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Dog Park Etiquette Every Owner Needs to Know

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Let’s be real: Most people hit up the dog park, whip out their phone, and scroll Instagram while their pet is off doing who knows what. But there are actually some pretty important things to know before taking a pup to the park! Us Weekly chatted with pet behavioral expert Victoria Stilwell and Lucky Dog’s resident trainer Brandon McMillan to go over park dos and don’ts.

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DO: Remember That Your Dog Knows Your Voice
Meaning, you need to be the one dealing with your dog when it starts acting up. “Your dog understands your voice just like a fingerprint,” McMillan tells Us. “Your voice is technically your most powerful weapon when it comes to training an animal. When your dog hears people yelling at the park, if it’s not your voice, they’re not going to respond.”

DON’T: Bring Treats to the Dog Park
It’s tempting to shower your doggo with biscuits, but wait until you get home to show him what a good boy he’s being. Bringing treats to the park will only rile up other dogs. But if you do accidentally roll in with a pocket full of yummies, don’t feed them to other animals.

“It’s rather like somebody coming into the playground and giving food to your child without asking you,” Stilwell says. “It’s a big no-no in the dog world because you don’t know if the other dog might have allergies. But the No. 1 thing to remember about treats is that dogs can fight when they’re in competition for the food.”

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DO: Speak to Your Fellow Dog-People
Dog parks are a great place to socialize (or, if you’re living life in a romantic comedy, fall in love), and if you make friends, your dog will too.

“The more the dog owners get to know each other and the more you can set up playdates, the better for a dog’s sociability,” Stilwell tells Us. “The dog park is amazing — people meet each other — it’s the perfect place to congregate.”

DON’T: Forget to Watch Your Dog
Getting to know some fellow dog owners is good, but ignoring your dog for a quick chat over coffee? Not great. “By all means be sociable, but while you’re being sociable, please keep an eye on your dog,” Stilwell says. “There are lots of people who get distracted and don’t realize their dog is terrorizing other dogs in the park.”

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DO: Remember Park Toys Are Neutral Territory
“Anything found at the dog park is absolutely neutral,” McMillan reminds Us. “It’s not like your backyard where the dog thinks, ‘This is my space, these are my toys, you can’t touch them.’ There are very few dogs that treat toys found in the dog park like their own. But if they are toy aggressive, I would not recommend you take them to the park anyway.”

DON’T: Bring Toys Your Pet Isn’t Willing to Share
Stilwell says an ideal dog park is totally free of toys, and that pet owners definitely shouldn’t make the mistake of bringing their own. “When you’ve got somebody throwing the ball for their dog and other dogs run for it, the dogs can get into a fight. It’s better to let dogs go into the dog park to interact and socialize without the pressure of, ‘Who’s going to get the toy first?’”

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DO: Know Your Dog’s Body Language
Fights in dog parks are every pet owner’s worst nightmare, but they can be prevented if you pay attention to your dog’s body language. “Focus on prevention,” Stilwell advises. “Brush up on body language, and what uncomfortable dogs look like. A lot of it is paying attention to when dogs get tense, freeze, or look still. If that happens, call your dog to you, or try to distract it. And then take your dog right out of the park.”

McMillan adds to look out for signs that the dog is on high alert, for example, hackles going up and curling of the lip: “Very few dog breeds just start fighting without giving off signs,” he notes.

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DON’T: Take Your Dog to the Park If It Gets Easily Overwhelmed
Not all dogs are happy at a dog park, just like not all humans are happy at a bar. If your pup isn’t sociable or gets overwhelmed easily, maybe pass on the park for a nice long walk. Per Stilwell, “You might think your dog is having a great time, but if you have an easily nervous dog or overwhelmed dog, it’s not.”

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Victoria Stilwell Enterprises

DO: Know the Nuances of Your Breed
Knowing general doggy body language is a great tool, but knowing the specific body language of your breed is even better. “For example, bulldogs play rough and mistranslate their play as fight,” McMillan says. “They growl when they play — a lot of people actually step in and think the dog is fighting. So, know the personality traits of your breed as well as your specific dog’s personality. Once you learn the breed’s body language and combine that with your dog’s personality, you can easily identify a fight before it happens.”

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DON’T: Bring Your Dog to the Park If It’s Aggressive
If your dog has a history of fighting with other dogs (or has ever bitten one), don’t risk bringing it to the park. “Make sure your dog gets along with other dogs,” McMillan says. “Ninety percent of fights at dog parks happen because people don’t realize their dog is aggressive.”

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Mark Sobhani

DO: Make Sure Your Dog Has Some Training
Your pup doesn’t need to be Westminster-ready, but some training is definitely a good thing. McMillan recommends basic training, and more importantly, training around other dogs. “Believe it or not, your dog could have basic training, but then you put him with a pack of dogs and he won’t listen to a word you’re saying,” he explains.

DON’T: Bring Your Dog to the Park Unvaccinated
“Dog parks are notorious places for spreading disease,” Stilwell notes. “So your dog must be fully vaccinated before it goes.”

Us Weekly articles and content are for informational purposes only. Nothing contained in Us Weekly articles and/or content is or should be considered, or used as a substitute for, veterinary or professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you believe your pet may have a medical emergency, call or visit your veterinarian or your local veterinary emergency hospital immediately.