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Dog Parks: Essential Tips

Updated: May 8, 2023

How to ensure an enjoyable, fun & safe time at the off-leash dog park with your furry friends

Dog Parks. Pet owners either love them, or would rather go anywhere else imaginable. With the weather beginning to warm up, the dog parks continue to become busier which means more chance for potential issues for you and your pup.

Here are some tips to ensure you and your dog can enjoy your time at the dog park:

1: Do not bring in food.

It’s that simple, no food- human or dog. For some dogs, food can be a trigger for aggressive behaviour that can end in the fight no one wants to see. Don’t go to Starbucks on your walk and get the fetta and egg white omelette to enjoy during your time in the dog park. Why put your dog, and potentially others, into a situation that could be easily avoidable by taking a few minutes to curb your appetite? Tie your dog up outside Starbucks to a solid, unmovable, object and eat to your heart’s desire. Your clothes most likely cost you hard earned money and I am sure you like them enough to not want dogs at the neighbourhood dog park to be jumping up on you to get a nibble of your sandwich.

“But I feed my dogs treats when we’re in the park.” Fine, while I am not going to speak about that statement from a dog training standpoint, I want you to take a moment and think hypothetically about something. You drive to the pet store. Pick out your pup’s favourite treats as your dog stares at you with their adorable eyes- she’s so excited to get the snack. Go up to the till, pay anywhere from $5-$20 for the treats and drive home. Now, it’s time for the dog park, you dump a bunch of treats in your pocket and start walking.

The off leash dog park is packed with dogs. You give your dog some of the treats and another dog gets the smell. The dog sprints over and you think, “it’s only one dog, I can spare a treat.” Then, more and more dogs come over. Maybe some aggressive behaviours come out. By the time you’re finished, you have the entire park of dogs pushing at you to get a treat that you are now out of. You go to the dog park three times a week and each time this happens. Your dog really didn’t get any of the item you paid your money for.

Leave the food at home. It has no reason to be at the dog park.

dog park near me
Two dog owners stroll through an off leash dog park in Vancouver with their two dogs.

2: Do not stay stationary.

My favourite thing to do at the dog park is to watch the other people there. If you have never watched people at the dog park- I want you to pay special attention the next time you go. Most of the people will stand in one place and either watch their dog, or have short conversations with others. Maybe your dog will go and play, but if your dog is selective to other dogs or like mine who doesn’t want to leave my side, the walk to the dog park seems like sort of a waste.

When I started moving around in the dog park she would follow, but I soon noticed she would interact even more with the other furry friends. Almost saying, “I trust you are not bringing me into a situation that is potentially harmful because you are moving freely within.” If you stay in the same spot every time you come to the dog park, some dogs can get territorial of other dogs coming into “their area.” Make use of the whole dog park- physically play with your dog. It wants to be chased and run after you. It’s one thing to just go and throw the ball for them, than actually engaging with them in a way that can grow your bond.

3: Don’t bring the ball every time.

I would like to point out when I say “the ball” I am not referring to tennis balls. Throw them out, rid them from your dog’s toy box, tell every dog friend you have. “Tennis balls are wrapped with a felt that is as abrasive as a nail file, and over time, a dog’s teeth will fall victim to the wear and tear they inflict. Labs, Golden retrievers, Dobermans, Blue Heeler, Jack Russell, Border Collies and other breeds are all falling victim to premature wear and tear on their teeth. To avoid adding to this problem, never introduce tennis balls to your dog.” (Page 35, Synergy in Training Between Man and Dog book by Brad Pattison)

When I go to the park with Indigo, she loves playing fetch with her rubber Chuckit! balls. Anything that she can run and catch has her seal of approval. However, just like the food, fights can also happen over dog toys. If you know your dog doesn’t like to share, maybe best to leave the ball at home. You want to have your dog socializing at the park with other dogs- not fixated on catching a ball.

Indigo, Lex Bargen's dog enjoys some play time at an off-leash dog park in Vancouver.
Indigo, Lex Bargen's dog enjoys some play time at an off-leash dog park in Vancouver.

While mostly everyone at the dog park I go to in Willington Heights is friendly when it comes to the dog toys, I have heard my fair share of owners not so enthused. Dogs are animals, they want to play. If they see something they want, don’t be surprised when they go after it. If you have specific dog toys that you know your dog loves, just don’t bring it to the dog park. Have the consistent assumption that there will be dogs that want to steal it, and it could be potentially difficult in some cases to get it back. Do not yell at the owners to try and get your ball back, it’s a dog park, let the dogs play.

4: Try different dog parks.

Variety is key with consistent enjoyment. Yes, you may have a favourite restaurant that you love to go to on Saturday, but does that mean every other restaurant isn’t worth trying? Dog parks are the same. You need to allow your dog the opportunity to get different smells, meet other dogs, and experience different atmospheres. My dog has met some of her best friends from dog parks that are not in our consistent rotation. Some dog parks may have some obstacles for your pup to play on and learn such as stumps, tunnels, or logs.

A puppy climbs over a log in an off leash dog trail to build confidence & strength and to keep the dog walk interesting in Vancouver, B.C.
A puppy climbs over a log in an off leash dog trail to build confidence & strength and to keep the dog walk interesting in Vancouver, B.C.

Two dogs running around and playing at an off leash dog park near me
Two dogs running around and playing at an off leash dog park.

Some great dog parks that I recommend are:

Willingdon Heights Dog Park - In the past year, this off leash dog park has been fenced and provides some gravel area and benches for you and your pup. Be careful after it rains though, this dog park can get a bit muddy.

Taylor Park - This dog park has lots of space to run around and obstacles such as tires, statues, boulders, and logs.

Barnet Marine Park - This is a great dog park that has areas to swim for your dog, sitting areas and washrooms. Starting May 1st they do have on-leash hours as follows:

· Weekday mornings dawn to 10am

  • Weekday evenings 6pm to dusk

  • Weekend mornings dawn to 10am

  • Statutory holidays are equivalent to weekend schedule.

dog park near me
Rudy, a Schnoodle and Rocky, an Australian Shepherd, enjoy some swimming playtime at an off leash dog park.

A final note I would like to add on dog parks: leave if you don’t feel comfortable. You have your dog’s best interests at heart and if you don’t like the gut feeling you’re getting during your time at the dog park, leash up your pup and head on your way. Just remember, growling isn’t always aggressive and is also a form of communication between dogs but that is for another posting.

About the Author

Lexie Bargen is alumni of the Hustle Up Dog Trainer Course and a Certified Dog Trainer Educator (CTE) in Vancouver, B.C.

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