All dogs need the opportunity to run off the lead sometimes, and finding a safe enclosed space where they are able to do this is not usually a challenge. For some types of dogs, there are additional concerns to bear in mind when playing off the lead, such as their ability to respond to recall, how they interact with other people and dogs, and if they have strong hunting tendencies.
Most areas have some sort of provision for supervised off the lead play for dogs, in the form of a dedicated dog park, or a field or common area that is fenced in on all sides. This does of course mean that you will run into other dogs and owners there too on a regular basis, so it is important that all dogs and their owners are prepared for this, and know about good manners, behaviour and etiquette around others. Dog parks do not usually come with guidelines and signage advising of rules and what to do, although in some cases, this might come in very handy! So in this article, we will give you some guidance on good dog park etiquette, and some considerations to bear in mind.
Before you take your dog to a dog park or open play area off the lead, your dog should have a good grounding in the basics of training and good behaviour, and be responsive to your commands even within busy or challenging situations. It is simply good manners as well as important for the safety of other people and dogs to ensure that your dog will respond to commands when told to, and you should not allow your dog off the lead around others until they are well trained enough to be trustworthy and well behaved!
Your dog should be vaccinated against all of the core transmissible canine diseases and conditions as standard, because they are sure to come into contact with other dogs at some point! This is especially true in an environment that is heavily trafficked by a lot of other dogs, a prime environment for the spread of viruses and illnesses. Not only should your dog be vaccinated to minimise the risk of them catching an illness from another dog, but also so that they do not pass on any conditions themselves.
Do not take your dog into contact with other dogs if they have a cough or are at all under the weather, and in the dog park, try to keep them clear of sniffing around dog poop, and remove and bag up your own dog’s poop promptly to keep the environment clean and safe. If you come across another dog that appears to be coughing or otherwise unwell, take your dog away.
If you own an un-neutered dog or unspayed bitch, this can cause real problems in meetings with other dogs. Other un-neutered dogs of the same sex will be liable to potentially fight with your dog, and if you own a bitch in season, they must be kept away from open areas where they may come into contact with other dogs and potentially breed.
While you cannot account for other people’s management of their dogs and if their dogs are spayed or neutered, you can reduce the propensity for problems on your side by spaying and neutering, or keeping your bitch in season away from the park.
The dog park is the perfect place to take your puppy or young dog to learn about socialisation and proper play and behaviour around other dogs, and older dogs usually give a lot of leeway to young dogs while they are still learning. However, if you own an older dog that has not benefited from early socialisation and learning about how to play nicely with others, the dog park off the lead may not be the best environment to teach this. Socialising older dogs is a process that takes a reasonable amount of time and that needs to be handled carefully under controlled conditions, so taking a poorly socialised dog and simply letting them go off the lead around other dogs is not advisable!
Once your dog gets tired out, no longer wants to play with others or stops responding to your commands, it is time to call it a day and head for home. Staying past the time when your dog is at their best will result in a grumpy dog who may become snappy with others, or if your dog is being harassed by another dog that wants to play when they have had enough, this can soon turn into a snarling match.
While it is to be expected that any people within the dog park will have dogs with them or at least be dog friendly, do not allow your dog to make a nuisance of themselves by jumping up or causing a problem for other people. If asked to by another handler, recall your dog and keep them under control and away.