Things to know when going to an off-leash dog park

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Outdoor off-leash dog areas, (often known as dog parks), provide a community setting for humans to hang out and socialize while their canine companions run around sniffing and fetching and engaging in other typical dog behaviors. Usually enclosed by a 4 to 6 foot high fence with double-gated entry and exit points, dog parks provide an ideal environment for exercise, play, and doggy interaction, all of which takes place under the watchful eye of the dogs’ owners. Ideally, such places will be well-maintained and routinely cleaned as well as provide shady areas for escaping the heat, an available water source, adequate drainage to prevent pooling and flooding after heavy rains, tools for picking up and disposing of animal waste in covered trash cans, and benches or other seating for humans.

Visiting a dog park is a privilege, not a right. As such, two-legged visitors should conduct a bit of research before embarking on such an experience with their four-legged companions. Being prepared will help ensure a wonderful experience for everyone. Here are some tips, tricks, and resources to make the most out of your visit.

First, animal caretakers should always pay attention to their dog and be knowledgeable about what constitutes proper behavior or what a dog may be signaling to another dog. Recognizing what good play looks like is a first step; and empowering owners to interrupt unacceptable play behavior is a necessary second step. Often, people don’t want to offend other dog owners, so they allow poor behavior to continue.

Second, it is best to exercise your dog a bit before going to the park so that his entrance won’t be too energetic. Although dog parks are great for socialization, if your dog is too excited when he first enters, he could negatively impact the energy level of dogs who are already there.

Finally, be realistic. Some dogs should not go to dog parks. They may be too shy, too bold or defensive, or overly protective of toys and balls. If you’re not sure, start on a smaller scale by going on walks or runs, either alone or with other people or other leashed dogs. Having one-on-one play dates to strengthen a dog’s socialization skills prior to going to a dog park is also recommended.

Once you’ve determined that visiting a dog park will work for you and your dog, it’s best to do some research on the park you’re interested in visiting. Some things you want to check include:

· Is the size of the park adequate for the size and energy level of your dog? Some dog parks are large enough for dogs to have their own space without feeling threatened or territorial. If the parks are too big, however, dogs may exhibit dominant anti-social behavior – the kind which may lead to a fight erupting before an owner can get there to intervene. On the other hand, if the park is quite small, there may be limits on how many dogs can enter at one time.

  • Check the physical location of the park. Is it near a busy street? Are there poisonous plants or wildlife nearby? Are there steep hills that could cause a physical injury, etc.?

  • Does the park provide adequate lighting and double gates at each entrance/exit?

  • If you’re worried about large dogs playing too rough with your small dog, check to see if there’s a separate enclosure that only allows small dogs.

  • Check what the local park’s rules are. This varies not only by city, but by park. For instance, some parks won’t allow a person inside if they don’t have a dog or aren’t with someone who has a dog. Most - if not all - require that dogs be spayed or neutered prior to entering to reduce incidents of aggression or unwanted pregnancies.

  • Go to Yelp or other review sites to see what others say about the park.

  • Check to see if water, shade, bowls, and poop bags are provided.

  • Are there rules about how many dogs one handler can have inside the park?

  • Are food, treats, or toys allowed in the park? Most, if not all, dog parks place restrictions on food because it can instigate fights and resource guarding.

  • What type of footing is there? (grass, wood chips, concrete, etc.)

  • Make sure that representatives of the off-leash dog parks require dogs who are members have provided proof of vaccinations.

  • Determine who is responsible for enforcing off-leash park rules.

  • Is there staff on site?

  • Is a grooming station or hose down area provided?

  • Is parking provided?

  • Is there seating provided?

  • Is the park free, or is a one-time or subscription payment required prior to entering?

  • Is there a lost and found area? This is key, especially if you have lost your keys while at the park.😉

Potential Advantages:

  • Socialization (for both humans who enjoy dogs, and for the dogs).

  • Dogs that are highly socialized and exercised tend to be healthier, happier, and less aggressive.

  • Doggy play dates can be arranged with other dogs and their humans.

  • Dog parks allow dogs to get adequate physical and mental exercise, thereby lessening the likelihood of destructive and annoying behaviors in general.

  • Opportunity for owners to learn about dogs through observation and from more experienced owners

  • Opportunity for well-mannered-dog advocates to demonstrate how they turned their dog into a well-mannered dog

  • No cars, roller-bladers, skateboarders, or bike riders, etc. likely to be encountered.

  • Could provide location for community dog activities.

  • A happy, tired dog for the rest of the day.

  • A trip to the dog park can be an inexpensive and fun family activity.

Potential Disadvantages:

  • Potential of danger from aggressive dogs or physical injury from dog-related hazards.

  • Potential of lawsuits arising from dog fights.

  • Dog parks might be too loud, too smelly, or too chaotic for some.

  • Not all humans will follow park rules, thus introducing unnecessary risks.

  • Not all humans will pick up after their dog.

  • Some humans will leave their dog unattended or unsupervised.

  • Fights among dog- owners can occur when owners defend their dogs’ poor or inappropriate behavior.

  • Owners who don’t have control over their dogs leave others at risk of a potential attack.

  • Potential for parasites and disease to be shared.

  • Potential for dogs to become overly excited and lose impulse control.

  • Your car may get very dirty on the way home.

For more information, please visit: · 15 things humans do wrong at dog parks -

  • Play It Safe and Be Polite: Dog Park Rules You Should Never Break - · Dog Park Behavior and Etiquette Tips -

  • Review sites like:,, and mobile App Review sites like: