Is the Dog Park Safe?

Is the Dog Park Right for Your Dog?

An off leash dog park can be a great way for you and your dog to get some exercise, burn some energy, and make some new friends! However, there are a few steps you should take before going to the park to help make the experience safer for you, your dog, and the other dogs at the park. Here are some tips and tricks that can help you recognize when things may not be working out, and how to improve your dog’s park experience.

It’s good to remember that not every dog likes to go to a dog playground or is social — and that’s OK! Just like people, your dog’s friendliness toward other dogs is on a spectrum. Social events like the dog park may be too overwhelming, and your dog may enjoy calmer activities such as a game of fetch, or one-on-one play with a neighbor dog instead. If you find the tips and tricks below just aren’t working, don’t despair, finding another enjoyable activity can be just as beneficial.

Preparing for the Park

Before you go to the nearest dog park, make sure your dog is ready for it. If your dog doesn’t get along well with other dogs, is prone to barking or harassing dogs, or is scared, the dog park is NOT the place to practice these skills. Instead of a trip to the park which may be stressful, a walk on a secluded trail, a nice fetch session, or even off-leash play in a larger area may be better. It doesn’t make you a bad owner if your dog dislikes the park, it just means Fido may be a little less social!

If your dog is fine with other dogs and doesn’t get too stressed around them, then it is time to go! Make sure to have a leash on hand, and that your dog listens well to you off-leash. Practicing recalls on a long line with distractions is a great way to test this prior to the excitement of the dog park. However, be ready to step in with the leash as needed, as even the most well-trained dog may be too distracted by a friend.

Make sure not to bring any treats or objects your dog may become possessive over once inside the park, to help avoid a problem. The less distraction and items of contention, the more likely your dog is to have a good time.

Reading Canine Body Language

Knowing canine body language is important in the park. This will help you better understand how your dog is feeling, as well as how other dogs feel around them. Signs of a relaxed and happy dog include an open mouth, tongue hanging out, loose, wiggly body position, and play bows. Your dog’s tail may be up in the air if he’s feeling confident, or in a neutral position.

If your dog is feeling stressed, he may have a closed mouth, stiff body, or a tail that is straight out or tucked. If he’s not OK with the other dogs near him, he may show signs such as baring teeth, low growls, or hackling. While this may look scary, these are all ways dogs communicate with each other and are a sign your dog is speaking with others to set his boundaries! A good signal after a tense moment is one or both dogs shaking (as if they’ve just had a bath) afterward. This is a tension-reducing move and means the dogs are relaxing again.

If your dog is actively snapping at or constantly hackling at other dogs, he may be a little too stressed and ready to leave the park or move to a less populated area. It’s best to leash up and head home before those warning signals evolve into a bite or fight.

If Fighting Breaks Out

It’s natural for a dog to not get along with every other dog he meets. If you are seeing body language that indicates your dog is stressed or not getting along well, then stopping him and removing him from the situation BEFORE a fight breaks out is always best.

If a fight does happen, do NOT yell or reach in to grab your dog. This may increase the intensity of the fight and you can be bitten or injured in the process. If both dogs are leashed, grabbing the leash from a distance and separating the dogs may help. If they are off-leash, a spray bottle of water, hose, or even placing other non-human objects between the dogs (such as tossing a blanket on them) may be enough to get them apart. Once apart, you can then separate the dogs further to check for injuries and prevent another fight. If your dog does get into a fight, it is time to relax elsewhere outside of the park.

Fights are VERY rare at the park, and your dog is more likely to have a good wrestle session rather than a fight. Dogs can play very rough, so if your dog is actively growling, chewing on, or wrestling with another dog, it may be play behavior instead! Knowing body language is key to figuring out the difference between play and fight. Dogs that fight have stiff bodies, hackles raised, and higher-pitched barks, while dogs that are playing have loose, flexible bodies, and will back away if things get too rough.

Signs Your Dog Is Ready to Go Home

Any dog can become stressed at the park, or may just be tired from good play sessions and ready to go home. Signs your dog is ready to go can include stressed body language, or avoiding engaging with others. If your dog seems tired or bored, it may be time to go.

The dog park may seem like a scary place if your dog isn’t used to it, but it is a great way to interact, socialize, and exercise your dog. Knowing your dog’s body language, how to stop a fight, and when it’s time to go home will help keep you and your dog safe and keep the dog park an enjoyable experience!

Have more training questions or concerns? Check our our library of resources for more tips, tricks, and tail wags!