Dog Park Etiquette: Advice for Doggie Outings

Tips for Supervising Your Pet's Play at the Park
by Mik Moeller

Our canine companions are social creatures. This means that in order to be happy and healthy animals, they need to interact with their humans every day. When young, they also need frequent contact with members of their own species. Even when they’re older and may seem content to sniff around while they’re out with their owners, they still need to see other dogs and maintain their social skills.

Fortunately, there are lots of options in San Francisco for meeting your dog’s social needs, including some pretty great off-leash dog parks (officially termed Dog Play Areas—or DPAs—by a City resolution that went into effect in 2002).

DPAs can be stressful for dogs two years and older, who are typically more selective about their doggie friends. However, they can be fun hangouts for rambunctious younger ones who love to play. Of course, not all dogs do and this is where problems may arise.

The following tips can help you and your dog avoid potential trouble, no matter where you go out to play in the City.

Learn to recognize what appropriate play is like. Play is usually bouncy and is punctuated by short rests. If wrestling matches or chase games go on too long, they can escalate into a fight. Monitor your dog’s play and interrupt every now and then to remind Fifi that her alpha animal is paying attention. This also reminds her to check in with you every so often.

Watch for bullying behavior. Jumping on top of another dog, pinning, or continuous chasing are aggressive behaviors. If another dog bullies your dog, leave the area, or even the park, if necessary. If your dog begins to bully another dog, it’s definitely time to leave the park. This sends a strong message: Sorry, Charlie. If you bully or harass other dogs, the fun ends and we go home.

Respect other people at all times. We often share the parks with people who are there without dogs—like bikers, joggers, and families with children. Keep your dog close and focused on you when you approach someone who doesn’t have a dog. Absolutely do not let your dog run up, bark, jump and say hello, or chase anyone. Some people aren’t comfortable around dogs, but everybody has a right to enjoy the parks and trails.

Enroll your dog in an obedience class, then practice at the parks. It’s important that your dog be under your control whenever  you’re in public, and that he comes when you call him, every time. Practice obedience training at the park and reward your dog for responding to your call, voluntarily checking in with you, and staying close. Remember that dogs will do whatever brings them positive attention from you. The more you reward them for the behaviors you approve of, the more they will offer them.

Be a keen observer of canine body language. Tucked tail, lowered ears, bared teeth, snapping, and avoiding interaction are all signs that a dog is afraid or stressed. A tail held straight up in the air and barely moving is also a warning sign. Threatening behaviors in dogs include leaning forward, almost on tip toes to make themselves appear as big as possible, staring directly at another dog, and moving slowly.

Be aware of significant size differences. Large and small dogs can play together safely, but always be attentive and cautious. Yelping or squeaking from a small dog can trigger a larger dog’s predatory instinct. Ooh, the big boy may think, it’s a squirrel or a bunny, not a dog! Stay close by whenever your little guy is playing with larger dogs and intervene immediately if you sense trouble brewing.

Spay or neuter your dog. Unaltered dogs are often more difficult to manage. Female dogs that have not been spayed can be very temperamental when they are in heat. Unaltered males tend to roam, are less responsive to their owner’s commands, and can trigger aggression in neutered males. Besides preventing the birth of unwanted puppies, “altering” your dog can mellow out his or her temperament, increase longevity, and promote a happier relationship between you and your dog.

So get out and enjoy the great parks, beaches, and trails in our city with your “best friend”. Just remember: By being a responsible pet owner and following some sensible rules, you help keep public spaces safe and enjoyable for all. In fact, you and your well-behaved dog are the best PR agents for keeping dogs legal in San Francisco’s open spaces!

For a state by state listing of off-leash areas visit

For more information on dog training Email MoellerDog or call (415) 518-5379.

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