Dog Park Etiquette: Rules to Help Dogs Get Along

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By Dr. Sophia Yin



Anyone who frequents the dog park and knows about dog behavior probably has a few horror stories to share and I am no exception.

A couple of years ago, I was at my neighborhood park, which is a private multi-use park for dogs and people. It was an off-hour so it was just me, my dog, Jonesy, and my foster dog, a little Corgi with a history of some fear and reactivity to unfamiliar dogs. Jonesy was off-leash and the Corgi was on a long line. Generally, when I’m just with Jonesy, who is reactive towards unfamiliar dogs, especially those who are en route to trampling or side-swiping him, I’ll keep him focused on me in fun games or give him treats. That way Jonesy doesn’t have a chance to feel threatened enough to bark and growl doggie expletives. But in this case, I didn’t know other dogs were entering the area park until I heard the mad barking of three Australian Shepherds as they leapt out of their car and started racing around as if they had been penned up for weeks. The park was the size of a football field, but as usual, these dogs decided that the choice spot was wherever we were, so they sprinted our way. I stood for an instant indecisively.  Should I call the Corgi and sprint so he’d follow me (but most likely with the other dogs in hot pursuit) or should I give him a super-slack leash in hopes that he will feel like he can get away and doesn’t need to lunge at or possible bite the furry torpedoes heading our way.

Still unsure, I shouted to the other owner, “My dogs are fearful of other dogs that race up to them,” a tactic that generally works well. Most owners are accommodating, or at least apologetic when their off-leash dogs have charged up. But today I was up against the type of guy for whom workplace sensitivity classes were invented.

“Oh, are they bothering you?” he asks.  “You look really scared. Do you want me to leave the park?” He continues in his pretend-nice, voice.  I’m thinking, “What normal person notices he is doing something that makes you nervous and hears you verbalize the problem, and then asks you if it’s an issue?”

My reply, “No, you don’t need to leave, but can we have 10 yards of space?” Then his true colors came out. “It’s a DOG park,” he says, emphasizing every word, as if, because I’m a small Asian woman, I’m too stupid to understand English spoken at a normal speed. “They’re supposed to be able to play,” he continues.

That’s what he said, but what he really meant was, “My dogs have no come when called and because of that, they have to hog the entire 100-yard field. Because I have no control of them, I have to pretend that you’re the idiot when I know the real idiot is me.”  Sure enough, when he tried to get his dogs to go back to the car, it took him a good five minutes to round them up.  (Note he had to get his dogs back into the car in order to have any control over them so that I could leave the park with the corgi).

Download the free poster on Dog Park Etiquette here as part of Dr. Sophia Yin’s Perfect Puppy poster bundle.

How and Why Dogs Should Behave Politely at the Off-Leash Park

Incidents like this happen regularly at a majority of off-leash dog and multi-use parks, resulting in bad experiences for both people and dogs. Many people may pooh pooh the problem and blame other, insecure dogs for being scared. However,  when you turn the situation around and imagine we were talking about kids at the playground, it would all seem very different.

Take these scenarios, for example:

Scenario 1:

At the dog park, avoid letting your dog mob dogs that enter the park and avoid letting them sprint up to other dogs they don’t know. Watch how the other dogs respond to your dog’s greeting and look for signs of fear or anxiety in them (Read the blog on body language of fear and anxiety and download the free poster)

Scenario 2:

If your dog has a tendency to steal toys or even crowd other dogs who are playing with toys, you’ll need to develop a fantastic come when called and fetch so that he can bring the toy to you and you can get it back to the rightful owner. You may need to leash your dog if he’s a toy thief because it’s not fair for him to disrupt other dogs’ play.

Scenario 3:

If your dog is a pest you’ll want to call him and engage him in more appropriate play with you or a toy.

Scenario 4:

In fact, in my experiences, overly rough play is a leading cause of deteriorating behavior at the park. One dog’s having fun but the other is getting trampled, or both dogs are getting too excited and suddenly their play breaks into a fight. To prevent this from happening, you’ll want to call your dog over to you and engage him in replacement behaviors before he gets overly rough with others.

Scenario 5:

A park is for multiple uses, even if it’s a dog park. Dogs should avoid hogging the entire field. Give dogs that are playing fetch room to play and let dogs that are interacting with their people interact on their own.

Scenario 6:

While most people at the dog park like dogs, most people dislike being body slammed or jumped on. In fact, these rude behaviors can cause injury to people. I’ve even seen this injury cost $40,000 for the negligent owner of the dog. The solution? Train your dog to greet people by sitting politely or call him away from them before he can jump or body slam them.

Scenario 7:

Probably the number one reason dogs get into trouble at the park is that people stand around and ignore them. Behind their back, multiple small altercations are happening or the dog’s being rude and other dogs are just too polite or friendly to fend him off.

What should you do to prevent your dog from being a dog park menace?

Luckily the trick to keeping your dog out of trouble at the park is simple.

It sounds easy and it really is. If you can train these two vital skills and supervise your dog, then you and your dog and the other park participants will be happier and everyone will get along better.

Stay tuned for the next blog about proper dog play!


Dr. Yin passed away in 2014 but her legacy continues to live on.

Download the free poster on Dog Park Etiquette here.

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96 responses to “Dog Park Etiquette: Rules to Help Dogs Get Along

  1. While I agree that all dogs need to have a good recall for the issue of toy stealing, sometimes the dog park is not the place to bring a dog that is ball crazy, esp one that doesn’t share well. Smaller fenced areas is one. Responsibility is on both owners, not just the toy stealer. We’ve had huge issues with this in some of our local parks.

    1. Doesn’t share well? Would you be expected to simply, I don’t know, share your phone with anyone who comes up and grabs it, just because you have it around people? Maybe if you have a dog who likes to steal toys you should bring your own. Maybe I’m misreading what you’re saying and maybe what you’re saying is don’t bring a ball to a park where your dog will viciously attack another dog for coming up to sniff it. If that’s the case and I agree. That’s not what I read in this comment, hence my response. What I’m understanding from your comment is that you’re saying you shouldn’t bring a dog’s toy who growls or snaps at another dog for trying to steal his toy, in which case is actually shouldn’t be a problem because the dog trying to steal the toy should back off if he has the same manners as a dog with the toy.

      1. Woah – a little harsh!? 🙂 All Donna was saying is that if your dog has resource-guarding issues with its toy – the dog park is probably not an appropriate place for it to play with the toy. You cannot expect other dogs who are in play mode to necessarily read the signs in time and it could cause problems.

        You also cannot guarantee, in a dog park, that all dogs have been socialized well and know how to act in dog society. Those who haven’t been are not good at picking up signals from other dogs and just barge their way in. Socialization – which I’m sure you’re aware – is not just meeting and greeting other dogs and people. It starts literally when a pup is born. If a pup has been either not cared for well by its breeder/mother, or has left the litter too early (think puppy mills) he hasn’t yet learned the social niceties of how to be a dog and has lost the opportunity to do so in a natural manner. He therefore often misreads all kinds of signals from other dogs, getting himself, and often the other dog, into all kinds of strife. It’s how many dog fights start…

        In any case, my point being, I agree with Donna. As you cannot know who you will meet at a park, best to keep special toys at home for alone time games if your dog is at all resource-guarding of the toy.

    2. 100 percent agree. I kept my dog away from a ball hog aggressive dog ok. Then the owned threw the ball a long way and my dog and a few others noticed. The ensuing mayhem was not pleasant. suffice to say it resulted in a pack chase of my dog. Lucky he is fast and recognized me and I was thus able to step in and rescue him.

      toys and dog treats shpuld not be bought to and off leash dog park and the owner of the aggressive dog also said his dog is possive of his ball! WTF

  2. i think its a lot to expect from a dog not to want to share other dogs toys and play with toys being thrown around. i think its better etiquette for the person bringing the toy to be OK with other dogs sharing it. I say, as long as someone is playing with it then that makes me happy. The problem is some dogs are defensive of their toys so your asking for trouble bringing a toy in the first place, especially if your dog is possessive of their own toys. dogs playing together IS the point of the dog park in my opinion as well as the people that I meet at the park for play time. Learning to be a social dog is just as important as being a polite dog.

    1. That IS your opinion and some dogs need to run around and play catch with their own toy without having their space invaded or at least minimally invaded..A guy at the park asked to use my phone I said no. It’s the same thing for a dog. A ball is my dog’s most prized and loved possession.Some dog breeds are not as social as others stop trying to control everything.

      1. You JC are wrong – when a dog owner brings their own toys to a dog park you can expect other dogs wanting to play also. Don’t bring your dogs toys unless he/she will share. You are one of the inconsiderate people at dog parks.

