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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 my 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.

Once we’re in the dog park, I would call 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. 🙂

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

Carl Hutchins

Friday 14th of February 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!!

Lindsay Stordahl

Friday 14th of February 2014

Coco is so lucky to have his nice big yard!


Thursday 13th of February 2014

Believe it or not, Maya meets all of y our criteria, except you don't personally know her :) 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.

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 13th of February 2014

Ha! Good girl Maya!


Thursday 13th of February 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

Thursday 13th of February 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!


Thursday 13th of February 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! :)

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 13th of February 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.


Thursday 13th of February 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! :-)


Wednesday 12th of February 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! :-)


Friday 14th of February 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. :-)

Lindsay Stordahl

Wednesday 12th of February 2014

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