Behaviour and Training

The Ultimate Guide to Dog Park Etiquette

Earlier this month we ran a piece about dog parks where we tried to unpack their contentious reputation. As it turns out some dogs love them, some dogs hate them, they have a lot of benefits, and can also be really frustrating. But across all our research, interviews, and reading one thing quickly became apparent: the problem isn’t really with the dogs. The problem is with Dog Park Jerks. Yes, it’s a new term that we’re proudly coining.

To be clear, Dog Park Jerks are people who act badly in these spaces. But they’re not “bad people.” Dog parks can be super stressful environments. Anytime our beloved pets are in a situation where they could face confrontation, bullying, or complex pack dynamics things are likely to get tense. You can hardly judge someone for losing their cool, or misunderstanding dog park etiquette. But it’s still important to understand how our emotions and behaviour can compound things and make a bad situation worse.

Any dog park regular can regale you with horror stories involving owners. Whether it’s a lack of manners, surplus of stress, or selective blindness to their dog’s poop, some people seem legitimately confused about how to behave.

So we decided it was time to help everyone out and outline some fundamental rules of dog park etiquette. Because we know you love your dog, now spare some love for your neighbours.

The DOs of Dog Park Etiquette

Do make sure your dog is up to date on their registration, vaccinations, and parasite control. 
Ensure your dog always wears their collar with ID and registration tags attached. 

Do keep your dog on-leash until they’re in the designated off-leash area. 
Not only should your dog remain on-leash for safety reasons (you don’t want them dashing out onto the road), it’s also good dog manners. It allows you to control their initial introduction to the park and other dogs, and stops them bolting straight over to an unfamiliar animal. But…

Do remove your dog’s leash before he joins the group. 
It’s harder for dogs to use body language to communicate while on-leash. Also, playing and running around with a leash attached creates tripping, tangling, and choking hazards. 

Do stick to the size-appropriate areas.
If your park has sections for big and little dogs, respect them. Even the gentlest big dog can accidentally injure a smaller pal during play. Also, a smaller dog that feels threatened or overwhelmed can easily lash out. 

Do pick up your dog’s poop. 
Do we really need to explain this one?

Do ask before giving treats.
We know for many people giving treats is a sign of love, but it’s impossible to know if a dog has health issues or is on a restricted diet. Most dogs will happily gobble up anything, even if it’s bad for them, so check with their owner. 

Do be realistic about your dog.
This might be the hardest directive, but it’s important to be honest with yourself about your dog. Even the sweetest pet can be a menace in the park. A good way to tell if they’re trained and socialised enough for this outing is to ask yourself, do they always come when they’re called? That means not just at home, but also in noisy and distracting environments. You need to be confident you could call them back from a game that gets out of hand or a confrontation. 

Dogs without strong recall behaviours aren’t ready for the dog park.

The DON’Ts of Dog Park Etiquette

Don’t get distracted
This is really the golden rule. Your dog is your responsibility, so pay attention at all times. You came here for your dog, not to catch up with emails, chat on the phone, or socialise with your neighbours. Obviously, be nice and polite to everyone around you. But don’t forget your dog should be the focus of your attention.

Don’t bring an over-excited dog
This might seem counter-intuitive, but make sure your dog has had some exercise before you get to the park. An animal that’s been cooped up all day and is desperate to burn off energy is more likely to get in other dog’s faces. Take the long route, let them have a descent walk, or even throw a ball for them in the backyard first. It will help them be relaxed when they meet the other dogs.

Don’t take a puppy to the dog park
Until your dog is at least 12 (preferably 16) weeks old, and has all their vaccinations, they need to stay away from areas where they’ll come in contact with other animals. As always, chat to your vet about when they’re ready to head out into the world.

Don’t take your dog’s favourite things to the park.
As a rule, assume anything you take to the park for your dog to play with could be taken or damaged by another pet. If they’d be sad to lose it, leave it at home. Not only can this avoid later frustration, but it also minimises the chance they’ll get territorial over an object.

Don’t use it as a chance to socialise a dog with behavioural issues.
This isn’t the place for you to start socialising a dog or help them work through behavioural issues. They won’t get used to it, learn to play nice eventually, or work it out between themselves. Dogs that struggle with other animals need focused, expert behavioural training. You can’t expect them to instinctively know how to behave in these stressful situations. If pets are becoming distressed or are being picked on, it’s up to the humans to step in. If your dog is creating issues, you need to take them home.

For more on life with dogs, check out:

Do Dogs Actually like Dog Parks?

How to Date With a Dog

A State-by-State Breakdown of Pet Rental Laws Around Australia

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Written by Wendy Syfret
Wendy is Head of Media at Scratch. Which is a good fit, because she's never met a dog she didn't like. Although she has a special place in her heart for muts: three legs, one eye, missing fur, bit of a weird walk? The scruffier the better. Her favourite dog in the whole world though is her terrier-mix Stevie.