Do you set rules at the dog park?

Do you work on training at the dog park?

The dog park is a strange place, isn’t it?

A free-for-all where pretty much all behavior is tolerated. Dogs charging each other. Lots of humping and growling and chasing. Peeing on things. Nipping and wrestling. No two owners agree on how much herding, barking or butt sniffing is allowed.

So I’m curious, what do all of you allow from your dogs?

There’s no correct answer. Some dog owners let go of all rules as soon as they set foot in the park. This is not a criticism. It’s an observation. The dogs are literally free to do whatever they want. It’s the dog park, so let them be dogs.

And then there are the owners who try to micro-manage everything that anyone else does. No butt sniffing allowed; it might lead to humping. No big dogs chasing the little dogs. No growling during play. Oh my God, no barking.


I’m sure most of us are somewhere in the middle. I expect my dog Ace to walk to the park without pulling, for example. And when I remove his leash, I expect him to remain heeling until I say “OK.” I also expect him to come when I call him no matter what. Yes, even if someone is holding a tennis ball made of gold.

It doesn’t happen often, but I do not allow him to hump other dogs or to bark obsessively at another dog. I also don’t allow him to take other dogs’ toys.

Do you guys use the dog park to practice obedience training?

Personally, I don’t use the dog park as a place to work specifically on obedience training. I use it as a place to, for the most part, let my dog be a dog.

Last weekend I saw a man working on the stay command at the dog park with his shepherd. He had the dog in a down/stay and he backed away about 30 feet. The dog was doing beautifully until a husky-thing charged the shepherd head-on and kind of tumbled over her.

To me, it’s not really fair to put a dog in that position. Distractions are one thing. Expecting a dog to remain a statue with 40 pounds of energy charging her is another. Plus, in this case, it set the shepherd up for failure. Instead of minding her owner she ended up chasing the husky – ignoring both “stay” and “come.” Oops.

What about intervening?

With Ace, I try not to intervene too much. The dog park is supposed to be a fun place. Dogs, for the most part, can handle themselves. I do watch for tension between dogs and do my best to lighten the situation by clicking my tongue or saying “Hey, look here!” in a fun voice. On occasion, I will step between dogs to block heavy eye contact or I might whistle or use a toy.

If a younger, more playful dog is pestering Ace, I make sure to intervene if I think he might growl. Growling is perfectly normal, but I know some owners don’t appreciate it. So, sometimes I just call Ace to me and we walk away. Sometimes I try to interact with the younger dog so it leaves Ace alone. Sometimes I pat Ace on the butt to encourage him to lighten up and play, depending on the situation.

Of course, it helps that I know my dog really well. He and I can easily predict one another’s behavior by now. I wouldn’t take a newly adopted dog to the dog park right away. I also wouldn’t bring any of the dogs from my dog walking company to the dog park right away (if at all). I want to get to know the dogs a little better and build some trust first.

Overall, I’ve always used dog parks as an opportunity to teach my dog that I expect him to ignore rude and overly excited behavior from other dogs. There will always be a dog or two that charges him. There will most likely be a dog that greets him head on or with a paw over his back. Some dogs will chase or nip or bark. All of these things are opportunities to reward my dog for remaining calm and relaxed, and he does this beautifully.

OK, now I want to hear from you. What are your dog park rules?

16 thoughts on “Do you set rules at the dog park?”

  1. I don’t allow mounting at the dog park; this is something Rodrigo does and it bothers other dogs. I also practice recall at the dog park. It’s important for me to be able to trust that they’ll come to me even when they are having fun. Rodrigo isn’t 100% but our other two dogs are 🙂

  2. I feel like I could write a book at this point about dog parks do’s and don’ts (and disasters). So complex, especially because there are so many different kind of places that people can call a dog park from open fields to fenced in areas to woodsy places with trails to beaches & lakes with water space. And, of course, some are postage stamp sized vs. many acres.

    When we go, the basic expectation is: my dogs will come when called or at least can be induced to follow (for a dog that doesn’t have a great recall but will want to keep you in sight and be near you & not left behind).

