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Dog parks are popping up everywhere. It’s exciting to see how dogs are becoming more and more welcome as members of our communities!

But how do you… you know… use them?

How long do you stay at the dog park to make sure your dog actually gets exercise? What should you do once you get there?

I think we all, as dog owners, are collectively learning how to get the best use out of our community dog parks, how to show proper etiquette, and how to make sure our dogs have a good time.

Plan to stay at the dog park for up to two hours… or as little as two seconds.

What Time Should I Go To The Dog Park?

I’m lucky enough to be able to work from home, with a flexible schedule so I can take my dogs to the park anytime. I know that not everyone is so lucky.

Since I have the choice, and I know Matilda and Cow only play with a select few dogs, plus easily get uncomfortable and overwhelmed, I take them around 9 or 10AM on weekdays.

Our local dog parks have “big” and “little” sections, and though Cow is right at the 25-pound weight limit for the small section, we typically go into the “little.”

If the park is empty, though, which it often is, we go into the “big.” We might try to socialize with 1-2 dogs and their owners.

That’s usually the sweet spot, 1-4 other dogs. They have some choice in who to play with, and other dogs can lighten the mood by playing with one another if mine aren’t feeling so friendly. But, there’s not so many dogs and people that Matilda and Cow get overwhelmed.

I suggest looking up your local dog park on Google Maps and scrolling down to see their active hours.

On a Monday like today, I might go to the dog park at 9 AM, and leave before noon, just as it starts to fill up.

It rained yesterday, so I know the park is muddy. That’s probably why Google is showing a live view that tells us that it’s unusually empty.

I would still put some galoshes on and take my dogs, we’d probably have the park to ourselves.

I can see that Saturdays are the busiest days for our local dog park.

If we woke up early and went around 7-8 AM, though, we could still enjoy it. We might even go after dinner from 6-8 PM.

Google Graph showing that dog parks are crowded midday on Saturdays

What To Bring To The Dog Park

I always use a harness, not a collar, to leash up my dogs. Tiny dogs like Matilda are especially prone to injuries from wearing collars while walking.

While playing, dogs can get their teeth caught in one another’s gear. So, this is another good reasons to avoid collars, especially martingales.

Once you’re inside the dog park, unleash your dog by unclipping their leash from their harness.

If you must bring toys, they should be easy to sanitize, especially if other dogs play with them.

Bring your own water bowl. Though not many diseases are spread directly through saliva, it’s better to know where your dog’s water came from.

Bring a travel bowl so your dog has fresh, clean water to drink.

If your local dog park is un-fenced, you might want to use a long line.

Socializing With People At The Dog Park

Our preference for less busy hours is partially for my own sake. I feel overwhelmed when there are many people at the dog park.

Going during the day means I meet older people, who might be retired. They’re nice, but they sometimes have outdated ideas about dogs.

For example, unprompted, someone told me that it’s important to bite a dog if it tries to bite you first. He then told me that he once bit a dog on the ear.

I don’t try to educate people about dogs. I don’t even tell them I have a blog. I only give advice if asked, or if I truly think I have a shot at improving a dog’s life.

I have mentioned, to a woman that said she uses a spray bottle on her puppy, that it might make it hard for her to use spray medications or flea sprays in the future… because I’ve done it when I didn’t know better.

It took a while to get my dogs comfortable with flea sprays, and I really wish I hadn’t tried to use water spray bottles when they were puppies as punishment. Not only did it not work, it made life harder for both of us.

If you go consistently, you’ll start to meet the same people over and over again, and you might start to make friends.

Keep this in mind when you interact. Don’t get into arguments. It’s not worth it.

If you are kind, you might get someone to warm up to you – and then they’ll be much more likely to listen to your advice.

Try some safe dog-related topics like:

  • How did you get your dog?
  • Why did you give them that name?
  • Is this your first dog?
  • Have you owned this breed in the past?
  • What’s their favorite treat?
  • What do you do for their birthday?
  • What other parks do you go to?

Food, training, vets, and vaccines can all be sore topics for some people. But not everyone who talks about these things wants to force their opinion on you.

Don’t take dog park chat too seriously. Try to have fun, and make some new friends… and feel free to keep your distance if you’re not in the mood for chatter.

Why Do So Many Dogs Get Injured Or Killed At Dog Parks?

My biggest fear is for Matilda to get killed by a larger dog. At just shy of 5 pounds, she’s delicate, but she doesn’t know it.

I see it a lot on the news and in Chihuahua Facebook groups.

Dogs sometimes see tiny dogs as prey. Or, they mistakenly injure their playmates when they get overzealous.

Be especially careful of your dog running up to newcomers.

Dogs tend to crowd the newest dog entering the gate, and a lot of fights can break out this way.

Also leave the toys and treats at home unless the park is completely empty. Put them away when other dogs show up.

You should have your eyes on your dog at all times. Leave your books, your phone, and other distractions in your car.

What SHOULD You Do At The Dog Park?

Dog owners, to me, often seem a bit lost, even bored at the park. They tend to gravitate towards the benches.

But when you sit at the bench, and your dog is a little insecure, they tend to stick by you.

It’s important that you walk around, at least for part of the stay, to encourage your dog to actually explore the park.

Use the agility equipment, if there is any. If not, practice recall, if your dog isn’t overly distracted.

If there are lots of trees, try playing hide-and-seek with your dog.

If your dog prefers to not interact with you, that’s okay. It’s fine for them to run around, play with others, or just sniff the grass.

If you’re there to practice recall, wait until your dog has had some free time to just… be a dog! After they’ve taken in their surroundings, they may be more receptive to training.

When Should You Leave The Dog Park?

You should always have a Plan B in case you have to leave early.

Even if your dog is the most sociable pup ever, you may encounter a doggy bully with an inattentive owner. Or, your dog may just be overwhelmed, or have a “bad day.”

Watch closely to determine if two dogs are playing or fighting.

Do they have loose, happy body language? Is one dog chasing relentlessly while their victim tries to get away?

Even during healthy, happy play, you should occasionally call your dog over so they can “cool off.” If they’re having fun, they’ll run right back over for more.

How Long Should You Stay At The Dog Park - And What To Do Once You Get There

Lindsay Pevny
Lindsay Pevny lives to help pet parents make the very best choices for their pets by providing actionable, science-based training and care tips and insightful pet product reviews.

She also uses her pet copywriting business to make sure the best pet products and services get found online through catchy copy and fun, informative blog posts. She also provides product description writing services for ecommerce companies.

As a dog mom to Matilda and Cow, she spends most of her days taking long walks and practicing new tricks, and most nights trying to make the best of a very modest portion of her bed.

You'll also find her baking bread and making homemade pizza, laughing, painting and shopping.