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San Diego Humane Society

Dog Parks: To Go or Not to Go

Dog parks can be great places for your dog. They provide a safe space where your companion can play with other dogs, get exercise off leash and socialize with other dogs and people. 

Dog parks can also be dangerous for your dog. Most parks post guidelines requiring dogs to be vaccinated and friendly, but not every dog owner follows the rules. As a result, dogs who frequent parks run the risk of being exposed to disease, and they may be on the receiving end of rough treatment from other dogs.

You are probably weighing whether it’s a good idea to take your dog to the park. Keep in mind that dog parks are a wonderful outlet for high-energy dogs who need to run, and they can be a great place to work on training with distractions and to build your bond.

However, it’s also important to remember that if you would like to enjoy the benefits of the park, you must pay attention to and spend time with your dog while there. Don’t expect to be on your phone or socialize while your dog runs around. You need to know where your pup is and what he is doing at all times to ensure everyone is staying safe.


If you think your companion is a good fit for the dog park, follow these tips to ensure a pleasant experience: 

Take It Slow in the Threshold Area

Most parks have a double-gated area where you can take off your dog’s leash before entering. This is an important step, as walking into the park with your dog on-leash can create problems and make your dog feel confined. Your dog’s body is going forward when pulling on leash, which may tell the other dogs that he is a challenge – even when he doesn’t intend to be. Keeping your dog on leash is also putting him and other dogs at potential risk, as he will have no way to get away and may feel like he has to defend himself.

Avoid The Rush

It’s not uncommon for other dogs to rush the gate to greet you. It may seem friendly, but again, your dog may be overwhelmed and feel the need to defend himself. You can avoid any potential problems by simply staying in the double-gated area until most or all of the dogs have left. You may have to wait for a little while, but it’s worth the effort to keep your dog safe. If you are already inside the park and your dog is gathering at the gate as new dogs arrive, call him to you or go get him to avoid any canine miscommunication.

Pay Attention to Your Dog 

It’s important to take note of what your furry friend is saying with his body language and behavior. Dog parks can be a lot of fun for some dogs, while others might feel too anxious or overwhelmed to enjoy the experience. There is a chance that your dog won’t be appropriate for the park or that he won’t enjoy socializing with other dogs.      

  • Is your dog afraid of other dogs? Your dog will let you know if the park is too overwhelming for him, so pay attention! A tucked tail and ears that go back are telltale signs that your dog is uncomfortable. Additionally, the park probably isn’t a fun place for your dog if he is constantly defending himself from the other dogs. You may need to accept that he would be happier taking a long walk or run, playing fetch or learning some new tricks.
  • Is your dog being a bully? It’s also important to pay attention to how other dogs are reacting to your pup. Dogs are master communicators and will make it clear if they are uncomfortable or fearful. A dog who behaves appropriately will respect that another dog is uncomfortable and leave him alone or back off. If your dog does not ease up, remove him from the situation or consider leaving the park.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether it’s a good idea to take your dog to the park. If you do choose to visit your local dog park, everyone will have a more pleasant experience if you understand the benefits and potential problems and listen to what your dog is telling you.

Behavior Helpline: Contact our Behavior Team

For behavior questions, please contact our Behavior Helpline either by calling 619-299-7012, ext. 2244, emailing or filling out our Ask a Trainer form. San Diego Humane Society Adopters can fill out the Post Adoption Consultation form to schedule their troubleshooting session. We aim to respond within 7 days, but responses may take up to 2 weeks. Thank you for your patience!

Note: Due to the potential for serious injury, canine and feline aggression are best handled by a professional who specializes in aggressive behaviors. Because phone or email counseling is inadequate for addressing serious behavior concerns, we ask that you contact a qualified professional for help. Please refer to the list of behavior resources here.

Questions About Public Classes

San Diego Humane Society offers training classes and resources to address a variety of needs for companion animals.

Our training philosophy is based on the behavioral science concepts of positive reinforcement. Training your pet using these concepts will not only help them learn new behaviors more quickly, it will also strengthen the bond you share.

Our website includes a current schedule of training classes or call 619-279-5961. 

View Training Classes   Gift a Training Class


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