Dogs That Should Avoid Going to a Dog Park

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

dog park

Story at-a-glance -

  • Using proper etiquette and following unspoken (and sometimes posted) rules of the dog park can go a long way toward ensuring everyone’s visit is both fun and safe
  • Keep a close eye on your dog at all times, and if your dog has ever shown aggression toward other dogs or people, she’s not a dog park candidate
  • If your dog is ill or you suspect she may have a contagious disease, do not bring her to a dog park — likewise if your dog has a compromised immune system or is injured or in pain
  • Pick up after your dog immediately and do not bring food or young children into the park
  • Dogs visiting dog parks should be well-behaved and obey basic commands; dogs who are shy, anxious or fearful may not do well in a dog park setting

There are an estimated 1,200 dog parks in the U.S., where your furry companion can run, roam and romp to her heart's content. These off-leash doggy paradises are so popular that they're the fastest-growing segment of city parks,1 and their benefits are clear: in addition to providing an area for dogs to exercise, play and socialize with other dogs, dog parks give owners an outlet for meeting other dog lovers.

Some dog parks are so large that they include hiking trails along with fenced-in play areas. Such parks offer a perfect outlet for dogs to run out their energy and be mentally stimulated, but there are some risks involved.

The potential for dog-to-dog or dog-to-human aggression is real, as is the potential for disease transmission. However, using proper etiquette and following unspoken (and sometimes posted) rules of the dog park can go a long way toward ensuring everyone's visit is both fun and safe.

Watch Your Dog Closely to Keep Her, and Other Dogs, Safe

If you visit a dog park, your dog should be well-behaved and responsive to basic obedience commands like come, sit, stay and leave it. Do not allow your dog to jump on people or dogs at the park, and if she begins to act fearful or aggressive, put her leash back on and leave the park.

Once your dog is freely sniffing or playing, keep a close eye on her, both for her own safety and that of other dogs around her. As a dog owner, it's important that you can read your dog's body language and intervene if necessary. Certified dog trainer Bobby Brown told the Shreveport Times:2

"Just because a dog is wagging its tail doesn't mean it's happy, and just because a dog is panting doesn't mean it's hot — those two can be an indicator of stress in dogs. It's about watching your dog, knowing your dog's body language and what's going to lead up to a fight.

If it's stiff and really hard to break him out of that, that's more than likely going to be a dangerous situation. If they're trying to get away, if they're coming to you, in between your legs, if their ears are back, tail between their legs, then we obviously want to get them out of that situation."

He spoke after an incident at the Shreveport Dog Park, in which a small dog had to be euthanized after being injured by larger dogs at the park. So rule No. 1 is to keep a close eye on your dog at all times. Further, if your dog has ever shown aggression toward other dogs or people, she's not a good dog park candidate.

If you have a small dog, look for areas designated for small dogs and stick to those, even if you think she'll be fine running with bigger dogs (they may not be fine playing with her).

Pick Up Poop — and Other Rules of Etiquette

Dog parks can be breeding grounds for infectious diseases, which is why I don't recommend visits to the dog park until a puppy is at least 6 months old. In a study of urban dog parks in Portugal, every soil sample tested was contaminated with hookworm eggs.3

Another study of dog parks in Northern California found enteropathogens, or organisms that causes diseases of the intestinal tract, were common in visiting dogs. Enteropathogens were found in 38% of the dogs, even though most of them did not have diarrhea.4 If your dog is ill or you suspect she may have a contagious disease, do not bring her to a dog park. Likewise if your dog has a compromised immune system or is injured or in pain.

"Structural un-soundnesses that can cause pain (hip dysplasia, arthritis, etc.) are a high risk factor for causing aggression when a dog is hurt or stressed by the anticipation of being hurt," according to the Whole Dog Journal.5 That being said, even if your dog is healthy it's important to pick up after her immediately.

No one wants to step in your dog's poop, for one thing, but it's also been shown that quick removal of dog feces may significantly reduce the likelihood that parasites will enter the soil and reduce the likelihood of transmission.6 Overall good dog park etiquette rules include:

Avoid bringing food into the dog park (for you or your dog)

If your dog is sick, keep her home

Bring a portable water bowl for your dog to drink from

Keep your eye on your dog at all times

If your dog is playing too rough, or seems nervous or afraid, intervene

Pick up after your dog immediately

Avoid bringing young children to a dog park

Older children should be supervised and should not run through the park

Do not bring aggressive dogs to the park

Only bring a manageable number of dogs to the park (such as two or three per human, max)

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Not All Dogs Should Go to Dog Parks

Before deciding to visit a dog park, be sure that your dog will enjoy it. For starters, she should be well-behaved, enjoys being around other dogs and obey basic commands. She should also have an outgoing personality but not be aggressive. Dogs who are shy, anxious or fearful may not do well in a dog-park setting. Whole Dog Journal noted:7

"Dog-park dogs should be friendly and outgoing, without being overbearing, obnoxious, or bullying. Your dog should be reasonably confident and social. Those who are fearful, aggressive, or reactive are not appropriate for dog parks. Basic good manners are a park prerequisite. Your dog should not body-slam, mouth, jump on kids, or mark (leg-lift) humans in the park, nor should he jump into laps of random sitting humans without invitation."

Assuming your dog meets this description, feel free to find a dog park you both enjoy. Even then, give a thorough look to the dogs visiting on any particular day before letting your dog loose. If any of them seem threatening or are playing too roughly, wait until they're removed or come back another day.

And if your dog is the one playing too roughly, intervene immediately and, if necessary, remove your dog from the park. When everyone behaves politely and with respect for others at the park, the environment is safer and more enjoyable for all — and that goes for both humans and their dogs.