        1. Agree, since we’re doing this whole kid analogy thing, I would never have a kid party and let a kid take out a toy they weren’t willing to share with your friends. If you have a special toy that you don’t like to share, save it for when you are alone.

          In regards to some of the other points I think article write is a bit ridiculous. While some of the behaviors may be rude, we are all in the process of training the dogs, and dogs need time to learn, and humans need to be understanding of that. If your dog is so uncomfortable that it can’t handle another dog coming up to say hello, you really shouldn’t bring it to a dog park, or if you do you need to be understanding. That guy may be working on recall with his dog, just as you are hopefully working on socializing with your dog. and in my opinion your dog should never be on leash at the park especially in you are nervous your dog might bite someone. I think this Corgi owner was the one in the wrong.

          1. I whole heartedly agree with Michelle’s comment in its entirety. Although I’ve gone to them in the past, I now personally avoid dog parks at all costs. I’ve heard too many horror stories and have seen a few incidents myself. I am not willing to risk my boy being injured by people who bring dogs to the park that have personalities incongruous with the nature of a dog park. If you have a timid dog and want to work on socialization do it with known dogs in an atmosphere where there is more control. My dog is probably not the best for dog parks either because he is overly playful and doesn’t take a hint which can really tick other dogs off. I know this and therefore avoid the situation. He plays with dogs I know who will put him in his place but who will not hurt him in the process.

            1. Yeah I try to avoid dog parks now to since my dog was attacked as a younger puppy in one even though I did all the socialization in the world because somebody brought their bigger dog in who decided it wanted to attack my smaller dog who tried to defend himself. He came running over to me with that dog on his butt and believe you me I took care of that dog. The dog went on to attack five other dogs that day and all the other dog owners left except for the guy with the vicious dog

          2. I think a party is a little bit different than a park. At a party you know all the kids and no you shouldn’t be rude and bring out a toy when you’re unwilling to share with your guests. However a dog park is like a human Park if you want to continue again with the analogy and kids bring toys to the beach or the park or whatever and they’re not expected to just share nor are you expected to share your favorite “toy” which is typicallya phone.
            people should work on etiquette training outside of the park not bring crazy Unruh callable rude dogs into one.

          3. and if your fearful your dog will lash out invite a person no you should not bring it to a park as I was actually bitten inside our apartment complex Park while holding my smaller dog because some woman let her bigger dog in who according to her didn’t like small dogs and it bit the hell out of my arm trying to bite my dog’s face

          4. Just so you know – ‘the Corgi owner’ was the late Sophia Yin – whose website you are on! I think she knew a thing or two (at least) about canine behavior and etiquette.
            You could see clearly from how she wrote about her experience that the other dog owner did not even TRY to recall his dogs (as she rightly stated, probably because he knew he couldn’t) and therefore his only option was to make her wrong.

            Dog parks are shared facilities and just like kids playgrounds, you need to take responsibility for the behavior exhibited by your dog. If you took a child to a park who, for whatever reason, did not know the right way to behave in society and started racing up and pushing other kids about – would you say – oh – its a playground, kids are supposed to be able to PLAY? No. You’d probably realize your child had a problem and get it sorted BEFORE you started taking them out into a shared space. Dog parks are fine for finetuning training, but a busy dog park is not the place to go and start trying to train your dog if you don’t already have some basic control over them.

            It’s not socially acceptable in dog society for a dog to rush up (she did say ‘sprint’ not just trot up for a friendly sniff) especially 3 big dogs towards a smaller dog. However, I think anyone can understand that it happens in the excitement of the moment, but it’s when it happens and the owner is doing nothing to stop it. The way I read this whole post is – this is the behavior you should aim for with your dog – but at the very least, be respectful of others, watch your dog, and step in if necessary

            At the end of the day, it’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure their dog is not ruining the park for other dogs. Of course, there will be ‘incidents’, but if you’re aware of how your dog is interacting you can step in if necessary. If extra training is needed, then it’s up to us to make sure our dog gets it, but not at the expense of everyone else in the dog park. Simple 🙂

        2. I completely agree… when I take toys to the dog park I expect number 1 to share them and number 2 I plan to leave the park without said toy because there is a huge chance I may not get it back. I find it highly rude to not train your dog to share and if you aren’t willing to do that then keep your rude dog home or leave the toys home. Last weekend at the dog park a ladies dog took over our ball and would not let go of it whatsoever and personally I feel sorry for that lady that her grown dog doesn’t respect her enough to listen and let go of a toy when commanded… I honestly don’t know how she can live in peace with a dog that clearly runs the show! Just my opinion, but my dog has been trained from day one that I am her boss and she will release whatever I command her to release and she will share her toys with absolutely no problem! If your dog is antisocial that is a flaw in their training and they should not be brought to a place to socialize when they aren’t social.

          1. ” If your dog is antisocial that is a flaw in their training and they should not be brought to a place to socialize when they aren’t social.”

            … oh, really? and when do you expect an antissocial dog to be social? do you really train your dog or you’re just lucky?

            1. Hi Ana, while Ashley’s point was a little broad and the statement “If your dog is antisocial that is a flaw in their training” is not 100% true, it is valid to say that that dog shouldn’t be at a dog park or the like. I work with very “assertive” dogs that were bred to not like other dogs and you don’t counter-condition (train) them at dog parks but in specific, very controlled situations/environments first then move into more public but still somewhat controlled situations.

            2. Antisocial is not good but it doesn’t necessarily I think demand that is a flying training. My dog isn’t typically antisocial and because he was attacked at dog park by some jerks dog who decided training was apparently not necessary and he could attack whoever you wanted including five other dogs that day, he’s a little more fearful especially when certain breeds or a certain quantity of dogs come rushing out. And I completely agree with the flyer on how you should not allow your dog to just rush another dog coming up and I’ll crowd him.

          2. Not wanting to relinquish a toy that you’re having fun with your owner with I don’t find rude. my dog doesn’t like to necessarily say yes please take my toy and don’t give it back to me when him and I are having a fun time in a very small area throwing a ball especially when the parks not crowded. I think you thinking a dog’s rude just for that is rather ignorant to be honest with you. My dogs actually trained service and I find that quite a few of you have some pretty warped perceptions of dog behavior because the dog park is not a free-for-all every dog gets to take every dogs toy because you know what just like people not all dogs get along. And dogs sometimes take time to warm up to each other. if I came to the park and ask for a sip of your drink or just better yet took it out of your hand took a sip of it and handed it back to you with that be okay?

          3. You’re right that a dog should be social if it comes to a social area such as a dog park or beach or whatever. However, antisocial behavior is usually fear-based, and as such, it is a little more complex than just training it away.

            Great to hear that you have spent the time with your dog to show her the right way to go about things… but sometimes things aren’t as clear cut as they may seem. Some dogs just take longer to learn, and some people just don’t really understand how to show dogs the right way to do things. It doesn’t really have anything to do with respect, but with understanding the motivation behind the behavior.

            I have a rescue border collie, he is the friendliest dog ever, well trained and good recall – but he always baulked at relinquishing things – sticks, balls whatever, when we’re playing on the field. It’s still a work in progress and just requires being consistent and patient, and looking like a fool at the dog park sometimes when he has a recession moment. Haha. So don’t judge too quickly – you don’t necessarily know the background to one moment’s behavior. After all – if a dog is going to misbehave, you can bet it will be when you have an audience 🙂

            I noticed that you feel you are your dog’s boss – hopefully, you don’t subscribe to Cesar Millan’s stories about being the pack leader?!

        3. Agreed Jo ann. Dogs all want to run and chase a ball being thrown. It’s going to happen. As long as you get your prized possession back (like your cell phone.. wtf just let the dude borrow it or is that not how it works outside of San Diego?). I think if the owners are both or all aware of their pets it should be acceptable. If a dog steals another dogs ball then yes they should make sure the dog who originally had the ball gets to play with it or gets it back. Or toss it to the owner if it’s a big deal to said owner (not to the dog who is overly possessive of their favorite toy). Why can’t we all just throw the ball and let all the dogs run after it. Also, I would love to know when our dogs became equivalent to children? You’re putting a human emotion on an animal who, yes, has complex emotions but is in no way a human or a child. Train your dogs to be social. Don’t bring your dogs’ favorite toy to the park. Be kind to other people, and pets.

          1. Yes! Why are we comparing dogs to children? It’s not a one-to-one comparison. My dog is a good girl, easygoing and loving, but does NOT like to relinquish balls once she’s stolen one. It’s embarrassing but it’s also a work in progress. She thinks it’s a game where she might be chased. Today, the other dog owner at the park got super pissed at me AND my dog and *grabbed her tail* to try to get her to drop the ball. NOT a good idea. Like, wtf, lady???

