Article republished with permission from
Peaceable Paws LLC
Pat Miller, CPDT-KA, CDBC
Appropriate Dog Behavior
- Not all dogs are good candidates for dog park play. A dog park is not the appropriate place for dogs who have serious behavior problems in relation to other dogs or humans. Dogs with these kinds of “issues” should be carefully socialized in environments that are far more controlled than a dog park while their owners do behavior modification work. Consider the following carefully before taking your dog through the gate into your local dog park.
- Dog park dogs should be friendly and outgoing, without being overbearing, obnoxious, or bullying.
- Your dog should be reasonably confident and social. Those who are fearful, aggressive or reactive are not appropriate for dog parks.
- Basic good manners are a park pre-requisite. You dog should not body-slam, mouth or mark (leg-lift) humans in the park, nor should he jump into laps of random sitting humans without invitation.
- Your dog should be responsive to basic cues – at least “come when called,” “sit,” and “leave it/off,” so you can get control of him if necessary, and prevent him from harassing others.
- Barking should be kept to a reasonable level, both for the comfort of other park users as well as nearby neighbors. Occasional barks of joy are acceptable. Non-stop barking of a “fun police” type dog is not, nor is barking with more serious – aggressive – intent.
- Only healthy dogs should visit dog parks. Obviously, communicable diseases and parasites are unacceptable as these can affect and infect other dogs. Structural unsoundnesses that can cause pain (hip displaysia, arthritis, etc.) are a high risk factor for causing aggression when a dog is hurt or stressed by the anticipation of being hurt. Human Behavior This is a longer list than the Dog Behavior part. We humans are responsible for our dogs’ behaviors; hence we play a critically important role in making sure proper etiquette is adhered to, by our dogs as well as ourselves.
- As a new park user, visit the park without your dog to observe park culture and practices. Arrange to take your dog to the park the first time at non-peak use hours to allow both of you to acquaint yourselves with the environment without the stress and distraction of multiple dogs.
- Obey all posted park rules, even if you disagree with them.
- Limit your use of toys or food treats as necessary to avoid dog-dog conflict. This may vary depending on the dog population at the park during any given visit.
- Keep puppies under the age of four months at home. They aren’t fully vaccinated yet so are at higher risk for contracting diseases, and are very vulnerable to being traumatized by another dog’s inappropriate behavior.
- Consult with your dog’s veterinarian about your dog’s overall condition prior to taking her to the park, and make sure your dog is fully protected – vaccinations or titers.
- Be harshly realistic about your dog’s potential as a park playmate. The dog park is not the appropriate place to work on fixing your dog’s behavior problems.
- Watch park play for several minutes before you take your dog in to be sure there are no dogs present that are inappropriate for your dog.
- Remove your dog’s leash as soon as you enter the off-leash area. Mixing on-leash and off-leash dogs can cause stress in the leashed dogs, which may lead to aggression.
- Supervise your dog’s play. This is not the time to bury your nose in the latest copy of Whole Dog Journal or your favorite romance novel. Be prepared to interrupt inappropriate play – whether your dog is the perpetrator or the victim.
- Apologize if your dog has been inappropriate, and be willing to leave the park if your dog is being too rough, or is not having a good time. Be polite, even if someone else’s dog is inappropriate and the owner isn’t controlling her dog or is unwilling to take he own dog out of the park.
- Keep your dog-human ratio manageable. A standard recommend is no more than two to three dogs per human, assuming those two to three dogs can be reasonably managed by one human.
- Remember that not all dogs enjoy playing with others. Some enjoy a small circle of intimate friends but aren’t keen on the dog park scene. Some dogs enjoy park play as youngsters, but less so as they mature. If you love going to the dog park but your dog doesn’t, go without him! Go with a friend who has a more gregarious canine, or go dogless and socialize with other dog owners sans Fido.
- Avoid disciplining another park user’s dog. If you must use force to break up a fight, so be it, but do not attempt to “punish” someone else’s dog once the conflict is ended, or otherwise for poor canine manners. If you find another dog’s behavior unacceptable, take your own dog out of the park rather than “correcting” someone else’s dog.
- Honor the posted dog park hours. They are set for a reason – often for your own safety, or to maintain peace and harmony with nearby neighbors who don’t want to be awakened at 5:00am by the sound of barking dogs.