    As for toys, this tends to differ based on the kind of park. Some dog parks are places where it makes sense to play fetch or engage in lots of retrieval. My basic rule is: no toys/balls for dogs who resource guard them & don’t bring anything you can’t afford to lose. If another dog has “our” ball, that is ok. We will get it back when that dog returns to its owner or drops it. If my dog winds up with someone else’s toy or ball, I see that it gets back to whom/where it belongs. I expect that in a ball/toy heavy park (places where people retrieve in land and water with dogs a lot, places people use to train Frisbee dogs, etc.), if someone brings their dog, they have a way to get someone else’s toy or ball back.

    A dog who will “steal” toys and then guard them or refuse “drop” commands and/or has no recall should not be in a dog park environment where many other dogs are there for the purpose of retrieving. I know this is controversial and some owners will complain that just because they can’t keep their dog from fetching doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be there. But there is a difference between the dog chasing and retrieving a ball that you didn’t throw (no big deal!), and the inability to exert any control over that dog afterwards.

    Right now, I don’t have dogs who specifically need “dog park” environment very much because I’m not looking for other dogs and playmates. The only kind of dog park I have use for with the current dogs is a large space with access for retrieving – especially in water – that allows dogs to be off-leash by law.
    When we go, I have to adjust my ‘obedience’ rules for the fact that we’re in a park surrounded by other dogs. Lab only wants to retrieve but will get stressed out if forced to sit and wait for a release when there are other dogs out there who could – and will – take the ball/toy first. So I assume I have to modify the expectations to give my dog a fair shot and getting the ball I threw. I feel bad for that dog being forced to “stay” because that’s exactly the opposite of what we have to do to make the dog park a comfortable happy experience.

    Intervening with other dogs is a challenge because by definition – right now, we’re not there to play with other dogs – it tends to only come up when another dog is being rude or worse. Otherwise, dogs know to sniff, greet or ignore and move on. If a dog does pester, I will try to intervene and distract, or I typically look to the other owner to call their dog away if he or she is being persistent and obnoxious. I will also leave the space where I am hanging out with Lab to get distance if need be, if that’s not happening, so I only try to go to dog parks where there is enough space to still be there and avoid a dog.

    Lab will growl at a dog who simply does not back off, and then the dog gets the message. I’m good with that because it usually takes an owner who isn’t paying attention or refuses to do anything & a dog who ignores me before it gets to that. So it’s often the only way the other dog learns that they should back off. And we’re not there to make friends, so if people give us space and think, “Hey, mean dogs!” when I know my dog is calm, balanced and knows I’ve got her back, then that’s fine with me. If they leave us alone, all the better.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      That’s very interesting. Sounds similar to my approach to dog parks.

      I agree, never bring a toy unless you’re OK losing it.

      Ace will also growl at dogs that simply won’t back off. Usually the other dog gets the message. It is irritating to me when the owner of the pest then looks at my dog as though he’s aggressive. But I guess that’s just the way dog parks work. You have to expect that some people will not have a lot of knowledge about dog behavior.

      1. Sharon McGuigan-Baki

        Balls are not allowed at our dog park and if one of our dogs steals it that is the chance the ball bringer takes. I will throw the ball over the fence when we leave but I will not chase my dog as that is what she wants and then she will not play ,People who want to play fetch with their dogs should go elsewhere ,It is not reasonable to say my dog should not be there because she steals a ball and she is not the only one who does this. My dog is very social and good with other dogs and does not get in fights and I do keep tabs on her clean up after her etc. We have no problem warning the ball bringers they may lose their ball so that is a chance they take. There are worse things that happen at dog parks such as dogs jumping on people stealing things right out of people’s hands dogs wearing chain collars, unsocialiazed aggressive dogs, bringing pups under 4 months of age and those who don’t pick up their dog’s poop ,It is posted on the rules about all of these issues including bringing toys and treats.

  3. I live 5 minutes away from one of the largest dog parks in Anchorage, AK. However, due to the health concerns, ticks(yes we have had some in our State!!), lice, kennel cough, etc. I don’t like to go unless its under 32 degrees. That way, at least in my opinion, everything is frozen. However, also going on non peak times means that you have the possibility of having dogs who aren’t too friendly, with owners who don’t care/ are too far off to do anything about it. Last winter Belle got a piece of hide taken off by two huskys when we went in a before peak time. At a peak time, I’ve seen a golden retriever bite a husky pretty badly (bleeding 10 seconds later in the owners arms) and the golden retriever owner was oblivious(just kept walking down the trail)!!!

