Follow These Unwritten Rules of Dog Parks

The Dog Park is a magical place for pups and their people. A place to let dogs be dogs. To sniff ‘n stroll, romp ‘n roll, or stretch their legs and open up like the place is a canine Autobahn. We love our off-leash dog parks, but they’re not a lawless free-for-all. For one, there are official dog park rules and regulations. But almost as important are the unwritten rules of dog parks—the things that will make your fellow pups and humans shake their heads in disappointment. So before you and your dog embarrass yourselves at your local dog park, read up on these unwritten rules to avoid dog park pet peeves. 

1. Pay Attention

This is one among the most common laments: folks who bring their dog and then get distracted. If your dog just smashed into another dog and hurt them and you didn’t even notice, that’s a problem. And you want to make sure your dog isn’t getting injured or bullied, too! To avoid the hairy eyeball, keep your eye on Fido.

2. Mind Your Manners

Stay vigilant, and keep tabs on canine body language. No one wants to watch other dogs getting bullied and their owners not interceding. Watching a dog repeatedly try to hump another dog isn’t fun for anyone, especially the dog on the receiving end. It’s also important to keep big dogs outta the designated little-dog areas (and in some cases, vice-versa). Find our complete guide to dog park etiquette here!

small and large dog greeting each other in dog park
OMG hai!!! | Izumi LaCorte

3. Pick Up the Dang Poop

You have no excuses at the dog park. If you forget bags, guess what? There’s probably a bag station, and if not, there are a whole bunch of pup parents around who would happily help you out. And just because it’s in an inconvenient spot doesn’t mean you get to leave it there. Pick it up, folks! 

4. Say No to Dog Toys and Treats

Unless your dog is happy to share her frisbee, leave it home—or at least hang at a less-populated part of the park. If another dog tries to get in on your game, please don’t get mad—the dog park is for everyone, after all. Treats are also a no-go, as other dogs might sniff them out and cause problems.

5. Watch Your Human Pups, Too

If you’ve gotta bring small children, please watch them and don’t let them run around. Dogs who herd will want to herd them, and big dogs can easily knock a small kid right the heck over—even if they’re just trying to say hi. It’s a dog park, y’all, not a playground. 

dog smiling with tongue out
Get me off this leash; I’m ready to run! | Zachary Casler 

6. Unspayed or Unneutered Dogs? Stay On Hormone Alert

Dog parks rules clearly state that you should NOT bring gals in heat. This doesn’t necessarily mean all dogs MUST be spayed/neutered; it does mean you should know thy intact dog, watch them ultra-carefully, and intercede if hormone-driven situations occur.

7. Let Loose

Some people like to practice training at the park, and may keep pup leashed. A good rule of paw here: Everyone on or everyone off. A mix of both leashed and unleashed dogs can mess with their natural approaches and reactions.

8. Don’t Be a Jerk About Dirt

Mud, water, and slobber are part of the deal. Dress for the occasion, and expect the potential of messy greetings or collateral damage.

Share these to-don’ts with newbie owners or as a gentle reminder to all. Have any unwritten rules of dog parks you would add? Drop ‘em in the comments.

Featured photo: Roberto Lopez

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17 thoughts on “Follow These Unwritten Rules of Dog Parks

  1. Mary

    After reading the above “pet peeves”, it made me glad that people are noticing and speaking up. I own/operate a dog boarding kennel and we remind our customers who go to dog parks to be very vigilant of the other dogs and owners. Unfortunately, there have been several bad incidents here in the St. Cloud area at dog parks with owners that are either inattentive or uncaring with their bully breeds and dogs. Dogs MUST have adequate exercise to be happy and healthy and dog parks can be such a great experience to owners that live in the city or have limited access to free play. Keep up the great work in calling attention to these problems and, hopefully, owners can become more educated and dogs parks more friendly!!!

    Reply
  2. JEANNE GHRMAN

    Three of the many reasons I will never take my dog to a dog park. There’s a lot of ignorance in the world, and dogs are certainly not among the ignorant.

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  3. Carly

    Sorry but it’s a park, not a bar! You can’t except children to be excluded from play time with their dogs- and if your dog can’t handle it, than you shouldn’t be bringing them! Of course parents should respect and realize that their littles can be knocked over, herded and teethed on but again it’s a park and you need to share with all!

