My Rules for the Dog Park

It may come as surprise to many, but there is a strong contingent of dog owners who loathe dog parks. And it may come as an even bigger surprise hearing it from me, but they have a lot of good points.

I’ve visited dog parks of all shapes and sizes across the country and seen plenty of things which could discourage a person from visiting. I’ve seen everything from unsocialized dogs fighting (luckily without serious harm) to a family deciding the dog beach was the perfect spot for a picnic. (Hint: It’s not!)

Dog parks are inherently risky. In that sense, I consider visiting them a lot like driving a car. In both cases I’m making a calculated risk involving circumstances both in and out of my control. And in both cases there are a number of things I can do to improve my likelihood of a safe and successful trip.

Here are a few rules I’ve come up with for the dog park:
Rhodesian Ridgeback, adventure, chicago

1. Avoid peak hours

Immediately after business hours, weekend afternoons and holidays are all high-traffic times for dog parks. Visiting the park during quieter hours ensures there’s plenty of space for all the pups and it’s easier to keep an eye on everyone.

Rhodesian Ridgeback, adventure, chicago

2. Know your dogs better than they know themselves

I know every nuance and subtlety of Eko’s and Penny’s body language. This allows me to quickly gauge and predict behavior. Often when Penny charges, like in the above photo, Eko lets her pass by. But that little tongue lick let me know he was about to engage and wrestle.

Rhodesian Ridgeback, adventure, chicago

Penny knew it too and she made a hasty retreat!

I always keep a close eye on my pups to make sure they’re happy, relaxed and comfortable.

Rhodesian Ridgeback, adventure, chicago

3. Actively supervise play

It might be a beach, but the dog park is no place for setting up a picnic or reading a good book. Active supervision ensures the beach stays fun for everyone. It’s also key to stopping problems before they start. If I notice Penny wants to play tug with an unwilling partner, I make her disengage and we head to another part of the park.

Rhodesian Ridgeback, adventure, chicago

4. Speak up!

I can’t count how many fearful eyes I’ve seen when Eko bounds over to say hello to someone’s tiny dog. I know he’s a gentle giant, but others certainly don’t. I’ve found it very helpful to speak up about my dogs’ personalities to others. “Don’t worry, he’s gentle” helps ease tension, and “She loves to play tag, is that okay?” is a simple way to test the waters.

Rhodesian Ridgeback, adventure, chicago

5. Expect the unexpected

No matter how many times dogs play together, there’s always a chance something changes. In the above case, Penny was quite shocked to learn Doc was the one instigating a wrestle. Like the Boy Scouts, I try to be prepared for anything.

Rhodesian Ridgeback, adventure, chicago

6. Always be ready to leave

The most important command I have at the dog park is “Ready to go?” I only use it at dog parks and it simply means we’re leaving. Now. When the pups hear the command they both come right to me (took a bit of time to train Penny!)

Whether we’ve had our fun for the day, or I’m concerned about my pups’ safety for the slightest reason, I’m always ready to leave the beach on a moment’s notice.

The above rules, together with standard common-sense, help keep the dog park a safe, fun and invaluable resource for my pups. Dog parks are certainly not necessary for all dogs, but my two couldn’t do without them. There’s no other place in the city for these two to get the off-leash exercise they need to stay healthy and happy.

Rhodesian Ridgeback, adventure, chicago

Quite happy indeed!

For those of you who also visit dog parks, do you have any rules/tips for making the experience fun for you and your dog?

59 thoughts on “My Rules for the Dog Park”

  1. Hey Will, Eko, and Penny!

    My wife and I have been watching the YouTube videos for weeks, love them! We added a female Ridgeback puppy to our family in August. Goes by the name of Ruby. She’s now about 4 1/2 months old. Done with puppy vaccinations about 2 weeks ago. Took her to our local dog park in Ellenton, FL (west coast south of Tampa). Normally I’d wait til shoe was a little older but she seems pretty mature in some ways. Also we’re experienced dog owners/dog park visitors, but with a chocolate lab who’s now too old to go.

    We took her this past Thursday and we were the first ones there. She got the lay of the land and then a really sweet older dog came in and they got along great. Soon more came by including a few older pups. Perfect play time with no issues at all. Today she chased a 10 month old husky til they both were exhausted. Awesome.

    We play close attention. Any bad situations and we’re outta there. She just slowly learning the ropes.

    On a different topic since we’re totally new to the blog, what do you feed your super fit Ridgebacks? Also, how old was Penny when you had her spayed?

    Phil, Allison, Chocolate & Ruby in Fla.

    • Oh man, such a fun time! Don’t forget to take lots of photos – you can never have too many when they’re that age.

      Eko and Penny both eat ProPlan Natural – Chicken and Rice. It works quite well for them, but obviously every pup is different so there’s really no one “best” food. My advice for food is always, “try a small bag first.” I burned a hole in my wallet trying different foods for Eko before realizing I should stop buying huge bags.

      As for spaying, Penny was around fifteen months. After consultation with my vet we waited to spay until after her first heat cycle.

      • Thanks for the food info as well as Penny’s spay date. We’re thinking along the same lines. The lab was spayed after her first cycle (kind of just happened that way). She’s been a very fit and healthy dog. Still going at almost 16!

  2. Interesting reading your two posts on this and the comments as a fenced ‘dog area’ has just opened in our neighboring park. Ecuador is a bit behind the us perhaps but way ahead of Vietnam in terms of responsible dog ownership. Tala has very few opportunities to be off her leash and aggressive dogs in both Vietnam and sudan have made her sometimes be quite reactive on the lead(in a scared defensive way although she doesn’t look it at all she looks aggressive) so I’m hoping to be able to go at quite times when there is just one or two dogs who seem relaxed and playful which I think will be good for her. Fingers crossed we’ll see how it works as I believe it is the first one in quito!

  3. We go almost everyday and my girls know the routine for coming and going now. People sometimes are amused that they are bilingual as I say ” Allons-y” to them which means “let’s go” in French. We are Canadian but it’s more of an Dr Who thing.


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