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The Dos and Don'ts of Visiting Dog Parks: A Guide for Responsible Pet Owners

Many dog owners believe dog parks are the place to socialize their dogs. However, this is not true. Many dog owners are unfamiliar with understanding their dog's body language, which can result in dogs fighting, feeling stressed, or becoming overstimulated.

Socializing does not mean "let your dogs play with every dog", it's quite the opposite. Socializing means desensitizing them to different environments, objects, sounds, surroundings, and situations. You can learn more about this in my Online Puppy Training Class, which you can find here.

Are dog parks entirely bad? No, they're not. You can have an excellent time in a dog park, spending time off-leash with your dog. But it's important to know the do's and don'ts of how to enjoy your time in the dog park without causing stress to your furry friend.

Let's start with the negatives and finish this post on a positive note!


1. Don't enter a crowded dog park or with dogs you do not know.

It can be overwhelming for your dog to enter a park where all the dogs rush towards them to sniff them. Additionally, it's challenging to read the body language of all the dogs simultaneously. The last thing you want to do is make your dog feel cornered. There is only one of two things your dog can do in that situation: flee or fight. With multiple dogs, neither option is ideal.

2. Don't introduce dogs to each other with a fence in between

Fences and other barriers that block the dogs from being able to sniff each other can cause frustration. Some dogs may start barking excessively or nip at the other dog. This rule also applies to humans - never try to pet a dog you don't know through a fence. You never know how the dog may react. Oftentimes, you have to reach over the fence and pet the dog on the top of his head. This can be intimidating to a lot of dogs. You should never approach a dog from above, always underneath their head.

3. Don't go to a dog park when you haven't mastered recall

Don't go to a dog park until you have a solid recall. You have to be able to call your dog back to you at all times. Even when they're in the middle of playing with another dog. You don't want to be running around a dog park, especially if it's a big one, chasing your dog because they just got into a fight.

4. Don't just walk into a dog park and let your dog off-leash

This point is a continuation of the previous one. Make sure your dog is focused on you before you enter the dog park. Without their attention on you, how is your dog going to come back to you? I always ask my dog to look at me first before I let him enter a dog park, even when it's empty.

5. Don't let your dog enter the dog park when the entrance is blocked

When dogs are blocking your way into the dog park, wait, and if possible, ask the owners to recall their dogs to give you space to enter. This has to do with the flee or fight response, you don't want your dog to feel cornered.

6. Don't enter a dog park when you see dogs with bad behaviors

You just got to the dog park and you can't enter because you see a fight break out. No matter how annoying or frustrating, you shouldn't enter at this time. Go for a walk around the block instead and perhaps come back later when those dogs have left. You don't want to put your dog in that situation and cause them unnecessary stress.


1. Do visit the dog park when it's empty

I would recommend going to a dog park when it's empty or when you're going with people and their dogs that you know. Make sure to confirm everyone's recall is good in case a situation arises where it is necessary to break things up.

2. Do use this time to practice your skills or to play with your dog

An empty dog park is the perfect place to train your basic obedience skills off-leash! Make it interesting for your dog, and reward them with a toy or a treat. A dog park is a highly distracting place with lots of different smells. Let your dog sniff the area first before you start training, this will help with ignoring the surrounding distractions.

You can also use an empty dog park to play fetch with your dog. Whether you play fetch with a ball or a frisbee. You shouldn't do this with other dogs around as some dogs become obsessive over their toy and start guarding it.

3. Do have fun

Enjoy your time with your dog off-leash. Enjoy watching them run freely and explore the area.

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