            But if a child doesn’t listen when you ask him to give a toy back, you may initiate consequences for him–time out or whatever–but what are the consequences for a ball thief dog?? I’m not putting her in a time out. I’m not spanking her or denying her treats. “Okay, Fido! No treats for you!” The dog won’t understand the correlation or the consequences for bad behavior but a kid probably will–and there’s the difference.

          2. Another option: bring TWO balls so you’re not freaking out about the ball thief who takes your dog’s ball. That way, your dog can still play. Balls are pretty cheap. The lady I encountered today was basically MILITANT about wanting her 1.99 ball back. Her dog didn’t seem to care one bit. It’s a silly thing to get up in arms about. She had zero grace for the fact that my dog is still a work in progress in this particular area.

        4. Did you really just tell somebody else that their opinion, which differs from yours that they’re wrong? That’s pretty bold considering that there are many people who share mine and JC’s opinion. So if you bring your child to a playground or park and they have a toy with them do you expect them to just allow any and every kid that comes up invades their personal space to grab their toy? That if the kid is going to lash out you just shouldn’t bring their toy? Wow

      2. OMG!😂 having not read your comment First, I replied to the one above this about the guy saying you shouldn’t bring a dog’s toy who doesn’t like to share, with the exact same type of analogy as a cell phone in a person. Good on you!

  3. Probably a good article but I stopped reading once you threw out the derogatory term “retarded”. That term is unacceptable. Being of Asian decent, I’m sure you have had to deal with this situation yourself on occasions, when people used racial terms that were cruel. It is hurtful.

  4. If your dog is there to play with you and with toys, then you probably shouldn’t be in the dog park. You can do that somewhere else.
    The dog park is a place for dog interaction, in fact toys should not even be brought, and if they are they are fair game for anyboby.

    1. No way the dog park is where my dog can run free in a fenced area, he gets to decide what he wants to do at the dog park (as long as he’s good) he’s the dog..

      1. I agree with JC’s comment 100%. Our local dog park is an open fenced area where dogs can be dogs. There are plenty of old balls and toys laying around for dogs to play with. Dogs steal toys from other dogs all the time. The game is “keep away”. If I notice that the toy is new, I’ll ask the person if it is their toy. My Aussie loves the game and will give it to me on command. He does not drop it on command. When he was a puppy, he had a used kleenex in this mouth. When I told him to drop it, he swallowed it. I was at a loss. I never said the words to him afraid he’ll swallow it and think that is what I wanted him to do.

        And in regards to JC’s comment, my dog has to live in my life 24/7. So, when I take him to the dog park, this is his time. As long as he is being good, he can do what he wants, see the dogs and humans he wants, and then willingly checks on me. I don’t do any commands on him or try to teach him anything while there. The only thing I ask is when I am ready to leave, he comes when called, and he does. And usually, he is the one now (he’s 9 years old) who is telling me he is ready to leave.

  5. I’m not surprised that you’d have an issue with this at your local dog parks since a majority of dogs at these parks don’t have a solid come when called, like to tail and jump on other dogs who are playing, and many tend to steal toys. Imagine if kids went primarily to playgrounds where people stole their toys and ran over their space when playing. It wouldn’t take long for some kids to resort to aggression. Others would just be passive and cry. Of course if a child learns to resort to aggression, the parents should help them learn to deal with the situation better—if there are only playgrounds where other kids are rude then that means their kids shouldn’t go. That’s too bad of course and now, even though they weren’t the primary cause, they are the ones losing out. If you’re saying that dogs that love to play fetch and have gotten possessive because so many of the other dogs at the dog park are rude, maybe the treatment at the park has gotten so bad that that is what they have to do. But MOST likely it’s the other dogs (and their owners) who have created the situation by needing to run up to this fetching dog. It’s just harder for people to recognize when their dog was the problem if their dog is not growling and lunging.

    If other dogs have NOT done this and the fetching dog has a tendency to rush out 5-10 feet to dog just standing around. that’s a different story. But I find that to be rare.

  6. In parks with responsible owners, dogs don’t have to hog the entire field. For all of those who say the dog park is an “everything goes” place, I ‘d like to know if any of you have control over your dogs. Because if you did this would be a non-issue. I’m guessing those who disagree about dog-park/off-leash area etiquette also believe that people who don’t’ want to get jumped on or knocked down should not enter a dog park.

    And you think that your kids should be able to interfere in games that other kids are playing. Like if kids in a yard are playing handball or four-square other kids should be able to butt right in without taking a turn or asking.

    You’ll also see in the next blog how this “fun” uncontrolled play that your dogs are showing (dogs where owners have no control) can detrimentally affect your OWN dog as well as others. On the other hand this poor play does keep dog trainers and behaviorists earning $$ when these dogs develop problems that were influenced by behaviors they practiced (or had practiced on them) at the off leash dog park with poorly behaved dogs.

    When the responsible owners are at the park, the park is a place that can be shared. Multiple people are playing fetch and some dogs are playing with each other. dogs-humans can interact in different appropriate ways where they are not interfering with the fun of others just like in a regular human park multiple unrelated humans can be interacting generally without someone coming over and disturbing their fun (e.g. bullying them off the basketball court, stealing their softball if they are playing catch. etc.

    1. Do you know anything about kids though, with all these kid analogies? Yes, that would be rude behavior but both kids and dogs need time to learn and if parents or dog owners are so quick to judge each other for not having perfectly behaved children and animals, everyone is missing out. They need gentle guidance of what acceptable and how to behave, and they need other parents to be understanding. I spend a lot of time at the dog park, and also watching kids professionally, and they are very similar indeed. They make mistakes. Sometimes they can be bullies without meaning to be. Sometimes they steal toys, and sometimes they play too rough by accident or have trouble with impulse control. Every kid and every dog has something to learn and improve on, and to be so judgmental of others is neither helpful nor kind. Know your own dog’s limits and do your best not to put them in situations that they can’t handle.

      1. Michelle, I don’t think Dr. Yin meant to be judgmental of mistakes made while learning, I think she was talking about inveterate behaviour, especially if paired with impudence from owners.

      2. Michelle, watching dogs and watching kids are not that similar. Even young children have way more stimulus control (responding to a verbal signal) than the average pet dog. The “gentle guidance” and “understanding of others” is just code for “let the dogs sort it out”. Training your dog to come when called should be trained at home, and outside first on a long leash. Perhaps the dog park is a place to “proof” an outdoor recall, but you’ve got to be capable of ‘making the behavior happen’, i.e., move away quickly from your dog, after you get their attention. Most people I see at the dog park are statue-like. They stand around chatting on their phones or each other, laughing at the harmless “antics” of their dogs. Antics like charging the gate when a new dog arrives. Antics like ganging up on an outsider dog. Antics like running into another owner who is not paying attention to that dog’s travel path, because the owner is playing with THEIR OWN dog. A dog park is not a huge doggy playpen. Dogs do not automatically get along with other dogs, just because they are the same species.
        Clearly, you have little science-based knowledge of how dogs perceive their environment.

  7. Hi Dr. Yin
    Could be a better article if you – as a well educated professional did not use words like
    How offensive – all value in this article is lost.

    1. Completely agree, you devalue this article entirely with your hateful message. By making assumptions that the man at dog park is a racist, sexist, wreakless pet owner makes it difficult to trust your opinion. Furthermore, I was shocked to see that you decided to resort to name calling. Perhaps the man at the dog park does not subscribe to the same dog training approach as yourself, this does not make him an idiot. The two of you clearly have a difference of opinion, as he’s expects that your dog should be comfortable socializing with other dogs because it is at the dog park. Resolution will never come if you cannot treat him with respect and learn to hear the views of others.

      1. Whilst I agree with your comment about the word if it was used (which I cannot find anywhere in the article) – I think its very clear that this man’s training approach was not so much ‘different’ as non-existent. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Dr Yin was a highly respected animal behaviorist who gave her time to help us understand how to best to teach them to live in our world with us. Maybe you should also show a little respect to her for all she did – even though she will never read your message now.

  8. We run South Suburban Chihuahua group in Chicago. We frequent a nearby off-leash park which has a large side for big dogs, and another for small. Someone stole the signs long ago, so sometimes there are big dogs on both sides. Sometimes people see a mix of under 25lbs dogs playing and bring their large dog because their dog likes to play with the little dogs. The problem with this is that a lot of little dogs are scared of big dogs and of course – while the owner might try to be nice – we certainly do not want any altercations. So we politely mention that our dogs are scared of big dogs and some people do go back to the bigger dog side – but that’s not everyone. One of our members had their chihuahua-mix attacked by a larger dog after the owner assured the chihuahua owner that their dog liked little dogs and would not harm it. Well, the large dog bit the little dog’s neck and the owner took their large dog, got in their car and left. In all the commotion, someone luckily had the presence of mind to take down their license plate number. The member took their bleeding dog to the vet and the police followed up with the person who left the scene. Posters like Dr. Yin’s help educate the local communities on park etiquette. One thing we also get irritated by is people who leave their water bottles or jugs everywhere in the park. Perhaps for the ‘next’ dog – but truth is, some dogs carry disease, and no one knows what was in the water they were drinking. We bring our own bowls and water and leave with our own bowls and water. We wish everyone would do this too.

