Training Tips: Will my dog behave at the dog park?

How do you know when a dog is ready for the dog park?

As in, how do you know the dog won’t fight with other dogs?

I don’t really know how to answer that question. I’m not really a dog park person. I don’t use dog parks or dog beaches as the primary way to exercise my dog. Instead, dog parks are fun places to visit every now and then.

But besides my own dog, I have taken a few clients from myΒ dog sitting business to the dog park. So I have some unofficial rules I use to determine if the dog park is a good idea for each particular dog. These are the same questions I ask of my own dog or any dogs I’m fostering.

Before I take a dog to the dog park, I ask myself:

  • Have I known this dog for at least three months?
  • Have I seen him interact with different types of dogs?
  • Is he friendly towards other dogs while on a leash?
  • Does he seem relaxed and comfortable around other dogs?
  • If a fight broke out, do I think this dog would avoid the fight?
  • Does this dog pay attention to me and come when called?
  • Does this dog share his toys?
  • Would I trust this dog around my cats?

Very few dogs meet the above criteria, actually.

Personally, I would not take a dog to the dog park if I could not answer yes to all of the above questions. I tend to use caution and avoid dog parks unless I’m dealing with a well-mannered, predictable dog. If I answer no to one of the questions, it doesn’t mean the dog should never visit the dog park. It just means we have some work to do first.

Once I decide the dog is ready to visit the dog park, I take the dog for at least a 20-minute walk (probably much longer) right before heading to the park. Usually I do this from the parking lot of the dog park, and we visit during a quiet time such as a Monday morning when there will be fewer dogs around.

β€œI tend to use caution and avoid dog parks unless I’m dealing with a well-mannered, predictable dog.”

Once we’re in the dog park, I would callΒ my dog to me whenever a new dog arrives in order to give the new dog some space and time to adjust to the new surroundings. Gates and other barriers can bring out territorial instincts in some dogs, especially in an exciting environment with unfamiliar dogs coming and going.

Beyond that, here are my dog park reminders:

10 things to remember at the dog park

Dogs at the park

1. Just because a dog gets along with one dog doesn’t mean he’ll get along with all dogs.

2. Just because a dog fights with one dog doesn’t mean he’ll fight with all dogs.

3. Keeping the excitement level down goes a long way.

4. Tense owners standing around make the dogs tense.

5. If your dog is too rough or playful for another dog, go and get your dog so the other dog doesn’t have to resort to a growl or a bite. Don’t be offended if the other owner scolds your dog away. That was your job, and you failed to do it.

6. Ask a trainer to join you at the dog park if you feel like you need some help interpreting your dog’s behavior. Even if you know a lot about dogs, it’s good to get another (unbiased) opinion. We all think our dogs are perfect, and they’re not. πŸ™‚

7. Minor scuffles are usually no big deal. Even fights are usually just noise and no blood.

8. If your dog keeps humping (or getting humped!), intervene. In my opinion, this behavior is a sign of too much excitement. Too much excitement at a dog park is what often leads to fights.

9. Every single person in the park has a different idea of what is and is not acceptable from the dogs and each other. No one is really right. Go with the flow, but keep your dog safe.

10. Every single person at the park thinks the problem is someone else’s dog.

How do the rest of you decide when a dog is ready to visit the dog park?

Monte the Pom mix

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  1. Jenna Z on February 11, 2014

    I’m with you, I steer clear of dog parks. Even if my dog is completely predictable and bombproof, there is NO guarantee that anyone else’s is. Or that anyone else at the dog park thought about ANY of the really sound, great information above before bringing their dog. Why put your dog through that and take chances that someone else made a poor choice?

  2. Kimberly Gauthier on February 11, 2014

    Rodrigo can’t go to the dog park, because he’s toy possessive and humps too much. Sydney isn’t a fan of other dogs. Zoey is too shy of other dogs, but Scout would love the dog park as long as we went at a time when other good dog owners went. The problem with our park is too many times people spend the entire time there on the phone and not paying attention to their dog – it’s tough to watch our dogs and other people’s dogs.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 12, 2014

      You have such a unique group of dogs with different personalities!

  3. Julia at Home on 129 Acres on February 11, 2014

    The first time I took Bax to the dog park I was really unsure. He passed the first three points on your list. My thought process was really, “Well, let’s give this a try.” I kept him on leash for a much shorter time than I planned and watched him very closely, and it turned out to be a really good experience for us both.