- Of course, as always, clean up after your dog religiously both inside and outside the park. Be willing to clean up unclaimed piles of dog poo from visitors who don’t know or don’t follow the rules of dog park etiquette, or perhaps who just didn’t notice their dog leaving a fecal souvenir. Rules of Engagement As Patrick Swayze says in the movie Road House, “Be nice – until it’s time to not be nice.” If a human or his dog is behaving inappropriately, assume they don’t know any better, and do your best to educate gently and politely. If you’re uncomfortable doing so, seek out the help of another park user for support. Don’t wimp out. As a responsible dog park user, you have an obligation to report inappropriate actions of other users that put the safety of dogs and humans at risk. How would you feel if you turned a blind eye to a potentially dangerous behavior, only to have another person or dog injured – perhaps seriously or fatally – if an incident happens in the future that you might have been able to prevent? Examples of positive phrases to use with an owner might include:
- “Excuse me, but perhaps you didn’t realize that this side of the park is for dogs under 25 pounds… Your Lab is really handsome – I bet he’d love to play with the Golden Retriever on the other side of that fence.”
- “Hey – that ham sandwich looks really tasty – and there’s a St. Bernard headed this way who’s eyeing it with great interest. It might be safer if you finished eating it outside the fence and then brought your dog back in to play…”
- “What a cute baby! If she were mine I’d be worried about having her in the park here with all these energetic dogs. I’ve read some pretty scary stories about dogs grabbing babies out of adults’ arms – I’d hate to see your little girl get hurt! And actually the park rules say kids should be 8 years or older to be in here…” If the inappropriate actions are putting you or your dog at risk and the other dog owner isn’t receptive to education, take your dog and leave the park until you can ask the users’ group or other park authorities to handle the situation. If you don’t know and can’t get the dog owner’s name and contact information, try to get his license plate number. If that’s not possible, write down a detailed description of both dog and human, and note any times you’ve seen them at the park, to help authorities make contact. Also write a detailed and unemotional description of the behavior(s) you felt were inappropriate. The positive approach generally works better with humans, just as it does with dogs. A dog owner on one of my training lists recently posted a message about her dog who occasionally became aggressive with other dogs at her local dog park. Other list members gently explained to her why the dog park was not the appropriate place to work on modifying her dog’s reactive behavior, and offered other options for doing behavior modification work with him. I’m pretty sure from her responses that she understood. At least I hope she did, for her dog’s sake, and the sake of other dog park users in her community.
Bringing Your Children to the Park
Adapted from the Hillsboro Dog Association. Used with permission.
Please read the following safety tips concerning your children and the dog park. We want your visit to be safe and fun for the entire family. However, remember that the dog park is a play space for dogs. We do not want children or dogs to get hurt. Always keep your children close to you. The dog park is not the place for unsupervised or running children.
Small running children: fast food or squeaky toy?
- Dogs and puppies have a prey drive. Children want to run with the dogs. A dog or puppy will see this as prey or their litter mate, and run it down.
- Running children may fall or step on small dogs and hurt them. Small dogs are more fragile than your child.
- Herding dogs love to drive their flock by biting or nipping at their flock’s feet. Keep your child close and instruct them not to run. Otherwise, they are just another sheep in the flock.
- Sight hounds, such as greyhounds, are bred to run down their prey. Running children are running prey. It’s playtime!
- Big or small, all dogs want to interact with children, just as they did as puppies with their litter mates. This entails wrestling and biting, which is one way puppies learn to socialize with other puppies. Your child, however, is not another puppy. Remember that scars from dog bites, claws, or wrestling can last a lifetime.
- Watch for running dogs. Kids and dogs are close to the same height. Dogs can slam into your child and knock them to the ground. A dog’s head is much thicker and harder than your child’s head. Let’s leave the head butts to the big horn sheep. Do not put a bike helmet on your dog as it will be very humiliated (of course, not as much as while wearing the dreaded “Cone of Shame”). Food and treats? I’ll be your best friend!
- Do not let your child offer food or treats to dogs. Every dog will want to be their best friend, and, a pack of dogs will form around them. This can lead to aggression, dog fights, being knocked down, or nipped fingers. Your child’s fingers are for penmanship, not doggie French fries. I spy doggy doo doo!
- Children are not the most observant members of your pack. Whether walking or running, Murphy’s Law applies. If there is dog poop, YOUR child will step in it, and you will not know until you get into YOUR car.