  9. Great article, I share your frustration while in the dog park and love your animations and sense of humor, BOL! I put out a two part series regarding dog park etiquette that you may be interested in reading. & Russell Hartstein CPDT

  10. I think my editor left that word in because it makes the point of how rude and condescending the person was. He didn’t say the words but he meant them. However, since the word may be hurtful, it has now been changed in this article to “stupid” and I will refrain from using it elsewhere.

    I think the point of this change and the entire article are the same— It is that behavior of others may not bother the human or dog who is behaving in that manner, but it can be irritating, hurtful or bothersome to others. As a result, if we care about others we should adjust our behavior (in the case of the dog park issues that means training our dog) accordingly—even if it’s not convenient (because it requires training or practice or thought).

    1. I think this article is from a considerate perspective and shows that there is a lot to be said for common sense. I foster and have both known and owned A LOT of dogs. My dog is ALWAYS friendly with other dogs when they are well mannered and non intrusive. However, dog parks make him nervous, then threatened, and ultimately defensive. For a 68lb, 20 month old American Bulldog mix, that is not a good thing. I never experienced this issue in an otherwise “dog social” dog and couldnt grasp why he was so great with one or two dogs when friends and I got together but he cant handle the park. I figured I didnt socialize him correctly. Turns out he just doesnt favor the Wild West that can be the dog park. It doesnt help that he is VERY close to me in almost a biological child type way and he could be protecting me when we are suddenly being charged by a bunch of “stranger dogs”. I now think that dog parks just may not be beneficial for all dogs. Thanks.

  11. I agree that owners need to have control over their dogs in dog parks, for certain situations. However, dog parks are one of those “enter at your own risk” places. If you have a dog that you know does not react well to situations commonly found in dog parks, why on earth would you bring them? It is not just the responsibility of other owners to control their friendly/polite dogs but also the responsibility of owners who know their dog can be reactive and prevent things from happening, or even simply stress, by not attending them. You can find fenced in areas elsewhere to work on behavior modification and ask a friend if you can use their dog for controlled introduction and play if that is your goal. But to expect others to restrict their dogs movements the entire time they are supposed to be playing is rude and considering the behavior of most dog owners, very unlikely.

    I’m glad the word “retarded” was removed as I would have found that offensive also. As someone educating people on political correctness in dog behavior, I expect more out of you!

  12. As a dog trainer who frequents dog parks regularly with my dog, I completely agree with all of the guidelines illustrated in this poster. My dog is very social with other dogs, has a good come when called away from other dogs (even when playing), and is as happy to interact with me as he is to run and play. The dog park is not just a place for him to run wild; its a place for him to have fun, strengthen his bond with me, socialize with other dogs in a respectful manner, and get some exercise. I, personally, don’t want a dog who will just run off and pretend that I don’t exist as soon as he gets to the park. What would that say about our relationship? That I’m not much fun. I can call him away from playing with dogs and he is more than happy to stay with me and play with a toy or do tricks. He also will stop playing on his own in order to come check in with me, then go back to playing again.

    While rude and uncontrollable dogs do not upset my dog, I do want to limit his interactions with them because they can cause him to become overly aroused if they try to play roughly with him. And when he is overly aroused in one situation, it can affect him in other situations. Such as if he were to get scared, if he had practice that day being overly aroused, he might bark or growl at something that scared him. But if he has been under threshold all day, he doesn’t react to scary situations and it is much easier to DS/CC him. So while I cannot control the other dogs, I can easily call my dog away from those types of dogs and keep him entertained by interacting with me instead. Or redirect his attention to a more appropriate dog. This article doesn’t say you have to control other dogs, but by having good control over your own dog, you can keep him out of trouble.

    As far as bringing toys and treats to the park, I can call my dog away from those things. I wouldn’t want other dogs to make him feel like he needs to protect a resource, so I don’t want him to make other dogs feel that way. If you can’t call your dog away from a toy at the park, how are you going to be able to call your dog away from a dog fight or if he escapes out of the front door? Again, its not about controlling what other people do at the park, its about being responsible about your own dog in order to keep him safe and happy.

    My dog can safely coexist at the dog park with all different kinds of dogs, with different temperaments and training levels. But that is because I have put the work in to be able to keep him out of trouble.

  13. I agree that if people have aggressive dogs or highly fearful dogs, a dog park isn’t a place to be. However, in the situation above, realize that if it had been kids playing soccer in the multi-use park, those dogs would have also been racing through the soccer practice and probably knocking kids down. When there’s soccer practice on that field, only the people who have dogs behaved enough to stay on a 1/3 portion of the field go. It’s hardly restricting a dog’s movement to ask them to leave a 10 or 20 yard area free.

    Also the same thing would and could have happened at a regular on-leash park (the dog I brought who was fearful of dogs torpedoing towards him was on a long leash). In fact it commonly happens at regular on-leash parks where dog are off-leash and uncontrolled.

    The idea of “Enter at your owner risk,” is an interesting subject though. Imagine a playgrounds for kids that said,Enter at your own risk…. or Watch out, big kids may run 100 yards to your part of the play ground bully you before you even have a chance to leave”. Hopefully the goal of society is to improve situations, not just go with the status quo and suffer the problems is creates.Pet owners often have to fight hard to get off leash areas (including multi-use parks) because the problems that this “Enter AT Your Own Risk”-attitude creates for both dogs and people in the parks.

    On another note:

    What many owners don’t realize is that many dogs who are “normal” end up learning bad habits and even becoming aggressive because of encounters at the dog park. (Now imagine the sign: beware–by playing at this park, your kid may learn to be swear, steal, and get into fights if he hangs out with the other kids here. But he can also have a lot of fun playing too).

    For instance some dogs learn to be possessive because other dogs take their toys and don’t share them back. e.g. it’s not sharing if one dog is playing fetch and the other one steals it and won’t give it back to anyone to toss again. And if you have brought 5 toys for other dogs it never fails that the toy stealer will want he whichever one another dog is playing fetch with. And not only do they steal the toys but they destroy them.

    Other dogs learn to be defensive aggressive because they are pounced on, lunged at, and some become aggressive because they have been allowed to play in overly aroused manner. Arousal and aggression are on a continuum.

    I have treated a number of of client dogs who have been “normal” and become aggressive to dogs in general after certain types of episodes at the park. (not just the dog park, but other off-leash AND on leash areas where dogs are off-leash and uncontrolled).

    The interesting part is that it is NOT that hard to train your dog to play and interact politely at the park if you know how. And the skills can prevent a lot of other problem situations too. My dog is ball “crazy” and he can still play at the park (multi-use or dog park) when other dogs are playing with toys because he has a good come when called. This is important also because when we are participating in other sport such as agility it would be inappropriate for him to run after another dog’s toy in that situation too (or a toy some dog is playing with across the street, etc). In fact even my 80 year old parents’ young ACD can play fetch, play with other dogs, fetch, and come when called at the park away from trouble. That’s just part of safe dog handling skills and learning to keep your dog out of situations that can make another dog defensives (and that can actually harm your own dog behaviorally).

    If you’re interested in seeing the consequences inappropriate play (vs appropriate play) and are a veterinarian you can attend my lecture on Dog Parks and Doggie Daycare: Is all Play Safe on VIN next next month and at select seminars next year. Anyone else who is interested in what other trainers— Trish King and Ian Dunbar—may want to read the Dog park Etiquiette article in the links above. A large percentage of trainers tend to avoid dog parks due to the issues it can create in “normal” dogs. I also have upcoming blogs of video that show some problem play and how to fix it.

  14. Debated chiming in on this, but off-leash dog parks are something I am very passionate about. Like many city dwelling, renting, dog owners, I am crazy about my dog, but with the housing market in Vancouver the way it is these days, I realize I will likely never be able to provide him with a fenced in private yard. We love visiting off-leash areas and the dog beach to get his ya-yas out with a vigorous game of fetch.

    I think it’s a very positive step that people are discussing etiquette, even if we aren’t all in 100% agreement. It will help us keep our expectations consistent when visiting these parks, even if it is ‘at our own risk’. Parks that are abused by owners, not picking up after their dogs, allowing nuisance barking, digging, etc. get closed, and I’d hate to lose our parks. I think this etiquette is especially important for ‘mixed use’ parks, like Dallas Road, where people expect to be able to bike, run, play catch, whatever, without being harassed by unruly dogs.

