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Unwritten Rules of an Off-Leash Dog Park

People are not like dogs and dogs are not like people, however, there are times when certain behavioral patterns should be used for both groups. Parks for example, or for this article it is really dog parks of the off-leash variety, are such places.

You see, just like we all follow certain unspoken rules and guidelines for our behavior in the regular "human" park, it is also necessary for dogs to have certain standards in their park equivalents - the off-leash parks.

Unfortunately, not everyone is "in the know" regarding bits of essential etiquette, and there are even some who just don't think they should follow them. Fortunately, just as there are solutions for those times when we run into difficult situations in the human park, so too are there solutions for troubles and challenges at the dog park.

The Standard Issues

As we work our way through the unwritten rules of the off-leash dog park you'll see that most of these suggestions are common sense. They focus mostly on two things:

  • Dog health
  • Dog socialization

However, before we look into those two areas, we'll look at the issue of owners because they too play a part in this issue, in fact, they are a major part. As one expert wrote: "Everyone has a different perspective, and some people have strong opinions…" (WebMD, 2014). And these perspectives apply to dog behaviors as well as what constitutes a risk.

Because of that, let's quickly look at the most general guidelines for pet parents as they consider whether or not to visit the off-leash dog park:

  • Have you looked before you enter? Your dog may be perfectly fine in this park, but you want to always checkout who is at the playground each time you arrive. New dogs and new owners create the need to assess the situation. Also, make sure there is always another adult on the grounds to help if an issue does occur.
  • Are you using common sense? If your dog is under the weather or behaving differently, do not enter the off-leash area as this is not an ideal place to test limits. Is there a dog or owner with whom you've had trouble before? Go to another spot for that day.
  • Are you in command? A wise pet parent knows the need to have an animal properly trained before introducing them to challenging situations. If your dog will not come when called at home, you know for sure that the dog will not come to you when in the park. While this can be annoying when you have to chase the dog down, it can be deadly if the dog encounters a difficult social situation or aggressive dogs.
  • Are you being responsible? Your dog may seem to be stalking other dogs, or someone else's dog may be getting aggressive. You must remain aware of your dog and be ready to be responsible for the entire situation if needed.
  • Will you act quickly? A lot of dog owners are not quite sure what to do when their calm and quiet dog suddenly lashes out and gets into a fight. If you cannot break it up with water and shouts, don't reach between the dogs. Instead, turn your dog into a wheelbarrow and force him or her to disengage in the fight. This does put the dog at risk for attack from other dogs, but it is always to be hoped that the other owners are behaving responsibly too.

Obviously, those tips make it sound as if the off-leash dog park is a frightening place, and this is intentional. There are far too many horror stories about "bad owners" and how they created a dangerous situation by entering the off leash park with an irresponsible attitude or with dogs unable to be controlled.

Of course, as mentioned, there are two major points to consider, and generally these are things you'll know about if you are an "informed dog owner". They are things that only you will be able to gauge, judge or know about yourself, and they are of the utmost importance.

Health - It is not just that you should bring only healthy dogs into the park, that goes without saying. The rest of the health issues include: bringing dogs over four months in age; never bringing dogs in "heat" or males who are "intact"; and never bringing dogs without current immunizations.

Socialization - This is the biggest issue of them all and you only want to bring dogs who are socialized into the off leash areas. Dogs who are fearful and anxious, or who have a tendency to lash out at aggressive or strange dogs must not be trusted in the off leash areas either. Dogs with bullying or dominating behaviors are also not ideal candidates for the freedom of off-leash parks.

There are so many benefits to parks of all kinds, but don't put your dog or yourself at risk by visiting an off leash park with a dog who is not ready for the challenge.


Find more about the author: Kristen Breedlove