Dog Parks

Should you go?

It’s nice to have a dog park in your city if you’re fortunate to have one, or more than one.  If you’re lucky, you may also have a variety of mountain trails to take your dogs to like I do in my town.

A group of dogs in an enclosed dog park.



A fenced dog park is a bonus, though, especially for visitors who may not be familiar with or confident on local trails or know the area very well.



What you need to know

  • They are not appropriate places “to socialize” a dog.
  • They are not for every dog. Many dogs aren’t comfortable being in groups of unfamiliar dogs.
  • Even if it’s fenced, dogs should still have some basic training before partaking.


1. Socializing and Social Skills

Meeting other dogs and learning how to interact appropriately needs to be taught with care. Dog owners should be involved in shaping their dog’s social skills rather than leaving the job to random dogs of unknown skill.  Contrary to popular opinion, dogs don’t always “work it out”.  We need to help them, and dog parks aren’t the best place to do this.

Several angry looking dogs.Dog parks tend to be small areas with little else for dogs to focus on except other dogs. Encountering groups of other dogs all focused on you can be overwhelming and frightening for a socially unskilled dog, especially a young one.  It’s not actually “normal” for dogs to continuously interact with each other for long periods of time. 

2 dogs sniffing the ground outside.It’s much more natural for dogs to interact for short periods and then go their own way, or to do things cooperatively with each other like chase a squirrel, check out an interesting smell, hang out and relax on the deck, go check out a something new, bark at someone walking by their house, etc.

If your dog isn’t socially skilled or mature, letting them run free in a dog park could lead to behaviour problems. Your dog could be intimidated or bullied by other dogs and your dog, unsure how to respond, could start acting defensively or bullying other dogs, too. 

2. Poor Candidates for a Dog Park

There are dogs who just shouldn’t go to a dog park unless it’s empty or they arrange to meet friends there for some play time.  They either don’t have the skills or nature to be there, or have behaviour issues which will either be problematic or become significantly more problematic as a result of going there.

Dogs who shouldn’t be at the dog park:

  • fearful or shy
  • under the age of 2
  • females in heat
  • easily over-aroused (barkers and “humpers”)
  • dog “selective”
  • resource guarders
  • fence runners (or jumpers)
  • prone to barrier frustration like “fence fighting”
  • any with a bite history (unless appropriately muzzled*)
  • old dogs and/or those experiencing physical or structural pain should be protected from the rambunctious activity at a dog park

Any dog who fits the description on the above list is likely to be anxious, frustrated, defensive or hyper-vigilant in a dog park.  They won’t enjoy the experience and, depending on how they’re managed, they can negatively impact other users’ experiences.  Many dogs who aren’t comfortable in a dog park can experience trauma which may not be detected by their owners but will impact their future behaviour especially if they’re young and still maturing.

Dogs who aren’t good candidates for a dog park may still successfully interact with dogs out on trails where people and their dogs are moving through the area purposefully, doing their own thing individually and not just hanging out for long periods of time in groups.  


3. Some Basic Training is Required

4 friendly dogs off leash on a trail posing for the camera.To prepare for dog park adventures, your dog should have a reasonably good recall away from other dogs and people, understand the social skill of polite greetings, have some tolerance for impolite greetings, offer or respond appropriately to play invitations and rejections, and know how to defuse the energy of another dog.

Dogs should be able to greet and come away from other dogs quickly without chasing, sniffing for too long (3 seconds is plenty!), or physically bombarding another dog without permission.

As the human end of the equation, be aware of what your dog is doing:

  • Frequently call them to you to check-in.
  • Leave fetch toys at home.
  • Keep any treats tucked away and wait for quiet moments to enter and exit.
  • Leave strollers and very young children at home.  Not all friendly dogs have been socialized with children or are comfortable with children.  For everyone’s safety, best to save time with children for leashed or trail walks where dogs are more closely monitored.

Having access to a dog park is a privilege.  A dog park is a shared space for friendly dogs and their owners. Everyone should learn how best to share it so it’s a positive experience for everyone.  We need to be responsible for our dog’s behaviour and invest in some training. 

With a little bit of planning, some skilled help from a positive trainer, and community cooperation, off leash dog areas can be a safe and fun experience for the right dogs.

*A Note About Muzzles and Dogs with a Bite History

A muzzle should not be used as a tool to put a dog in a position that would normally cause them to want to bite. 

Muzzles for dogs who have bitten are for management and safety, and dogs need to be positively trained to wear one comfortably and easily.  Once a dog is muzzle trained, the muzzle should be used in conjunction with a behaviour modification program to help the dog earn to be more comfortable and choose alternate behaviours to biting while keeping everyone safe.