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A woman walking dogs with a man and a cartoon dog holding a bone.

4 Tips & Tricks to Get the Most From Your Local Dog Park

If you’re looking for something fun to do with your dog, the usual answer is the dog park! But how can you make sure your dog will have a safe and fun time at your local dog park? We’ve got tips.

#1: Find the Right Dog Park for Your Dog

Before you bring your dog to any new dog park, do a little research and see if it’s a good fit for your pet! Some pups might love to run wild and roughhouse with a huge pack of other dogs, but others might prefer a more intimate affair. You can test the waters with small dog parks near you before considering moving up to the big leagues.

If a traditional dog park might be overwhelming for your fearful or reactive dog, look into dog playgrounds and dog enrichment near you. Dog enrichment parks are starting to pop up in cities and offer a more controlled, often indoor environment where you can book sessions for your dog solo or with trusted playmates. These parks are full of enrichment toys for dogs like snuffle mats and food puzzle toys as well as enrichment activities like hide and seek games and agility courses for physical and mental stimulation.

P.S. Looking for dog enrichment ideas you can do at home? We’ve got you covered.

#2: Make Sure Your Dog is Dog Park Ready

Once you’ve found a dog park you think your dog will enjoy, make sure they’re fully prepared! First things first, make sure your puppy or adult dog is up to date on a full course of vaccinations before you venture into any dog park to keep them and other dogs safe. Next, it’s time to think about manners.

Good training is essential for successful trips to the dog park. It’s imperative that your dog has a reliable recall command so that they’ll come to you if a stressful situation ever pops up at the dog park.

It can be really tough for any dog to remember commands in high-stress situations—and if they are only nailing “come” 50% of the time at home, that’s not a great sign. Get all your important safety commands down pat at home and in other lower-stress environments like your backyard or a local park before you hit the dog park.

The best off-leash dog parks depend on good manners from their canine and human guests!

#3: Start Slowly

Once you’re confident your dog is ready for the dog park, start introducing them to your local park of choice slowly. Consider giving high-energy dogs a good walk before you arrive at the park so they don’t come through the gates like a wrecking ball. When you arrive, let your dog observe what’s going on through the fence before going inside.

If they’re overwhelmed by all the activity, it’s okay to tap out for the day and try again another time. If they’re interested in jumping in on the fun, you can take the next step! Wait for your dog to be calm and settled (i.e. not pulling on the leash like they’re in the Iditarod) before you take them through the gates.

Start by keeping your dog on the leash. Watch how they interact with other dogs and let them explore the space with you to get comfortable. If they’re still happy and not trying to play too rough, you can let them off the leash for a brief play session.

For your first few visits, keep it short and sweet as they get used to this new type of play. This gives you the best chance of ending every visit on a good note before your dog gets overstimulated. The goal is to teach your dog that the dog park is a happy place!

#4: Actively Watch Your Dog

Once your dog is happy and confident at the dog park, it might be tempting to think of this as a time you can relax while your dog is busy. That’s true up to a point—this is a great time to catch up on the latest gossip with the other dog people at the park, of course!

However, it’s important to remember that the dog park isn’t the same thing as a dog sitter. You’re still responsible for your pet’s behavior and wellbeing for every moment of your visit.

You know your dog’s body language and subtle cues better than anyone else, and you can use that connection to help avoid any conflict at the dog park. If you see your pooch starting to play too roughly, you can recall them for a break with you to cool down and reset before getting back into the action.

If you see your pup start to cower when other dogs approach them, that’s their S.O.S. for emergency rescue! They’ll be relieved to be recalled and leave the dog park for a more relaxed walk with their person, and that understanding will build trust between the two of you. Your dog will know you’ve always got their back!

Finally, dogs aren’t perfect. No matter how well behaved your dog normally is, they might steal another dog’s tennis ball, hump their playmate, or pee on someone’s purse. Sh*t happens!

If you’re watching your dog, you can course correct them as quickly as possible and make your apologies before anything goes too far. A little humility goes a long way—and other dog people will get it.

The dog park can be an incredible place for canine enrichment. It combines physical activity with social enrichment, all while letting your dog’s senses go wild. We all know that dogs love to sniff butts, and that’s a quality enrichment opportunity to take that incredible sense of smell for a spin! So go check which dog parks are open near you and get in your dog’s daily dose of physical exercise—and lots and lots of fun.