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Dog Park Etiquette


Just like the gym or the workplace, a dog park is a social place with its own set of proper etiquette guidelines. But what that means in a dog park isn’t always obvious. With the help of Charlotte Reed (author of The Miss Fido Manners Complete Book of Dog Etiquette) and Cheryl Smith (a certified dog behavior consultant and author of Visiting the Dog Park: Having Fun, Staying Safe), we set the record straight on some important aspects of dog park decorum.

Q: I’m very protective of my small dog. I want her to have fun at the park, but I don’t want her to get hurt. Can I keep her on the leash so that I’m always close and can pull her out of rough situations?

A: Sorry, but no. A dog park is specifically for off-leash play. “A leash can create different reactions in the leashed dog, who feels constrained and unable to react as he or she may wish,” says Smith. “Leashes can create barrier frustration,” she says. This is a common dog behavior issue, where dogs may lash out because they don’t feel in control. If you’re still concerned about your pet, you might consider trying to establish an event for small dogs only at your local dog park.

Q: My dog gets really thirsty after running around in the park. Should I bring his water bowl for drink breaks?

A: Only if you bring him outside the park for the break. It’s too hard to keep the other dogs away from your bowl, and both Reed and Smith point out that a communal water bowl is also a communal germ pool. Nasty bugs like giardia can spread through water.

Q: What about treats? Since I dole those out by hand, they’re something I can control.

A: It’s not a good idea to give your dog food in front of other dogs. Not only might you get mobbed and knocked over by jealous, hungry dogs, but other owners could also become agitated. This tip additionally applies to food you might bring for yourself. “The smell and sight of it will rile up the dogs,” says Reed.

Q: Aside from being a great place to exercise my dog, isn’t the dog park also a perfect place to find love?

A: Perhaps, but keep the former purpose at the forefront. Reed once witnessed a flirty woman become so enamored with a male dog owner that she didn’t notice her terrier escape the dog park and run away. The dog was smart enough to run home, but as Reed points out, “You should love the ones you’re with and not lose them by looking for love at the dog park.”

Q: My dog is always well behaved and can fend for herself. Is it OK for me to leave her in the park for 20 minutes while I run to the store?

A: Absolutely not. You are responsible for your dog’s actions, so you need to be there. “Believe it or not, people do this,” says Smith. “But the park is not to baby-sit your unattended dog while you go off and run some errands.”

Q: I appreciate that my dog gets to play, but I also like to use the dog park as a way to relax. It’s not as if my dog is a 2-year-old child, so is it OK to bring a book to read?

A: No! Your dog is like a 2-year-old child, and you need to pay attention. Do this for the sake of his or her safety, and for the sake of the other dogs. And speaking of 2-year-olds, you might notice that dogs poop whenever and wherever they want, and it’s your responsibility to pick it up. “Piles of poop are the prime reason dog parks are shut down or never open in the first place,” says Smith. Most people are happy to clean up after their dogs, so a poop-filled dog park is likely the result of people who don’t pay attention.

Brad Kloza is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and Discover.

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