The weather is lovely, and you can’t wait to see your dog enjoy some canine playtime, as well as reap the benefits of a tired pup later. You’re definitely headed to the dog park!
Though a trip to the dog park can be fun, there are some dangers. Below, we’ll answer questions about the best time to go to the dog park, as well as offer tips for first time visits and common dangers to avoid for both puppies and older dogs.
What to Consider Before Going to the Dog Park
Anytime can be a great time to take your dog to the dog park, but you should consider the following factors before making the trip:
- Hot Weather. Dogs will often play until they are worn out and can become overheated on hot days. This makes mornings and evenings ideal, since temperatures are cooler. It is safest to avoid hot humid days when there is a high risk of heat stroke.
- Rain. You may want to consider the mud and dirt associated with a rainy day. Dogs that frolic in the mud may need a bath when they get home.
- Vaccines. Dog parks can be a source of infectious diseases, such as parvovirus, canine flu, and kennel cough. It is a good idea to check with your veterinarian for vaccine recommendations based on their knowledge of local risks.
- Age. Because there are so many dogs at the dog park, including some with no or inadequate vaccinations, there is risk of infectious disease (such as parvovirus). This is especially true in unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated puppies. The highest risk is for new puppies less than 5 months old. For young dogs, you may want to consider doggie play dates with healthy, vaccinated dogs and save the dog park until they are 5 to 6 months old. You can also consider walks around town as a safe activity. To learn more about walking in the city, check out our City Dog Walking Safety Guide.
- Off Peak Hours. Visiting the park when there are fewer dogs is more enjoyable and helps avoid some undesirable or aggressive behavior. Try visiting early in the morning, later in the evening, or when other people are at work. Leave early and do not stay if the park is too crowded.
11 Dog Park Safety Tips
Ensure it’s a safe and fun trip by following these tips:
1. Know the rules.
Off leash dog parks have rules regarding dog size, vaccine requirements, collars, leashes, use of toys, and more. Know the rules for your particular off leash park and make sure it is the right match for you and your dog.
2. Master obedience commands in distracting environments.
If your dog is used to tuning you out when they’re having fun, then you won’t be able to get their attention during a heightened moment at the dog park. What’s a great way to start practicing? Have your dog do “sits” and “downs” during walks and even do a recall (“come”) command as well. Say “come” and then run backwards from your dog; when they reach you, reward them with treats. Eventually transition these commands to various locations - both on and off leash and with or without food rewards. Another option is to see a professional dog trainer to continue practicing. Group classes are fantastic for teaching your dog to listen in distracting environments and when near other dogs. Find a local class by using this link.
3. Don't bring dog toys.
Toys may give dogs something to resource guard. Some dog behaviorists advise against bringing toys to the dog park and, if you do decide to take along a plaything, be sure to bring extras just in case.
4. Watch doggie body language.
Leave if you see any dogs exhibiting aggression. Staring, crouching, and other tense body language are warning signs. Rough play, like a group of aggressive dogs chasing another dog, is also very dangerous. Don’t forget to keep an eye on your dog's body language to ensure that they're comfortable. This article further outlines both polite and impolite dog language.
5. Stay for 30 - 60 minutes max.
Have you ever seen a child get overtired? Suddenly, the laughter turns to tears and tempers flare. A similar thing can happen to dogs, which may result in them getting too rough or overly sensitive. Instead of staying for hours, go home before your dog reaches that point.
6. Don’t zone out!
Both humans and dogs have to behave at the park! Pay attention to your dog. Do not engage in texting, web surfing, reading, or extensive human conversation. Keep your eyes on your pooch to ensure there is no doggie bad behavior or aggression.
7. Consider membership and entrance fees
Nice, clean dog parks often have fees that go toward things like maintenance and licensing. In addition, these parks may verify vaccination records of dogs and ban dogs that aren’t playing nicely.
8. Bring a well-packed bag.
Many parks require that your dog always has a collar on with an ID tag and license. Pack some water, a bowl, treats, a leash, first aid kit, poop bags, and some towels. Boost hydration by encouraging your dog to come and drink periodically. Keep a leash with you in case you need to control your dog or remove them from a situation. Treats can be great for basic training or rewarding your dog for good behavior. Towels can be come in handy on a rainy day or if your dog gets dirty before getting back in your car.
9. Pick up poop.
Many dog owners violate the golden rule of responsible dog ownership. Dog waste ends up on shoes and on dog paws, that can track feces into cars and homes. Worse yet, poop may transmit disease. In general, dog owners who do not pick up poop ruin it for responsible dog owners. If you see this kind of behavior, offer the person who didn’t pick up their pooch’s poop one of your poop bags, pick up the abandoned dog poop of others, and always pick up your dog’s droppings. Perhaps you’ll generate some good karma too!
10. Keep up-to-date on your dog's prevention meds.
Parks are full of dogs, and many can have internal and external parasites. Ensure your is dog is up to date on flea, tick, and heartworm preventive medications. Learn more about the dangers of ticks here.
11. Make sure your dog is healthy.
Before going to the park, ensure your dog is feeling good and not having abnormal symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, sneezing, nasal discharge, or coughing, which can be contagious to other dogs. If they're not in good spirits, a dog park isn't the best place for them to be.
Dog Park FAQs
Can I take my 12-week-old puppy to the dog park?
Yes, but there are risks. A 12-week-old dog doesn’t have full immunity to diseases like parvovirus. The safest time to take your dog to the dog park is after they have received their puppy vaccine series and your vet has cleared them.
What vaccines does my dog need if they routinely go to the dog park?
Your dog should be vaccinated for rabies, distemper/parvo (a combined vaccine often abbreviated as DHLPP), Bordetella (kennel cough), and the canine flu. Ask your vet for recommendations based on risks in your geographic location.
When is the best time to take your dog to the dog park?
For fully-vaccinated canines current on flea and tick prevention medicine, any time can be a good time. However, during hot and humid months, the best time is in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler. Off peak times, such as weekdays, are usually less busy.
Can I take my 4-month-old puppy to the dog park?
If your young puppy has completed their vaccine series, then yes. However, the series of vaccinations is not usually complete until closer to 20 weeks of age.
Is it safe to take my dog to the dog park during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Follow all guidelines as dictated by the dog park and your own doctor. Use masks and social distancing as appropriate. It is thought that the risk of your dog interacting with another dog exposed to COVID is very low risk relative to your exposure.
Can my puppy go to dog park after their 2nd set of shots?
The answer depends on their age. If your dog is over 4 or 5 months of age, then it is probably OK. If your puppy is younger, then they haven’t had time to develop immunity to contagious diseases, increasing the risk of infectious disease.
How often should I take my puppy to the dog park?
Once fully vaccinated, you can take your dog daily or weekly depending on their energy level, your feeling of safety there, and your schedule.
Is it safe to take my dog to a dog park?
It can be safe if you follow the recommendations in this article. Please read the 11 safety tips listed above.
When can I take my puppy for a walk?
You can take your puppy for a walk any time. Walking provides an opportunity for exercise, as well as a chance to go to the bathroom. It also allows time to bond and teach commands. If you are asking about walking relative to their safety from disease, please read the answer above.
What are the benefits of taking my puppy to the dog park?
The primary benefit is that it allows for the dog-to-dog socialization process to begin and is a great way for your dog to exercise and blow off excess energy. It is also good for pet owners to have social interaction and a source of enjoyment.
What are my dog park options?
If you don’t have a dog park near you, check out a local doggie day camp facility as another option. You can also organize a doggy play date with a friend’s dog.
Enjoy your visit to the dog park and stay safe!