to hear your ideas about how to make dog park visits a positive experience. Also, have you ever had to break up a dog fight? What did you do?

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16 Comments on “15 Helpful Dog Park Tips – Keeping Dog Park Visits Positive”

    • This is an excellent article! We used to go to dog parks on a regular basis when our pups were much younger than they are now (they’re 3.5 years now), but have found that most dog parks we’ve been to were frequented by unbalanced dogs whose owners took them to the park in lieu of a daily walk.

      Since moving from the D.C. suburbs to rural NC, I have been carrying a smaller spray bottle containing a mixture of water & white vinegar in a cross-body bag when out on walks ~ there are no leash laws out here, and we frequently encounter off-leash & stray dogs.

      I have used the spray bottle a few times to keep those dogs away from us, and it has worked quite nicely. I also always carry a super loud whistle on me, both for means of distracting loose dogs & to potentially call for help, should the need ever arise.

      Should I ever try going to another dog park, I would definitely take the bottle & the whistle along! Thankfully, I’ve never had to break up a dog fight, but I like to be prepared 🙂

      • Thanks for the helpful advice, Barbara! I bought pepper spray and miniature air horn cans a while ago, but I honestly hated carrying them with me because I was always afraid they were going to go off accidentally. I also hated the thought of pepper spray possibly getting in Haley’s face or blowing back in my face. I guess in a life or death situation it would be worth having and using, but I think I would feel more comfortable with the vinegar and water spray and a whistle.

    • I loved this! Had to share it on FB. I am such a chicken when it comes to dog parks. I am always hearing “horrific stories” about bully dogs that go there and start fights. I would love to take Harley, perhaps I need a dog park buddy to show me the ropes. Great post!

      • I never thought of that Cathy, what a great idea! Taking a dog along (that your dog already knows) when going to a dog park for the first time would probably make it much less stressful for your dog. The buddy system!

    • These are great points to keep the dog park a positive experience. We stopped going to the dog park after having too many horrible situations. We only have one dog park in our town and the people that go there are extremely irresponsible. They don’t watch dogs, bring fast food to eat, and (if they can actually see their dog) laugh at their dog’s inappropriate behavior. When we had to pull out the hose on a dog that had cornered Mauja and was attacking her, that was it for us.

      It’s really unfortunate because Mauja and Atka SO social and they love playing with other dogs. We’re trying to find doggie playmates for them so they can still have their social interactions.

      • It is a shame that some people ruin the experience for everyone. Poor Mauja, I hope she wasn’t too traumatized by what happened to her. Play dates work really well for Haley, but I occasionally will give dog parks a try if the dogs seem well balanced.

    • Wow, so much helpful information here.

      One thing I would add is when visiting a dog park with a rambunctious dog, it helps to take the dog for a long walk before visiting the park. There’s a lot of energy at the gate when a new dog arrives, at least at certain parks. So, it helps if you can decrease the energy even a little. Meeting strange dogs (a whole group of them!) just goes a little better when there’s less energy. I also try to get the dog to sit for a few seconds between the two gates before I let him go.

      Great tip about making sure not to hover near the entrance!

      • Yes, that works really well! There’s a dog park near us that has a two mile walking path around the park and I always start with a lap around the park with Haley before going in.

    • I’ve been lurking around your blog, meaning to leave a comment but usually I’m on my phone which is not comment friendly. Anyway, I wanted to say that I enjoy your blog so much that I’ve nominated you for a Liebster award. I hope you’ll accept, but if not I’m still sharing how much I love your blog with everybody I know. — Kelley

      • Thank you Kelley for checking out the blog and especially for nominating me for the Liebster Award! I was also happy to discover your blog not long ago and have enjoyed many of your posts! 🙂

    • Fantastic tips! I also find that talking to other good dog owners to find out which local dog parks are “bad” ones and which are the really good ones w/ responsible owners and non aggressive dogs. We steer clear of the bad one near us where fights frequently break out and blood gets drawn; good dog owners have learned to steer clear of that one. I especially like tip #9. We learned just while walking our dog that another dog can get caught in a harness – it was a few moments of panic but easily rectified. If the dogs were loose in a dog park it may not have been so easily remedied & could have resulted in injury. Definitely sharing this.

      • Thanks for sharing the post Cathy! I’ve noticed also in my area, that some parks are better than others, so I’ll occasionally take Haley to the better park if it’s not too crowded. I’m glad the harness incident worked out fine, that can be scary.

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