    I’ll admit that my dog doesn’t have a perfect history of perfect behavior, and I think other adopters of ‘rescues’ or ‘pound puppies’ of any age will agree that it can be a bit of a journey to getting there. So I think it’s important to be accommodating and supportive to other users and utilize the infractions as a training opportunity, for both the dogs and the humans. Instead of ‘your dog shouldn’t do that’ perhaps ‘it would be more accommodating to other users if your dog was able to ___.” And give them a chance to train their way there. Perhaps even some constructive suggestions to help them get there faster. A lot of these less desirable behaviors are perfectly natural for dogs to exhibit (ie. barking to get the other dogs to play with it), so it may take time for the owner to learn to redirect the dog appropriately. I guess what I’m trying to say is that while these behaviours are NOT OKAY and shouldn’t be condoned, they are not unforgivable, either. We are all learning our entire lives, the same probably goes for our dogs. So to suggest that these people shouldn’t use the park or are not welcome goes a bit to far, at least to me.

    1. Thank you! This is what I tried to express, less eloquently in my comment, and by the way the same goes for kids at a playground. These behaviors are not polite, but the dogs are learning and many people are still learning the etiquette, and learning how to be dog trainers. And someone who has a polite dog today, may find in another situation that their dog is the one being rude, and may realize they were a bit hasty to judge.

    2. This is totally dead-on!!
      If people do not like ‘normal’ dog behavior, they should not go to a dog park. All dogs are learning and training at different rates,

      1. The point of this blog is to highlight some behaviors (or manners) that owners should have taught their dog so that everyone can enjoy the shared space of a dog park. It is the responsibility of an owner to help their dog learn those behaviors, but unfortunately, not all owners take that responsibility seriously.

        A key principle in dog training is to set your dog up for success–create learning situations where your dog succeeds virtually every time before moving on to new challenges. I agree with you that dogs are often at different places in their development of social skills and training. However, a dog park, with the uncertainty about other dogs’ social skills as well as the amount of off-leash control other owners have, is not an ideal place to teach or test our dogs’ social skills…because we don’t have the capability to ensure ‘success’. A better option is controlled and orchestrated social/play sessions with known well-behaved dogs. This gives the learning dog opportunity to learn appropriate social behavior plus gives the owner a better situation to practice their off-leash control. Once those skills are mastered, then an outing to the dog park is in order!

    3. I’ve said this somewhere before – but I think that Dr Yin was very aware of all you say. However, the situation she wrote about was one of extreme rudeness and lack of consideration, which I’m sure we’ve all encountered. So yes, forgive and understand of course. But when the owners are rude or ignorant enough to not care about your situation, have no respect and just allow their dog to do whatever with not even an attempt at controlling their dog – that is not right. The dog park is NOT the place to be initiating your dog’s training. It is the place for ‘proving’ the training once you have the main idea planted in your dog’s head. At the end of the day – you cannot use the excuse ‘oh but we’re only just learning’ when your dog is intimidating other dogs, playing too roughly with small dogs etc, UNLESS at the same time you are stepping in to stop the behavior and leaving until your dog does understand the appropriate way to behave in a dog society. This is the message – not that all dogs should be perfect before they come to the park.

  15. “i think its a lot to expect from a dog not to want to share other dogs toys and play with toys being thrown around. i think its better etiquette for the person bringing the toy to be OK with other dogs sharing it. I say, as long as someone is playing with it then that makes me happy. The problem is some dogs are defensive of their toys so your asking for trouble bringing a toy in the first place, especially if your dog is possessive of their own toys. dogs playing together IS the point of the dog park in my opinion as well as the people that I meet at the park for play time. Learning to be a social dog is just as important as being a polite dog.” – Rachel

    I agree with the above comment. I think it is unreasonable to equate dogs with children for all the obvious reasons. I can’t sit and tell my dog, “now, tennis balls are okay to play with at my house, but if you are at the dog park you have to ask the other dog politely before playing fetch with him or her.” That is a conversation that I might be able to have with a child, but to a dog – a tennis ball, is a tennis ball, is a tennis ball. I believe this is why many dog parks do not allow toys at all. When I bring dog toys to the park for my dogs to play with, I expect that other dogs might nab it and play keep away with my dog and I don’t mind at all. If my dog nabs another dog’s toy, I get her to give it to me and then give it back to the owner.

    Also, it is completely normal for dogs to want to wrestle, chase, play, tumble etc. My puppy will let out a quick squweek if another dog accidently gets too rough, and then the other dog usually backs down. That is just how dogs communicate with eachother. It shouldn’t be, one squweek and play time is over. That is unreasonable.

    If someone has a fearful, or fear aggressive dog, perhaps they should be the ones working out their behavior issues with a trained professional before embarking on playing in a dog park. And often times, it is having over protective parents that causes dogs to develop anxiety and fear aggression issues.

  16. I agree with Dr. Yin wholeheartedly. I am a little dismayed at some people’s comments – indicating that if one knows one’s dog is afraid one should not bring them to the park. So essentially, they are saying that the small dogs are the ones with the issues because they are afraid of big dogs (per my previous post). As Dr. Yin mentions – no one likes to be ambushed, people or animals. Dogs (and people) can get hurt this way. Like the chihuahua mix at the dog park I mentioned in my post. We’ve also had other incidents in Chicago in a dog beach where two smaller dogs in the past 4 years have been killed by bigger dogs. Yes, killed – not just hurt bloody like the one in our group. In both cases the small dogs were either laying on blankets or non comfrontational and they were ambushed. One of these large dogs belonged to a police officer who fled the scene – but was caught by people’s camera phones. So – I think as Dr. Yin mentions, education, teaching polite behaviour is needed here. I don’t have a problem with dogs running around and having fun – but people need to watch their dogs the whole time (not texting, having their back to – or assuming that everyone/person or animal enjoys being run into). Our family has a big dog too – and we let him play – but we keep him on the large dog side and we stay vigilant and around the entire time.

    1. I think the issue of the small dogs having their own park is a separate issue. I agree with many of the comments saying that someone with a fearful dog shouldn’t bring their dog to the park unless they are prepared to deal with the challenges. BUT there should be a clearly marked small dog park, and people should respect that, and if someone asks another people to remove their large dog from the small dog side, that should be respected. Generally I think any reasonable request should be respected. My dog is pretty rough at times, and I give her a time out if she gets to be too much, until she calms, but I also always ask people to please let me know if they feel it’s getting too rough for their so that I can intervene. Communication and respectful interaction is key, but expecting everyone to be perfect and every dog to be perfectly trained is unfair.

      1. I totally agree. I’ve had to deal with the exact opposite. I brought my dog to the large breed side. Two unsupervised kids had their small breed dog in there. Of course, my puppy wanted to play, but every time she came close to their dog he barked, growled and became aggressive towards my dog. Someone at the playground heard the sounds of the other dog and came over and started yelling at me and accusing my dog of being aggressive. The whole situation could have been avoided if they would have taken their dog, who had never been to the park or around other dogs, to the small breed side.

  17. I am glad you wrote this article. I have stopped taking my dog to dog parks due to the inconsiderate owners that have no control over their dogs. Mine is always on a leash, but the last time I was there she was charged by two large dogs. The owner did nothing, meantime I was bruised as they lunged at her,
    ( I had scooped her up in my arms to protect her). Unbelievably rude and ignorant owner about sums it up.


  18. I think people are conflating several issues. Fundamentally, I can’t understand why anyone would disagree that the BEST scenario involves: 1) dogs with solid recalls and vigilant owners 2) dogs whose focus is not stealing others’ toys but, rather, being able to focus on their owners 3) socializing that does not involve rowdy play but rather calm, brief meetings. After all, arousal and aggression are on the same spectrum, and behaviorists/trainers are all too familiar with the reactivity and aggression that often stem from inappropriate dog park play. And this is what we need to realize. Inappropriate dog park experiences often exacerbate, if not directly cause, aggressive and reactive behaviors. My dog was deeply affected by bad experiences, and this is why I wholeheartedly believe in the etiquette poster.

    The first issue seems to be that people think these guidelines are too restrictive. But read them again. Not one of these guidelines suggests that dogs are meant to be isolated and that their “every movement should be controlled”. Actually, the blog recommends allowing polite and calm greetings with the dog under complete verbal control, such that he will come when called reliably. It reduces the risk of prolonged, uncontrolled greetings that stress the dogs out. Is this unnecessarily restrictive? Not at all. This isn’t suggesting that dogs CAN’T socialize with one another. Rather, it’s saying that socializing should always be calm and controlled and that owners should recall their dogs before trouble occurs. Who can argue with that? These etiquette rules are simply attempting to provide some semblance of calm and structure to the ridiculous chaos that often occurs in dog parks.

