My 4-year-old pup Hugo loves the dog park — it’s pretty much his favorite place on earth. Even more so if we bring a ball with us.
But one doesn’t simply just go to the dog park. There are certain (some unspoken) rules you should know before you make the trip in order to avoid being “that guy.” Start with these pro-tips.
If you just got a new puppy, you may be excited to take them out for a romp at the park and make fellow fur friends. Not so fast — you need to make sure your puppy is vaccinated before you go.
“Usually between 16 to 20 weeks is when they’re fully vaccinated with rabies and distemper — that is the absolute earliest you should take your puppy to the dog park,” says Nikita Singhani, DVM, veterinarian at West Chelsea Veterinary in New York City. “There are also a couple of non-core vaccines that some people would choose to give before going to the dog park, like the lepto vaccine, which we usually administer around 5 months of age.”
So be sure to check with your vet and get their stamp of approval before taking a trip to the puppy promised land.
There are at least two (sometimes more) sections within a dog park for a reason. Usually one is for smaller dogs, and one is for larger dogs — and for good reason.
“We have seen many small dogs come in with injuries or even pass away from interactions with a bigger dog at the dog park,” says Dr. Singhani.
So it’s important for your dog’s safety to keep them in the side of the park that best suits their size.
Before you even enter the gates, get a read on the situation at hand. “It can help to gauge how busy the dog park is — if there are a lot of dogs, it’s harder to keep an eye on your dog and what’s going on,” says Singhani.
Try to get a sense for the other dogs that are there — are most of them playing? Do they seem friendly? Are there some dogs that are roughhousing too much? “Taking note of these things can help you protect your own dog,” Singhani adds.
When you bring your dog to the dog park, it’s not free time for you to zone out on the bench and check Instagram — you have to pay attention to what your dog is doing, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). Whether they get into a scuffle or drop a deuce, it’s on you to be alert so you can step in as needed.
This may seem obvious, but it gets overlooked more than you think. I’ve seen plenty of dog parks that have poop everywhere, and when left behind, things can get messy as more dogs come in and run around.
The same rules apply for other types of messes. For example, our pup tends to drink a ton of water then run like crazy and make himself sick. So we’re always prepared to clean up any mess he makes.
Water, treats, toys, a ball — you name it. Whatever you bring with you, make sure you’re willing to share it. For example, my dog goes NUTS for the ball at the dog park. It doesn’t matter if you brought your fancy ball for just you and your dog to play fetch with, Hugo will insert himself and join in on the fun. Which is why we never enter the park without at least three tennis balls on hand, so we can distract him — and share with other pups, too.
If you do bring a toy or a ball, a good rule of thumb is to only take it out when the park is less crowded. “When you have multiple dogs going for the same ball, that’s how fights and things can ensue,” says Singhani.
By the way, you should leave the treats at home, unless you want ALL the dogs following you around. They can sniff what’s in your pocket from a mile away.
You want to make sure your pup’s time at the park is a positive experience, so be sure to pay attention to how they’re acting. “If your dog is cowering and staying right by you, pull them out of the situation, because obviously something is making them uncomfortable — or they’re just unhappy being there,” adds Singhani.