    My main goal for obediance at the dog park is a recal, it doesn’t have to be 100% but if I can at least get them to stop moving and think before they go charging up to another dog I feel I’ve accomplished something. A leave it cue, or lets go, to keep them moving and/or stop sniffing, fixtating, etc on another dog, tree, smelly pile, or moose! Those are my two main goals.

    D.O.G. humps at the dog park, not at home, so I am extremely vigilant on that score, you get older dogs, and people who don’t like it.

    We have a new fenced in dog park in Anchorage. I joined their group on Facebook and after 2 days decided I was never going to take my dogs there. My dogs don’t have the manners needed to be there according to volunteer standards/posts. It was quite fustrating to see these views. Especially, two weeks after opening they put out a schedule for little dog and service dogs only times. Excuse me, this is a municipal fenced park. It should be open to the public with their dogs, period. And if they want to limit times for little dogs only, what about times for the pushy, rowdy, anxious rescue dogs! Sorry, that’s a rant that’s been wanting to come out. Personally I’ve ignored all the fenced in dog park posts after the posting on times and standards for dog behavior at a park. And I take mine on walks to other parks and let them have a little off leash time so long as we are the only ones there. And of course, we never leave piles! 🙂

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Unfortunately I’ve seen some incidents in crowded, busy dog parks as well. This was the case in a small, fenced-in park in Fargo. I got the feeling that people just brought their dogs there as their only form of exercise, and a lot of really rough playing and sometimes fights happened fairly often.

  4. I have a pretty well-behaved dog but we have 2 basic rules for the dog park.
    1.Come when called (not 100% reliable) because coming when called is an important command in terms of safety in my opinion. 2. Don’t be “rude” to other dogs. That’s where my responsibilities are important and it’s more of a rule for me, in not allowing him to get to that point. I intervene when a puppy is bothering my dog, I move us away from big dogs that might scare him, we move away from loud, chaotic dogs and groups. It would be extremely unlikely for my dog to be aggressive, reactive, dominant (whatever that means) to another dog without a lot of prior provocation so it’s on me to monitor the situation. I also can tell when he’s had enough, so we go home then or before then. I don’t think it’s fair to have too many rules at the dog park – similar to your story Lindsay a man was practicing “stays” with his dog while other dogs were running around it. It broke almost every “stay” early! Just felt like saying, “don’t set your dog up to fail!”

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I also try to pay attention to Ace and know when he’s had enough. Sometimes he’s really eager to play and sometimes not. Same with humans – sometimes we want to socialize and sometimes we don’t.

  5. I am kind of wishy washy about dog parks, but not a huge fan of them for the most part. I agree dogs should be allowed to be dogs, but the problems occur when people completely ignore their dogs, instead focusing on the other humans. I took Faolan to one (unknowingly ; ) ) last week, and thankfully everything went great.

  6. For the most part, I let Maya be a dog. But since our dog park is not fenced, I occasionally work on her recall. In fact, she wasn’t even allowed to go to this dog park until I was confident of her recall. Practicing her recall with all the distractions is actually very helpful.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I don’t think I would bring a dog to the dog park if it didn’t have a good recall. Like you, I’m always reinforcing this with Ace. Luckily he’s a big wimp and unless someone is holding a toy he’s fixated on, he is pretty good about coming when called.

  7. Unfortunately in my country, the only place the dog can run around free and off-leash is in a dog run. While we walk her at least an hour a day, the dog park is still pretty essential for our dog that likes to have the zoomies now and then. Ultimately I would like for her to come when called, but recall training is pretty much something that is still work in progress. Hence I am that micro-managing human in the dog park… especially when Donna starts humping the dog she is playing with. There are people who tell me to let their dogs just shake her off and she’ll learn after a while… still not sure what’s the best way to approach this.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I intervene when my dog tries to hump other dogs too. This doesn’t happen too often since he’s a pretty mellow, submissive guy. But I do tell him “no” when he does it. I am also constantly after him about not taking other dogs’ toys.

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