Dog parks: they are great for socialization, exercise, and mental stimulation for many dogs. But certain dogs may feel threatened or anxious. Whether you and your dog have a good dog park experience or a bad one depends largely on your understanding of your dog, advanced preparation, proper training, and good etiquette.
Know Your Dog’s Temperament
Is your dog usually playful and sociable? Does she get along well with other dogs, or can she be aggressive? Is your dog nervous or shy around other dogs? Animal welfare groups say to let your dog's temperament guide you on visiting a dog park1—or whether you should opt for other activities instead.
Preparation and Training
National veterinary associations urge dog owners to ensure dogs are trained well enough to come when called at a dog park, even in spite of all of the other enticing distractions at the park.2 Ask your veterinarian about a good dog training class in your area and make sure your dog learns how to focus exclusively on you when you issue a command, especially when other dogs are present. This is crucial if you need to call your dog away from an escalating situation.
Being pounced, sideswiped without warning, or having a bunch of high-energy dogs come at you like a speeding train can scare certain dogs, as well as people. Train your dog to greet other dogs and people politely. Also, be present while your dog is playing so that you can interrupt if your dog becomes aggressive, involved in ganging up on another dog, or if your dog becomes the target of an attack.3
Not all dogs enjoy the dog park, and that is all right. Toy breeds should avoid dog parks altogether because their size can make them an attack target for larger dogs. Sometimes a walk around the neighborhood, a game of Frisbee in the backyard, or a smaller play group with dogs your dog already feels comfortable with is a better option.
1. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, staff: Pet Care: “Dog Parks”
2. Yin, Sophia, DVM, MS, The Art and Science of Animal Behavior, “Dog Park Etiquette Poster”
3. Association of Professional Dog Trainers, Dog Park Information: “Dog Park Tips”
4. Association of Professional Dog Trainers, Dog Park Information: “Dog Park Etiquette”