Dog Parks: What You Need to Know

It’s a great benefit to have a dog park in your city like we do here in Fernie! We are lucky to have a variety of trails we can take our dogs to, but the fenced dog park is a bonus, especially for visitors who may not be familiar with or confident on our trails. 

How do you know if any dog park is right for you and your dog?

They are not appropriate places “to socialize” a dog.
They are not for every dog. Many dogs don’t like to be in groups of dogs.
Even if it’s fenced, dogs still need to have some basic training before partaking.

1. Meeting other dogs and learning how to interact appropriately needs to be taught with care. Dog owners should be involved in shaping their dog’s social skills rather than leaving the job to random dogs of unknown skill. Contrary to popular opinion, dogs don’t always “work it out.” We need to help them, and dog parks aren’t the best place to do this. 

Dog parks tend to be small areas with little else for dogs to focus on except other dogs. Encountering multiple dogs all focused on you can be overwhelming and frightening for an unskilled dog, especially a young one.  

If your dog isn’t socially skilled or mature, letting them run free in a dog park could lead to behaviour problems. Your dog could be intimidated or bullied by other dogs or your dog, unsure how to respond, could start acting defensively or bullying other dogs, too.  

2. There are some dogs who are generally poor candidates for a dog park:

fearful or shy
under the age of two
females in heat
easily over-aroused (barkers and
“humpers”)
dog “selective”
resource guarders
fence runners (or jumpers)
prone to barrier frustration like “fence fighting”
any with a bite history (unless appropriately muzzled)

These dogs are likely to be anxious, frustrated, defensive or hyper-vigilant in a dog park. They won’t enjoy the experience and, depending on how they’re managed, they can negatively impact other users’ experiences. 

3. To prepare for dog park adventures, your dog should have a reasonably good recall away from other dogs and people, understand the social skill of polite greetings, and know how to defuse the energy of another dog. Dogs should be able to greet and come away from other dogs quickly without chasing, sniffing for too long (three seconds is plenty!), or physically bombarding another dog without permission.

As the human end of the equation, be aware of what your dog is doing. Frequently call them to you to check-in, leave fetch toys at home and wait for quiet moments to enter and exit.  

Having access to a dog park is a privilege. We need to be responsible for our dog’s behaviour and invest in some training. With a little bit of planning, training, and cooperation all our dog areas can be a safe and fun experience!