    The second issue seems to stem from a mentality that dog parks are meant for rowdy, rambunctious play and to “let the dogs sort it out themselves”. And, to this, I can only say: Well, I hope your dog never develops arousal, reactivity, or aggression issues because it is this type of mentality that has lead to the sudden influx of dogs arriving at behaviorists’ offices with dog-park-exacerbated fear aggression/reactivity. Arousal and aggression are on the same continuum and it only takes one bad experience – one inappropriate toy stealing, one overly rough tumble, one defensive snap – to push a nervous dog into a fear aggressive dog. Because we cannot reason with dogs with words, we also should not expect them to “just sort it out themselves”. When two animals are playing roughly, we cannot expect them to think clearly and “sort it out”. They won’t. Most dogs in these situations have adrenaline rushing and their impulse control neural circuitry is likely underdeveloped. So, that puppy squeak that is supposed to signal “Stop, you’re hurting me!” will sound like “Wounded-animal-must-bite-more!!” to an overly aroused dog. So, the responsible and ethical thing to do is to prevent rowdy, unchecked play from occurring at all. If we prevent dog parks from becoming free-for-alls and we nix the idea of “Well, just let them sort it out”, dog parks CAN become areas of positive, structured socialization and relaxed fun. The onus is on us, responsible dog owners, to heed the recommendations of these well thought out etiquette rules and to ensure that our actions do not harm others. It’s not just the responsible thing to do. It’s the right thing to do.

  19. I am shocked this was written by a Vet. As a vet, I would think you’d have a better handle on dog behavior. Yes, recall is super important, but also is recognizing these are animals, and have animal instincts. You cannot rationalize with them. If someone brings a toy to the park (which is against most dog park rules by the way), my dog does not know its not his. He waits for the other dog to drop it and then he grabs it. And if the other dog growls at him, it becomes a fight. The best advise is DO NOT BRING A TOY TO A DOG PARK, he has other dogs to play with and doesn’t need his toy anyway. If you have a dog that comes 100% of the time, that knows not to go near other dogs toys, that identifies what part of the park they can stay in, that never gets overly excited or plays rough, and let’s other dogs play if they don’t want to play with him, I’d really like to meet this dog.

    1. Yep, that’s my dog (the perfect one) and he’s not the only dog at my park with 100% obedience to their human. Yesterday a dog stole my dog’s toy from a DIFFERENT dog. This other dog shares the ball and doesn’t ruin the game of fetch. The stealer played keep-away for at least 20 minutes while his human kept repeating, “Drop-it doesn’t work with him.” Are you kidding me? I left without my dog’s ball because of this pathetic human and obedience-challenged dog. We have frisbee dogs, lots of high-energy dogs playing fetch with their human using a chuck-it and everything is fine till that one pair of lame owner and rude dog ruin the fun for everyone. Do you really think that a dog needing daily exercise by playing a game of fetch has to keep all his energy pent up because dog parks aren’t a place for “toys?” Oh, and ALL the parks in the Phoenix Metro Area allow toys. Not all allow kids. Don’t know what sort of hell you are living in.

      1. Plenty of dogs at my dog park are this well trained. Mine too. He’s not even 3 yet. It was a lot of work (time and energy, and definitely humility) to get him this way. At one year old, he could not sit still and had terrible recall. In less than 2 years, he has learned perfect recall even when a fight breaks out elsewhere in the park. I can call him away from any group of dogs no matter what they are doing. I can even call him away from the water bowl if I know a particularly reactive dog is over there. Focused play with one toy (he is a “champion” catcher and retriever), not whatever another dog is playing with. I can have him sit and stay and turn my back and walk across the park. He stays until I release him. He’s doing great. He is; however pretty big and super strong. And when a dog runs up to him and bites him, he will defend himself. Often it’s a smaller dog that instigates the fight with aggressive behavior and my well trained dog will be blamed simply because he is bigger, faster, and stronger. If people could follow Dr. Yin’s etiquette rules, we’d never have a problem.

    2. I’d like to ask what your credentials are regarding canine behavior? Saying what you did to Dr Sophia Yin is like saying to the Pope he should brush up on his bible studies. What the …? Sophia Yin was one of the most respected animal behaviorists and I think I can safely say – had more knowlege about animal behavior – and specifically dogs – in her little finger than you currently have in your entire brain. Sorry – but I found your comment disrespectful and rude.

      Also, you are missing the point – she doesn’t say that a dog shouldn’t play with another dog’s toys – she says that if your dog steals the toy – be aware it’s happened and if it’s an issue – then get it back and return it. Simple. Everyone has to share the park. It may be a pain that someone doesn’t want all the other dogs to play fetch with her dog, but so what? If you have enough control you’ll be able to redirect your dog to a more appropriate game with all the other dogs around, instead of focusing just on that one. I think that’s fair.

  20. Wow, unbelievable peoples ignorance. These attitudes are precisely why I don’t go to dog parks! The dog park is NOT the place to train a dog. PERIOD. You should train and have control BEFORE even considering a dog park. When a dog is highly stimulated and reactive, good luck teaching him anything, let alone to even pay attention to you if he is untrained to respond to you! Geez so many irresponsable owners. It’s bloody scary. Ever heard of “good canine citizen”??? Having a dog comes with responsabilty to give them the “education” they need to navigate and interact appropriately in our world. Put in the effort and time to educate your pups. People seem to think that dogs are only happy when going wild and out of control. Nothing is further from the truth! Dogs need guidance from a leader and that’s you. I said guidance/education not abusive discipline. Dog’s are much more content, calm and happy when they have clear leadership. And yes they have fun too! In fact they enjoy the training sessions so much they “ask” for them.

  21. i am new to the dog park scene; I had an American Bulldog for 12 years; an Olde English Bulldog for almost 12 years. Both of them were attacked while walking on a leash by a dog that was not leashed. So I did not take them to the dog park. I now have a French Bulldog that is under a year old. He is very good with dogs and people. I wanted to make sure I socialize him (because he does go with me quite a bit) so I took him to the dog park. The first time we went there was a female dog that ran up to him and stood over him and started growling. I wasn’t sure how to handle this (remember new to dog parks) so I walked over and got him thinking that possibly a dog fight could break out if left unattended. The owner of the other dog says “She thinks this is her park and she’s just protecting her old friends here from the newbies”. I said nothing, but thought “well, it isn’t her park and when they act like that – aren’t we supposed to correct them?” At that time, I left.
    I waited for 3 or so months and then decided to try it again. The same female dog was there and, luckily, there were no incidents.
    I went back the next week and the female dog is there and after being there for about 15 minutes – she goes over to him an stands over him and starts the growling thing again. Again, the owner does nothing. At this time, I gather my dog and 2 other sets of people gather their dogs and we leave.
    I am not sure if this is normal behavior or if there is a way to possibly handle this situation. Please help. Thanks

  22. One thing that I notice in all these comments is no mention of the specific rules and regulations in the dog parks. It may simply be that there are none in some countries, but in Sweden there are laws and regulations in place to protect those who visit the dog parks as well as their dogs. If a park has an occupant/s in it when you come with your dog/s, you are obliged to ask those who are already there if it is alright to let your dog/dogs in, and respect the answer. If you choose to ignore a “no” and enter without either asking, or without respecting the “no”, any damage that may come to your dog, any disease that can be traced to your dog from interaction in said park, any occurrence following from you ignoring the “no” and not respecting the park rules will not be covered by your insurance. Furthermore, if the other dogs are injured or harmed in any way, you as the person who did not respect the “no” and rules of the park will be legally bound to cover the expenses, and may end up loosing your own dog, as well as get as be legally banned from owning a pet in the future. It may seem harsh, but that is the reality of it here in Sweden. Here, dog parks are not “The Wild West”, and those who treat them as such are punished if caught.