    We’ve only been to one dog park, and it’s been a great experience every time. Even when it’s busier, all of the owners are super responsible and easy going and very attentive to their dogs. The dogs are also really well behaved and sociable. I’ve seen one scuffle… I wouldn’t even call it a fight… and the owners jumped in right away, but no one’s feelings were hurt. Most people’s attitude seems to be dogs will be dogs for the most part. Our park has a wood chipped trail/track, and there are signs on the fence reminding people to keep moving. I find that if people stop and gather in a pack, the dogs do too and that’s when problems can happen. If we keep walking in circles, the dogs run here and there and do their thing. Plus it’s a nice chance for the humans to socialize and meet other like-minded people.

    I’ve found it interesting taking Bax to the dog park, just to see his attitude about other dogs. He’s keen to meet other dogs, but once he’s met them, he’s not too into hanging out with them or playing with them. The last time we went, he eventually made his way to the gate and basically said, “Okay, I’m done. I’m ready for it to be just the three of us again.”

    The only issue we’ve had is that the last time we went Bax developed pinkeye within the week after. This was the only time he’d been around other dogs, so we have to assume that he got it from one of them.

    And this has turned into a really long comment. Thanks for your post and your tips.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 12, 2014

      Ace sounds like Baxter as far as how they interact with other dogs. Ace likes to greet everyone and he’ll romp around for a few seconds and then he just wants to play ball or eat grass πŸ™‚

  4. slimdoggy on February 11, 2014

    Great advice – sharing this.

  5. BoingyDog on February 11, 2014

    This is a REALLY great post! I read lots of posts about dog parks that are really hard for me to support and make me feel like someone could take their dog too early. Your 10 things to remember are excellent. I only go to traditional dog parks in our training sessions so I’m not as strict in your rules but I think they’re wonderful guidelines for dog owners. I especially love the one about bringing a trainer along if an owner needs help assessing their dog’s behavior. We did an assessment today with a puppy whose owners had a lot of questions about his behavior. It was great that they had us come along and it was easy for us to identify the dog’s issues. Really good post!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 12, 2014

      So glad you liked it and agree with a lot of my suggestions. I actually like to use the dog park as a way to keep my dog up on his social skills. It’s the perfect place to practice appropriate behavior around not-so-polite dogs. For example, how to stay calm and relaxed when a young dog charges right up to your face and throws its paws over your shoulder!

  6. Alice on February 12, 2014

    I’ve stopped taking Sadie to the dog park. She would get so excited she would ignore me
    and we had a hard time getting her out of the park. Other dog owner would help me. Sadie is my first dog and I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’m still learning but we’re slowly getting there. I would take her there for her exercise instead of exercising her before we went. So I probably caused problems for other dog owners as well. I’ll probably try it again when I’m comfident that she will come when I call her.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 12, 2014

      The coming when called is a big one for me. I’ve been to the park with friends whose dogs wouldn’t come back when it was time to go. So hard to catch them when that happens!

  7. Elizabeth on February 12, 2014

    Great Post!! I stay away from our dog parks because 1 – diseases/fleas, 2- people don’t clean up after them selves, 3 – nasty dogs/neurotic owners

    I normally will only somewhat frequent 2 dog parks in the winter because there is normally less traffic and most diseases, I feel, normally freeze and die at anything below 32 degrees F. That being said, the new fenced in Dog Park turned me off when they demanded on their facebook page two hours of the week as little dog only, what about big dogs, or shelter dogs, or puppy play time, if you are going to make a rule/time for one type of dog only, you need to do it for all. The amount of poop that was there this last weekend also really turned me off. Its not a large park pick up a pile and throw it away. there is a trash can.

    The other park gets some not so nice dogs in off peak times. And I like to go during off peak times because there aren’t a lot of dogs to hype up my dogs. The second to last time we went Belle was attacked by a pair of huskies that ripped her sweater and took a patch of hide off. I’m glad that D.O.G. decided to stick with me and not join in. And the other owners, didn’t do anything. No calls, no movement towards the dogs nothing.

    My dogs aren’t perfect, D.O.G. humps and Belle can get fixated. So we don’t go often. But you always have to take the good with the bad and decide personally what you can handle and what your dogs can handle.

    Sorry for the long comment! πŸ™‚

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 12, 2014

      I loved your long comment. So interesting to hear people’s opinions on this.

