Perhaps one of the most fulfilling moments for a dog owner is to witness the pure joy their pet experiences during a day at the dog park. Whether your dog has his fun romping around with friends, breaking into a full speed run, or simply sniffing the great outdoors, an afternoon at the park is a great activity and opportunity for much needed exercise. However, like most things in life, along with all this fun comes great responsibility. Good obedience and proper etiquette are essential at any dog park, both for the dogs and their owners.

There are many good reasons for dogs and dog owners to be on their best behaviour while at the park, but most important of all is safety. There are a number of potential safety hazards in an off-leash environment that are important to be aware of. One of the most common causes of injuries at the park comes from altercations between two (or more) dogs. Dog fights can occur for any number of reasons, and can even involve dogs that are normally ‘friendly’. It is important to always keep a close watch on you dog, paying careful attention to its body language and verbal cues. Look not only for blatant signs of aggression, such as growling or snarling, but also for signs of fearfulness, and extreme submission (which tends to invite bullying from others). It is advisable to remove your dog from any situation the moment you sense any sort of tension in the dog pack. If it is your dog who seems to be instigating the fighting, it is important to recognize the issue and reconsider whether or not your pet really belongs in an off-leash environment. Too often, owners cannot accept or will not admit that their dog has aggression issues, and as a result, they put other dogs and people at risk.

Aside from the other dogs, there are a variety of dangers that present themselves in any situation where your dog is off-leash. Once your pet is no longer restricted by its four or five foot leash, it is capable of getting into all sorts of trouble you must be aware of. Dogs commonly become lost when they stray too far from their owners in the park, and are also at risk of becoming injured or ill from their interactions with park wildlife and plant life. Again, keeping a watchful eye on your dog is of the utmost importance. It is also worthwhile to be choosy about which dog parks you frequent; some parks have better enclosures and security than others. You should always wait to remove your dog’s leash until you are safely within park grounds and never let your dog drag his leash along side him (it can easily become snagged on plants or even other animals). Also make sure that you can trust your dog to come when called—practice in your home and your backyard until you feel confident in your pet’s obedience. To be absolutely positive that your dog will return to you, it is a good idea to bring along high value treats or anything else that your dog finds irresistible.

In addition to safety, there is an element of social etiquette at the dog park that should also be considered. Especially if you intend to become a ‘regular’ at your local dog park, following park rules (such as picking up after your dog) is essential. There is an enormous amount of socializing between dog owners in the park, and even if you don’t feel the need to befriend every other person you meet, it pays to be polite and respect other owners at all times. If you are a social butterfly, try not to get so caught up in the gossip that you lose sight of your reason for coming; stay connected to your dog by calling it back to you every so often.

Always remember that the dog park is meant to be a source of fun for you and your pet. If it’s pouring rain, your dog is under the weather, of even if you’re just not feeling up to it, don’t feel obligated to drag yourself to the park—both of you will probably be better off at home for the day. Furthermore, if your dog frequently becomes injured, ill, or is simply unhappy during its park visits, then perhaps it is time to find another activity for the two of you to take part in. Not all dogs are fit for the off-leash environment, and not all owners are prepared for the responsibility that comes with it.