  23. I was looking for information regarding dog behaviour in off leash dog parks, specifficly I was looking for tips for my pudel pointer (german poodle mixed with a english pointer) who tries to avoid dogs her size (73lbs) or larger and is usually to distracted by her hunting to pay attention to other dogs when visiting the dog park. She has good recall in the company of strange dogs but not in the presence of prey. I have another dog (Irish wolf hound sheppard mix) and he is very social but not well socialized. He occassionally gets into trouble with other dogs because he jumps on them. If he gets hurt, I blame him not the other dog. Today while at the off leash dog park, which is huge and full of trails and open spaces, my pudelpointer was ambushed, by albeit, most likely by 2 friendly dogs. One was older. In response, she barked and snapped at the dogs and tried to scare them away. The altercation only lasted a few seconds but left the older dog limping. The owner began swearing at me telling me I should keep my aggressive dog on a leash. When I suggested that she should teach her dogs not to run up to dogs, she continued to tell me it was an off leash dog park and that aggressive dogs should be kept on a leash. She called me F***n stupid. The rest of the time at the park, I was on edge and whenever we approached other dogs, I called her over to me and we waited for the dogs to pass. I feel really bad for the other dog but I feel like the owner was unfair in telling me to leash aggressive dog, which by the way, is worse to leash a dog when other dogs are running wild all over. I am thankful for the messages in this post and it give sme some idea of what I should do and think about if such a situation happens again…. which I expect it will.

    1. This is the main problem I see. Some dog owners who, either can’t or won’t control their dogs, want to think the dog park is the “wild west” until their dog antagonizes another dog enough (through violating some or all of these dog park etiquette rules, and sometimes even biting too) that the dog reacts in an equal and opposite reaction. When their dog is on the receiving end of bad behavior, suddenly your dog is the out of control monster that shouldn’t be allowed in “this community dog park for good dogs.”

  24. I came to this article in hopes of getting some guidance on how to handle my 2 year old rescue dog (I’ve had him for 2 months). There are obviously incredibly strong opinions with regards to dog park etiquette, but I felt that some of the suggestions in this original post, as well as the comments, are rather specific. Most of the suggestions for controlling a situation at a dog park revolve around engaging a dog in play with toys.

    My dog has zero interest in toys or balls of any kind. It has taken nearly two months before he would take a treat, and has only now begun carrying a bone around (he still doesn’t chew). I did not bring my dog to the dog park so he could play with toys and myself–I brought him to foster healthy socialization with other dogs, which he enjoys and craves. He does not suffer from any kind of fear or aggression–quite the opposite. After nearly two years of what I can only guess was utter and complete deprivation of toys, food, shelter, and socialization, my dog absolutely loves playing with other dogs of all sizes. However, he is large (Anatolian Shepherd/Great Dane mix), and tends to play too rough or continues to harass dogs after they are clearly not interested in playing with him. Other than pulling him aside and essentially punishing him, how else can I teach him proper manners for playing with other dogs? Distracting him with toys is not an option.

    As a person who cares deeply for the rescue and rehabilitation of dogs who did not begin their life in ‘the top %’ I cannot help but feel that there needs to be some middle ground between the seemingly two developing camps regarding dog parks. Obedience is important, but also multi-faceted and not a one-fixes-all method. Many dogs take years to overcome the negative experiences they have been subjected to, and oftentimes the best way to help them is for them to experience positive social interactions instead of negative ones. Not all dogs will be 100% trained or obedient. My dog is housebroken, well-mannered with strangers and new places, rides amicably in the car, does not bark, and has adapted extremely well to a new life. That being said, the dog park is one of the few spaces where he has felt safe enough to run around and be farther than 6 ft away from me. I did not bring him to a dog park because I wanted him to play with me–I want him to be able to play with other dogs, which he desperately wants as well. I am only asking for advice–and for a little bit of patience from all of the dog owners out there who have raised their dog from birth, worked with him every day, and have the perfectly well-behaved dog who apparently never commits a faux pas in social situations.

    1. Hi Rachel. Are you sure about the mix and that you don’t actually have a “Kangal” which is a Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) Breed out of Turkey? It’s a common misidentification. It is generally advised by experts in these breeds that LGD breed dogs (I raise and rescue several LGD breeds and am very familiar with both the Anatolian and the Kangal) not be taken to dog parks for this very reason. They are bred to protect their flock/family against other animals and do not socialize well with other dogs not of their “family” (human/co-worker LGDs/other canines not necessarily related). They also tend generally to be same sex aggressive so that can be part of your issue as well. Oh, and the toy thing is classic LGD. They were bred with a low “prey drive” and playing with toys is actually a type of predatory behavior. It is very rare to find an LGD breed dog that will play with toys for long if at all. They tend to be harder to train and tend to have what we in the LGD breed world refer to as “selective deafness”, meaning he will do what you want on his terms.

      Often honestly the best way for him to learn is to run up against a dog that doesn’t want to play and who lets him know that. That’s how mom and siblings handled it when he was a pup. However, that can get messy and people tend to freak out over one dog correcting another. You can try finding someone who has a female dog that he likes (preferably not a small dog) that is willing to help you work with your boy. Find time when the park is empty, work with him and the other dog on a “long lead”, and offer mild corrections coupled with effusive praise when he starts to get out of hand but can be called off with the aid of the lead. The common solution in the LGD world is to get another dog as they were bred to work in “packs” and do better in another dog’s company.

  25. I was just at the dog park, and a lady was there who seemed like a regular, her dog was super rough. He knocked my dog to the ground, and then she “praised” my dog for being submissive. I wanted to punch her in the face.

    1. Haha – sorry, I didn’t mean to be laughing at your dog – and I’m not. But your punch line (pun intended) was a classic. I know that feeling 🙂 There are some clueless people out there…

  26. To expect other dogs not to run up and inspect your dog, and to expect other dogs not to try and play with the toys you bring to the park, are unrealistic expectations. If you and your dogs are that touchy and needy, YOU are the problem and maybe the dog park is a bad choice for YOU.

    I am all for dog owners keeping a close watch on their dogs and training against and preventing truly aggressive behaviors such as snarling, barring teeth, snapping, herding, humping, etc., but some of the suggestions in this article are the concerns of a dog owner who is far too sensitive to typical and often innocuous dog behaviors.

    Dogs are normally brought to the park to run, play, and socialize in a healthy way with other dogs and people. That takes a little space and a certain loosening of the household structure. You can’t segregate and block off sections of the park or put limitations on other owners if it’s your dog that has anxieties and issues with strange dogs. If your dog has anxieties, that is the problem and it is incumbent on you to deal with it. You can ask other owners for space, but I’m not surprised at all that you got the response you did if their dogs weren’t being aggressive or a bonafide nuisance. .

    I’d be happy if my gentle and well-trained dog and I could visit the park without having to scold another dog owner about truly aggressive harmful behaviors and threatening to video the episode and call the sheriff’s department. That would be a breath of fresh air. Dogs sniffing each other and stealing the ball? Small potatoes, it literally goes with the territory.

    1. You’ve misread the article completely I think. Nowhere did Dr Yin say that dogs should not sniff other dogs or play with them. Maybe read it again and you’ll see that she was only talking about inappropriate behavior – when dogs are out of control and the owners’ are too busy on their phones to notice, or as was her unfortunate experience, are too rude and self-centered to care.

    1. Point in case is that we have a duty of care with dogs as we do have with children. Not to mention considerable influence over their behaviour.

    2. You’re right, but it was a good way to get people to see how behavior many accept from dogs, they would NEVER accept in a children’s playground. And a dog park is essentially a dog’s playground. And there are similarities as far as bullying and inappropriate behavior is concerned. Unfortunately, the whole idea has been hijacked by those who probably don’t want to accept that they need to control their dog a bit more. Anyway… that’s my opinion…

  27. Thank you, I needed to read exactly this today! I have a 16 week old English Toy Terrier puppy who is very confident, small and fine-boned. He likes to rumble with other dogs however due to his size, he’s likely to get injured with heavier, more dominant dogs. This afternoon he was being crowded by three bigger, very boisterous dogs. I could see their play was becoming increasingly rough and dominant. When there was a break in play, I scooped him up for some time out and to find some smaller, calmer dogs. A second later, one of the staffies (a puppy), leapt up and bit his leg. My pup yelped but he was ultimately fine – I decided we would walk away and try to forget about it. The upsetting thing was that the owner came after me and in a very domineering tone, informed me that lifting a dog should “…Never be done because it –makes– other dogs jump and bite!” Is this a thing? Not lifting your dog?!?! This comment took me aback and made me feel awful. I feel like I have a right to lift up my small puppy if I’m concerned about him being body slammed, pinned and injured !!! Please note my fears are not unwarranted – both our vet and dog trainer have cautioned me on this issue. Unfortunately, I think dog parks are just not for us….

