Daniel Q. Estep, Ph.D. and Suzanne Hetts,
Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists
Copyright ABA, Inc., 2006. All rights reserved. May be reproduced
in its entirety, without alteration, for educational purposes only.
May not be included in any publication for sale without written permission
from the authors. Excerpts or portions may not be reprinted without
written permission from the authors.
- Have realistic expectations about your dog’s suitability
for going to a dog park. If he isn’t polite or friendly
with others, get help to change his behavior before you take him
to a dog park. Dog parks are not a place to rehabilitate fearful
or aggressive dogs or those that just don’t know how to
play well with others.
- Before you take your dog into a dog park, spend a few minutes
watching the other dogs and how they are playing and interacting
with others. If the dogs seem to be too rough in their play or
are intimidating other dogs, come back some other time.
- If your dog has never been around other dogs before –
don’t go to a dog park until he’s had a chance to
be around other dogs in other situations so you have a better
idea of how he reacts to other dogs.
- If you aren’t sure how your dog will behave, don’t
be ashamed or embarrassed to muzzle your dog the first few times
he goes to a dog park. Better safe than sorry.
- Introduce your dogs to other dogs gradually – allow your
dog to greet other dogs while he’s still in the separate
entry area available at some parks, or let your dogs sniff around
the fenced boundary.
- Be careful entering a dog park gate. Other dogs tend to crowd
around to greet arriving dog. This jostling and crowding can be
quite intimidating to many dogs and may result in a skirmish,
- Do not take your small children or babies in strollers to a
dog park. Dogs and children can easily frighten one another and
bad things can happen to either of them in the blink of an eye.
- Supervise your dog. This is not the time for you to be distracted
talking with other owners or burying yourself in a book. You must
be monitoring your dog’s activities to be sure she isn’t
being badly and other dogs are not behaving badly toward her.
This is another reason not to take young children – you
can’t adequately supervise both dogs and kids at the same
- Be particularly watchful of small dogs around big dogs. Don’t
let big dogs frighten or threaten small dogs. Aggression between
big and small dogs is especially likely to result in injuries
to the small dog.
- Don’t take any toys to the park your dog is not willing
- While tidbits can be a great way to reward good behavior, be
careful about giving them to your dog when other dogs are nearby.
If your dog can’t tolerate other dogs crowding around her
wanting to share the goodies, treats may not be a good idea. If
you are attempting to give treats to a crowd, require that all
dogs sit and stay while eating.
- Pick up after your dog. You don’t want to step in another
dog’s poop anymore than someone else wants to step in your
- Avoid grabbing your dog’s collar when your dog is playing
or interacting with other dogs. Such tugging can sometimes trigger
threats and aggression toward nearby dogs.
- If your dog seems to be fearful or is being “bullied”
by other dogs, don’t let her stay, thinking she will “get
over it”, that she will learn to “stand up for herself”.
Chances are greater her behavior will get worse.
- Don’t let other dogs threaten or scare your dog. If they
won’t leave, then remove your dog.
- If your dog is being a bully, being threatening or aggressive,
or just seems to be overly excited, remove him from the park,
either temporarily or permanently. It is not fair to put other
dogs at risk. Make the safety of other dogs and people as high
a priority as the safety of your own.
- Know how to break up a dog fight. Direct Stop™, a harmless
but effective citronella spray or a small hand-held air horn are
your best bets. Don’t scream and yell at your dog, try to
pull her off by the collar, or get in the middle of the fight
as this only adds to the general arousal and greatly increases
either the dogs’ or your, chances of injury.
- Always take your cell phone and have the phone number of the
local animal control agency. Call animal control or the local
police and report any aggressive person or dog that won’t
leave the dog park. These individuals are dangerous to people
- Be knowledgeable about dog body postures, communication signals
and social behavior. You should be able to recognize stress, tension,
fear, play, threats and aggression. Know the difference between
play (which can be very active and sound violent) and real threats.
Know when to intervene and when to stay out of an interaction
among dogs. If you feel uninformed about canine behavior, learn
more before taking your dog to a park. Harm can come to your dog
if you under-react as well as over-react.
- Recognize that by taking your dog to a dog park, you are accepting
a degree of risk that your dog may be injured or may injure another
dog. Don’t be naïve and think that a dog park is a
safe place for your dog to be around other dogs. This may not
always be the case.