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 important things to be aware of before you go. Below, we’ll answer questions about the best times to go to the dog park, offer some dog park safety tips, provide dog park rules for first time visitors, and list some common dangers to avoid, both for puppies and older dogs.
What to Consider Before Going to the Dog Park
Anytime can be a great time to take your canine companion 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 subsequently become overheated on hotter days. This makes mornings and evenings ideal since temperatures are cooler. It's safest to avoid hot, humid days when there is a high risk of heat stroke, unless you have a climate controlled indoor dog park in your area.
- Rain. You may want to consider the mud and dirt associated with a rainy day. Dogs that frolic in the mud will need a bath when they get home. On rainy days, it's best to play at your local indoor dog park.
- Vaccines. Dog parks can be a source of infectious diseases, such as parvovirus, canine flu, and kennel cough. It's a good idea to check with your veterinarian for dog park vaccination 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 five months old. For young dogs, consider one-on-one play dates with healthy, vaccinated pups -- save the dog park until they are five to six months old.
- 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 don't stay if the park is over-crowded.
Pro tip: If you find yourself asking, "When can I take my puppy to the dog park?" before your dog reaches five months of age, you should consider walks around town as a safe alternative. To learn more about walking in the city, check out our City Dog Walking Safety Guide.
11 Dog Park Safety Tips
To ensure a safe and fun trip, follow these dog park safety tips:
1. Know the Dog Park Rules
Off-leash dog parks have rules regarding dog size, vaccine requirements, collars, leashes, use of toys, and more. Know the rules for your off-leash park and make sure it's 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 chaotic moment at the dog park. 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, 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 around 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. If you decide to take along a plaything, be sure to bring extras for playmates.
4. Watch Dog Body Language
Leave if you see any dogs exhibiting aggression. Staring, crouching, and other tense body language is a warning sign. 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 happens to dogs, which may result in rough play or an overly sensitive demeanor. Instead of staying for hours, go home before your dog reaches this 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, social media, reading, or extensive human conversation. Keep your eyes on your pooch to ensure there is no 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 and ban those that aren’t playing nicely.
8. Bring a Well-Packed Bag
Many parks require that your dog always have a collar with ID and license. Pack water, bowl, treats, leash, first-aid kit, poop bags, and towels. Encourage your dog to drink periodically to avoid dehydration. 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 come in handy on a rainy day or if your dog gets dirty before getting back in the car.
9. Pick Up Poop
Many dog owners violate the golden rule of responsible dog ownership, and dog waste ends up on shoes and paws. 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 own dog’s droppings.
10. Keep Up with Your Dog's Prevention Meds
Parks are full of dogs, and many can have internal and external parasites. Ensure your dog is up to date on flea, tick, and heartworm prevention medications. Learn what you need to know about the dangers of ticks by reading our article about dogs and ticks here.
11. Make Sure Your Dog Is Healthy
Before going to the park, ensure your pup is well 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 to enjoy the play area of your local dog park. However, during hot and humid months, the best time is in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler, unless you have an indoor dog park near your home. Off peak times, such as weekdays, are usually less busy.
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.
Can My Puppy Go to Dog Park After Their Second Set of Shots?
The answer depends on their age. If your dog is over four or five months of age, then it is probably safe. If your puppy is younger, then they haven’t had time to develop immunity to contagious diseases, increasing the risk of illness.
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, especially after long periods of isolation, such as with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finally, if you have a very small dog or very large dog, you may want to consider looking for parks that cater to their specific size. This will ensure the safety of smaller canines if a dog fight happens to break out.
Enjoy your visit to the dog park and stay safe!