    1. Yeah, scooping up your small dog tends to encourage other already excited dogs [that haven’t been fully trained NOT to jump] to jump up. Best to call him to you, praise him for coming and walk him away from the situation if its really not your cup-of-tea or just give him a small time out and see if he wants to go back and play. If he wants to go back then you don’t have anything to worry about, however if he doesn’t want to then exit. If the other dogs are still buzzing around ask the owner(s) to give you space while you walk him away. One of the typical scenarios of picking up a dog going bad is a owner and small dog out for a walk at off leach dog park. Owner sees medium sized dog trotting in for a look-see and a sniff. The owner gets scared and freaks about this medium sized dog coming towards them and scoop up their little dog thinking this is the safest thing to do. This only perks the interest of the medium sized dog that much more because in their minds dogs don’t get picked up at the dog park so it must not be a dog, so what the heck is it? They then rush in faster, freaking the small dog owner out even more, which the medium dog picks up on and reacts to. Thus causing a bad feedback loop all because the small dog owner doesn’t trust that two dogs can say hello in an off-leach dog park. Sad but true.

    2. You are absolutely OK to pick up your dog when you have reason for concern. Arguments to the contrary are simply attempts to pass off responsibility by owners who do not control their dogs and find it easier to rationalize.

      I note you are instructed to flee if necessary. Thus any solution other than controlling the aggressor seems to be the only way many owners of aggressive dogs see it.

    3. The argument about not picking up dogs sounds ridiculous to me. If another dog is going to jump up and bite – then it is the other dog that is at fault. The only negative thing I’ve ever learned about picking dogs up is that it can reward their fear response. But in this case your puppy was not fearful and anyway – sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do to ensure the safety of your dog. Take no notice of this person – and yes, I agree – perhaps dog parks are not the best for your pup when these dogs are about.

  28. My German Shepherd has been going to the dog park since she could at three months. 18 month old now, going through the stages. I stay with her the entire time. Of late a woman with two dogs has started coming in. She constantly notes how skittish her dogs are, and stresses about a lot. My dog and her Retriever have not overly hit it off. Hers likes to run up try and jump on me, and mine leaps in front to stop her and growls. She generally is nowhere around, is not with her dog perhaps because her other one has run to the far end of park. I usually pull mine away. The woman won’t stop her dog from running at people or jumping on them, saying that her dog just loves people. Now she wants to file a complaint against mine to prevent her coming in because she doesn’t feel mine should bark at her dog to get hers off of me. Of course, other dogs even today reacted to hers jumping on their owners in the same way, but the woman now insists only my dog gets upset. I have asked her to try and stop the dog from jumping on me, she gets angry with me and says it is my responsibility to stop my dog from trying to protect me. My dog has never bitten anything, but I want her to feel comfortable protecting my family if something is forcing into our personal space and not having to punish her from doing so. Her other dog tries to throw paws out and run with mine, but if they start she freaks out that an attack is happening. Not sure how to make this better, open to thoughts.

    1. The only way it gets better is “if” the other dog owners are responsible, paying attention, and in control of their dog… Not going to happen.

      Best to avoid the situation, as much as possible.

    2. I am not sure what you mean in your last few sentences about her dog ‘throw paws out and run with mine’, but I would go to another park or beach or whatever for a while. But if that is the only park you can go to or the only area you can exercise your dog, then the only alternative you have is to find a good professional behaviorist to come with you and view what is happening. It may not stop this woman from being foolish and misinformed about the truth of the situation, but if anything does happen – you have a trained professional who will vouch for what is really going on. Seems a bit radical, but if it’s anything like Australia, you need to have someone professional on your side to state your case. Also, chat to the other owners who are also upset – get contact details in case she does file a complaint.

    3. Sounds like the same woman I’ve encountered! LOL She has 2 black retrievers and when they ganged up on my rescue shepherd Brandi who gave them a piece of her mind (she outweighed them by alot as she is around 115 lbs), the woman started to screech exactly like a screech owl and that made her dogs go absolutely insane. I grabbed Brandi’s collar who was just snapping and growling at them and my dog sat there while this woman shrieked like a banshee about her babies who had started this in the first place! She couldn’t control them and when it became a 2 on 1 situation with my dog, and Brandi had enough, then this woman just lost it! She should never take her dogs to the dog park! There are too many people who don’t understand dogs and yet want to own them. Too many people use these dog parks as cafes where they can sit and have a coffee while their dogs run wreaking havoc! A dog is like a child and you wouldn’t let your child run nilly-willy in a park causing havoc and not watching it so why would you do the same with a dog? I never understand these dog owners. They truly don’t deserve the right to own a dog. They ruin the dog parks for those of us who are respectful owners. I’ve even seen people drop their dogs off at the dog park and then drive away to do their errands and some have come back several hours later! These dogs are running wild with no owner, no control.

    4. Does anyone have any pointers on how to make my dog not run full speed at others? He isn’t vicious but sometimes comes off that way. Any pointers would be appreciated!!

  29. ….. I have been a regular at a very large off leash park for several years, the area is a few square miles. I have consistently had problems with other dogs approaching while my dog is on the leash as we enter or leave the park. The road adjacent to the parking area is very busy so I always leash my dog as we come and go. Other off leash dogs often approach and get too rough or aggressive with my dog and some of the owners are unwilling to accept any responsibility for their dogs actions. I have had dog owners accuse me of not socializing my dog properly when their dog becomes aggressive with my friendly young dog, if any thing he is submissive when faced with aggression…. Very frustrating

  30. The dog parks in my area (Berkeley CA) seem to be overrun with people who are unleashing uncontrollable big dogs. My 12 pound long haired dachshund was grabbed by a 100 pound pit bull, within seconds of his owners letting him off the leash. My dog was shaken violently and left paralyzed. The owner refused to acknowledge that he had any responsibility and he quickly left. I went straight to emergency, and then to UC Davis vet school, where a surgeon assembled a team at midnight and did surgery to repair broken vertebrae and remove splintered bone. 6 months later (and 10 thousand dollars), Charlie has recovered to about 85%, he can walk, run and even swim, but never again will I let an unknown big dog approach off leash. Just yesterday I nearly got into a fist fight with a guy who had 2 lab mixes off leash, and one wanted to grab my 8 pound puppy. I had to fend the dog off by kicking him away, while the owner did nothing but scream at me. His response was I shouldn’t be in the park unless I can put up with his dogs attacking mine, basically. The park has signs that say “all dogs must be on leash”. His response to that was fuck you. I think I am going to have to give up dog parks unless they really enforce the leash law.

    1. I am so sorry to hear about your dear little Daschund. I live in Australia – we don’t have Pit Bulls here as they’re banned (supposedly – but I see lots of look-alikes so who knows where they come from…) In any case – dog parks are a menace. I use them sparingly. I prefer walking my dog to standing in a fenced field anyway. But I do take some of my dogs there once a week just to keep their socialization going – and I’m amazed at the idiots I meet. Some are very nice idiots – but they have no idea. In any case, I just wanted to say – yes – stay away from dog parks, They are no good for your little dog and no good for your blood pressure!

  31. I have a question. I have a 7 month old large German shepherd. Although he is already over 80 lbs., he still has the mentality of his 7 month old age. He LOVES to play with other dogs by wrestling, jumping and running. Out of nowhere, this adult bull terrier (like the Budweiser dog) starts attacking him. Not just nipping at him or giving warnings, but full on attacking him. My puppy, tried running away towards me with his tail tucked and yelping. My friend (who is a licensed vet tech and teaches the course at college) actually tried to intervene by kicking at the dog when the dog started to try biting my dog on the throat. I tried pulling the dog off and this dog was intent on harming my dog. The owner finally got the dog off of my dog and left. Afterwards, one of the regulars from the dog park came up to my friend and started lecturing her about how she should never have kicked at the aggressive dog because (and I quote) “the dog wasn’t drawing blood”.
    Is this the rule at dog parks? Should she have waited for the dog to “draw blood” before intervening?
    I read in an article by a professional dog behaviorist that intervention BY ANY MEANS should be used if it appears that a dog will be hurt or traumatized by another. I want to confront the woman and show her the article but really want to know if this is the opinion of most dog park people? Is this the normal attitude of those that frequent the dog parks regularly?? If so, I need to find a better place to socialize my puppy.

    1. My puppy is 8 months old and plays well with all puppies and most adult dogs. unfortunate but true, there are jerks everywhere. i just leave with my dog when a jerk owner appears with their jerk dog. im lucky that being retired i can choose my time when the pup and i go to the park. Ive found a time when mostly responsible people go and everyone has words to say to the few jerks that come.

  32. Thank you for this article. My dog is reactive to other dogs, but can completely ignore them at the dog park while playing with me. As long as other dogs don’t rush up to her and invade her personal space, she is totally fine at the dog park. Of course, most people don’t prevent their dogs from just rushing up to other dogs…in fact they are usually staring at their phones or talking to other dog-parents instead of interacting with their dogs. Don’t let your dog run up to mine and she won’t growl and bark at yours. She will mind her own business if you leave her alone. My dog needs off leash running in her life to get enough exercise. There are only so many places where that is possible. I just wish I could reliably take her to the dog park without it becoming very stressful.

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