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    1. T

      Carly – “teethed on” equates to being bitten for most people, ignorant or not. Our sue-happy, high-strung society has a new breed of parents; their kids can do no wrong!! Children should stay in their own parks – there’s certainly no lack of them. Whenever conflict arises, the dog will always lose; it’s in their best interest if the kids stay out.

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      1. Heidi Harrison

        Dog parks are for dog owners and their dogs. Children have parks all over and I would never expect to let my dog loose in those parks. It’s not fair for me to have to not use a DOG park because people choose to bring their children. If my dog hurt them in some way I would feel horrible! Don’t put me in that position. It’s only fair.

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    2. Linda

      I have a dog that was abused by the children in his former home. He now doesn’t like an kids under about 12 years old. So, according to your statement, he should not be allowed at the DOG park because somebody else wants to bring their kids.

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    3. JC

      I don’t disagree with this but you also have to teach the kids about dogs. For example – don’t go running up to a dog you don’t know to play and – especially – hug just because it’s a little fluffballs. Little fluffballs can get scared and have no recourse but to bite. Teach the kids.

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    4. Terry

      No Carly, it’s not a park. It’s a DOG PARK. There are tons of regular parks out there that have Jungle Gyms and things for your little brats to play on. If I’m taking my dog to the Dog Park. I don’t want to have to worry about my dog knocking your stupid kid over. Leave them at home.

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    5. PLDogMama

      It’s a dog park! If your kids need to play and run, probably not the best place for them. Be considerate of other dog owners who have dogs that are possibly afraid of children for whatever reason, as this the the only place we can bring them and allow for them to act like a dog! We shouldn’t have to worry about kids running out in front of them and getting hurt.

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    6. Beverly

      Children can play with their dogs in the home. Other dog owners should not have to watch to make sure your kids are not misbehaving around their dogs. I’ve been to a park where one person’s little one ran over to a big dog and started first pounding on it, then pulling on the ears. Fortunately, this big dog was patient and got away as soon as it could. Keep your small ones at home.

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    7. Lucy

      They just meant not to bring along a two year old, or a young child that you might have to pay more attention to. If the child starts running one way and your dog the other, you cant be focused on both.

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  4. Lucy

    Do not come to a dog park to run or jog with your dog!! Some dogs are spooked by that and some think it’s an indication you want them to play with and/or chase you. If you get scratched or nipped by a hearding dog, it’s your fault!!

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  5. JC

    What I learned when I got a poodle: dog play can be rough and it often is. Especially poodles and boxers.

    Also – they don’t necessarily mind getting bopped and smashed into. Watch – most often they will just pick themselves up and go on playing.

    So what I hate is people who won’t let dogs be dogs and treat them like fragile little kids. It may look like bullying to you but not to your dog.

    And humping does NOT equal dominance – get over that. For my dog it means he’s 1) incredibly excited and/or 2) in love. I don’t let it go on but believe me, when I see an owner freak out I really want to encourage it.
    http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/the-concept-formerly-described-as-dominance

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    1. Jill

      THANK YOU! Dogs play rough and loud. I have a little dog and she sometimes gets chased by bigger dogs… she loves it! I can tell when things are getting to heated and I’ll step in but just let them play!

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  6. Kristine

    EXACTLY! I 100% agree with Craig and Linda on this. My dog gets nippy with little kids. They tend to run at him to pet him without asking first, and run around making a ruckus at the dog park too. I take him to the dog park so he can run around in peace if the park we walk by is full of kids as I want them to have their space too. Yet every time we are at the dog park when parents show up with little kids they pay more attention to the dog than the kids and we end up being forced to leave so he doesn’t bite and I get sued.

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  7. Emily

    The park I used to take my small dog to has a jungle gym right outside the small dog area. Parents at the park to watch sports games allow their kids, and in some cases tell the kids to go play in the small dog area. There are dogs in the small dog area that have high anxiety, and small dogs can easily be injured so dog parks are for dogs not kids. Dogs are banned from most places in the U.S. and dog parks are among the precious few places they can run free. They are not petting zoos or convenient places to deposit your kids when you don’t feel like parenting. If you send your kids into the dog area or bring them in and don’t attent to them, then my assumption is you are leaving the parenting up to everyone else. So I’ll parent for you if you choose not to, but you forfeit your right to get mad at how I parent.

    Reply

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