    • Elizabeth on February 14, 2014

      One other thing I would like to mention is there might be a way to see if your dog would be a good dog park canidate without going to the dog park. The doggy day care that we use for boarding has a free “playtime” once a week in the winter. They ask if you are able to to donate to their rescue to do so but its a supervised time to let the dogs run loose in an indoor environement with other dogs. The monitors help to stop most issues before they escalate. Might also be a way for someone to see if their dog would be good at a dog park instead of actually going. Hopefully something around where they live will have something like this. I’ve gained a couple good insights with Belle. Also a nice WARM way to get the dogs exercise. πŸ™‚

  8. Aisling on February 13, 2014

    I cant go to do the dog park because Chip is the complete opposite than the dogs in your post above! She is so shy! When a dog comes in, Chip runs the other way. She isn’t aggressive at all but doesn’t let any dogs near her. I just think a dog park is all about being social and I feel sorry for Chip putting her through it when clearly she is not comfortable or putting the other dogs in the situation where they want to sniff Chip and all they get in response is a bark to go away! These are the reasons that I don’t go near a dog park anyway!

    One dog park I did bring her into, the poor thing had a greyhound chasing her around the entire time (im convinced the greyhound thought she was a rabbit or something). I had to ask the owner to put her dog on a leash and I got told that her dog was permitted in the dog park and if I didn’t like it, I could leave. Unfortunately there was nothing I could do or say so I had to leave (I did throw her a few dirty looks though! πŸ™‚

    • Elizabeth on February 13, 2014

      I have to reply to your post because I have run into a bulldog that the owners bring to one of Anchorage, AK dog parks and she is never off her lead. Yest its a flexi leash (insert everything wrong with a flexi leash) but according to her owners the dog is either frightened of other dogs and becomes aggressive with cerain dogs. However they still think its a good way for her to interact on a level with the other dogs so they always watch and are careful with her. And some people will at least make sure to call their dogs and give her a wide berth. There are nice people out there! πŸ™‚

      • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 13, 2014

        Interesting. I would be uncomfortable bringing my dog to an off-leash park on a leash. Seems to bring out bad behavior. But I guess it works for this dog!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 13, 2014

      Oh, sorry to hear Chip had a bad experience at the park. Yes, it’s definitely not a place for everyone. Too bad the owner of the greyhound wasn’t more understanding.

  9. Ruan on February 13, 2014

    I don’t think that dog owners should just decide to stay clear of dog parks because they are unsure or scared of what might happen or how your dog might behave in a park around other dogs.

    I do agree with all the points mentioned which help in making the decision whether the dog is ready to go to the park or not, but even if he isn’t; it’s never too late.

    My professional advice would be to ensure your dog has undergone efficient obedience and Collar & Leash training. With these two under the belt, I’m sure 99% of all situations you and your dog may find yourselves in, can be handled without losing an arm (or paw).

    Take baby steps but just do it; there’s nothing like playing with a family dog in a park, for the whole family a time to enjoy and spend quality time together. That is, if playtime and family time is your thing of course…

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 13, 2014

      Yes, thoughtful advice! We won’t all agree when a dog is ready or not but just relaxing and having fun is the main thing!

  10. Dawn on February 13, 2014

    Believe it or not, Maya meets all of y our criteria, except you don’t personally know her πŸ™‚ She does great at the dog park. One thing she used to do that would get her into trouble with some dogs was approach them with too much exuberance. After a couple times of being snapped at, she learned her lesson. Now she approaches more carefully and I haven’t had any problems with her at the park for years. Pierson, on the other hand, is a different story. I took him once to see how he would do and decided the dog park just wasn’t the right place for him.

  11. Carl Hutchins on February 14, 2014

    Nope, Coco isn’t a dog park dog. He resembles the hairy example!! Barks his head off at dogs that walk up and down our road with people in charge on leash. When Coco goes out in my yard, he is leashed. Most passing by dogs ignore him. A couple or so are intimidated and cower. Poor guys/gals.
    Some of the bigger guys and gals would eat his lunch. He doesn’t realize that.

    Although, he was nose to nose with a neighborhhod cat. Neither knew what to do next.

    I’ve watched some TV Judge shows. Dogs get in trouble there in dog parks. Leashed or not.

    I’m fortunate to ahave a large lot and Coco gets lts of room to run around. Loves to go out!!