Dog park etiquette

| August 3, 2011

DoggiesIf you have ever watched a dog at a dog park, you can recognize the canine equivalent of joy. Seeing the wild abandon of your pets freely running and interacting in their instinctive pack manner is, I believe, something akin to watching your child run through the turnstiles into the Magic Kingdom at Disneyland.

In Louisville, we are fortunate to have a series of highly maintained, controlled-entry dog parks where you can let your dog play freely with other canines and reasonably assume the other animals have up-to-date vaccinations and registration.

Metro Government and the Louisville Dog Run Association are doing their part to make your dog’s life more interesting and fun. Make sure you do your part too. Whether you’re a dog park veteran or getting ready to go off-leash for the first time, here are some basic courtesies and rules to follow:

You First

When you let your dog off the leash for the first time, Fido will likely take off and explore. If there is a problem, danger or unexpected way out of the controlled area, do you want your dog finding it? Visit the park by yourself before bringing your canine companion. Walk the park and make sure you’re comfortable with the safety and security first. If you’re comfortable with the surroundings, your dog will take a cue from your behavior and relax as well.

Lose the Leash

While you should always leash your dog leading to the park gate and as you leave the park, once you’re inside, take the leash off. A leash changes your dog’s body language and can affect how he or she deals with other dogs. One of my dogs is actually aggressive toward other dogs while on a leash but as soon as the leash comes off, she relaxes. Many parks actually require all dogs in the park to be off-leash.

Back Off

While some dogs enjoy greeting every new dog that enters the park, don’t let your dog crowd or guard the gate. Just like the leash, the entry gate to the park is a “barrier” and crowding it can be a form of territorialism.

Forget the Treats

Treats are food. At the dog park, your dog adapts the natural pack mentality. In the pack, dogs compete for food. That liver snack that turns your pet into a sitting angel at home may actually start a fight at the park.

Pay Attention

You’re at the dog park for your dog, not for yourself. Chances are, if you frequent your local park you will meet and get to know other frequent visitors. Be sure to watch your dog while you socialize. This will allow you to see developing confrontations with other canine visitors before they get out of hand and let you address undesirable behavior. Rather than having a seat and just watching, take an off-leash walk with your dog. It’s a great way to teach your dog to stay within your range even when there isn’t a lead. Play a game with your dog between romps with his canine pals. Or just call your dog to you once in a while to stay connected. These are all good lessons for your dog and for you. You can learn a lot by watching the way your dog interacts with other animals. While dogs can’t speak, their body language tells us a lot about them.

Pick it Up

I have yet to visit a dog park that doesn’t provide waste bags. Regardless, bring your own. Your dog’s business is your business to clean up and nothing ends the fun at the dog park like stepping in it. Of course this advice goes far beyond the dog park, but that’s another column altogether.

David Loignon is the owner of Home Buddies Premier In-home Pet Care. You can reach him via email at or online at

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Category: The Pet Buddy

About the Author (Author Profile)

David Loignon
After 25 years as a journalist and television production executive I turned
my career 180 degrees and opened a pet care business; Home Buddies
Louisville. I couldn’t abandon journalism altogether though, so now I write
The Pet Buddy, a weekly column to help you improve the lives of your
four-legged family members. When I’m not hanging out with my wife Julie and
our rescued fur-kids you will find me on a bicycle racing for The Cycling Team.

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