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PetPourri: Minding Your Mutt’s Manners – Etiquette at the Dog Park

By Ashlee Verba


Dogs and etiquette.  Manners and animals. Sounds almost silly at first. In fact, until you’ve owned a dog, the concept probably never even crossed your mind. But just as manners help children play nice with others, so too do they help dogs and owners socialize and interact famously at the dog park. A doggie wonderland for physical activity, socialization and fun, the dog park can be a blast for both you and your pooch, but when it comes to throwing teeth, claws and tempers together, there is plenty to be mindful of.

The vast majority of dog parks, like public pools, will have a sign spelling out the rules of that specific park. These rules should most certainly be known, respected and abided by; however, simply following the rules won’t ensure the safety or enjoyment of the experience. Understanding and minding mutt manners starts at home with the acknowledgement that etiquette comes from both ends of the leash.

Leveling the Playing Field

Before you even consider taking your pooch to the dog park, having him immunized is a must. It will protect him and any other dog they may have interactions with, not only at the dog park but anywhere. Imagine how furious you’d be if your dog contracted parvo, distemper or influenza because another owner thought it unnecessary to immunize. There’s simply no excuse: ask your vet about diseases specific to your area and vaccinate. 

Spaying and neutering, while a personal choice, is also a large issue among other owners. If you choose not to spay or neuter your pet, just know that dog park purists are a less-than-ideal welcome committee, often ready to greet you and your unfixed pup with disapproving glares. Don’t be surprised if a park peer quietly wanders up to your pet and peeks around to make sure he’s fixed–it’s been known to happen. And, if you don’t reprimand your dog from compulsively seeking out other furry friends to carry out their instincts, well, you might just get reprimanded yourself. While not necessarily aggressive, “mounting” is a gateway into dominance…not to mention your pooch can’t exactly get a good run in with an 80-pound Husky attached to its back. Fixed or not, as long as you maintain control of your pet’s urges, you should be able to dodge the dirty looks.

Know Thy Mutt

When it comes to areas where large groups of dogs congregate, it pays to know your dog and recognize that you don’t know the others. If you know that your little prince gets protective of toys, treats or tennis balls, leave them at home. As an owner, you obviously want your dog to have the most fun possible, but for a dog protective of his things, the idea of strangers around him may yield more stress than anything. Stress may yield aggression, which can get ugly in a heartbeat. Quite simply, if Grover has shown any signs of grouchiness regarding his things, leave them at home and let the socialization be entertainment enough.

Many loving owners enjoy bringing something for all the dogs to enjoy, perhaps a ball or bag of treats. While the intention is good, the result could be very bad. Even if your Precious loves to share, other dogs may put their dominant paw forward and become territorial over the provided extras. Keep your goody bag out of sight (and smelling range) until you’ve seen enough interaction and playtime to know that all the park’s toothy tenants get along amicably. Even so, you should always get permission before giving someone else’s dog anything. If giving your dog a bone in public isn’t an option, go ahead and treat your buddy once you two are alone or far enough away that it won’t cause a small uproar.

To Leash or Unleash the Furry

Dog parks can be big or small, fenced or unenclosed, designated for small dogs or big dogs. Some days it may be crowded while other days you have the whole place to yourselves. It’s your duty to assess the turf and adjust according to your mutt’s quirks and personality. If your dog is still a bit shaky on his come-when-called command, letting him run free in an unfenced dog park should not be an option. Similarly, if aggression or uncontrollable curiosity consumes your pet, don’t be afraid to make a move ensuring your canine sticks close–keep him on a leash. It may seem contrary to the freedom of a dog park, but you know your pet best. Even on-leash, you and your dog can get ample exercise as well as socialization.

Perhaps your dog is playful, but still a little unsure about other dogs in large groups. In that case, make sure the park has a smaller fenced area with fewer dogs and let your buddy run free. Don’t have any expectations for dogs other than your own. Some dogs will play by themselves while others are the catalyst in the mad dash across the park. As an owner all you can do is watch and act appropriately if need be.

Intervene Tactfully

Dog parks are very much like playgrounds: you can turn your head for a minute and suddenly hear yelps or snarls. But unlike dealing with children, dusting off their knees and sending them on their way simply won’t do it. If you notice a particular dog–be it yours or not–asserting dominance, bullying or any other unfavorable behavior, do not hesitate to assess your dog. Reroute his attention to you, another group of dogs or, worst-case scenario, be ready to leave the park. Disciplining someone else’s dog, no matter how out of line it may be, is a huge no-no in dog world. It’s important to understand that, much like with children, people will almost always take their dog’s side, regardless of how wrong they really are.  Having a word with the owner about said behavior is in no way frowned upon, but prepare yourself for what could be an awkward, possibly heated conversation.

Be Responsible

Sure, your dog may be administering a personalized fertilizer in every square inch of the park, but turning a blind eye, distracting yourself with a cell phone, or having a “someone else will get it” attitude will only yield those previously mentioned, most-unfavorable glares. Always have a plastic bag or two on you–not in the car, not over on that bench over there. They should be in-your-pocket, and when duty calls, you should be prepared to walk your dutiful self across the park and clean up after your pet.

It’s also wise to bring water and a bowl with you. It’s amazing just how tired and dehydrated an hour of play can make your pooch. Sharing water in dog parks is common, oftentimes appreciated, and usually doesn’t yield the kind of dominance a food incentive can.

Once you own a dog, it seems as though immunization, keeping an eye out, and reprimanding when necessary should be common sense…but it’s shocking how often these basic facets of etiquette are skirted. Relationships can be made and broken over animal behavior, but if you vow to play well, respect and are courteous to others, a trip to the dog park can be a great experience for you and your pet. Take charge, be prepared and enjoy having a happy, healthy, pooped-out pooch.


Dog Parks ‘Round the Valley


Bark Park at Heritage Park (350 S. Racetrack Rd.)

A favorite among Henderson residents, this 5-acre park features separate dog runs, an agility course, walking trail, dog bone-themed benches and drinking stations for both people and their pets. It will be closed for maintenance Oct. 24-Nov. 23. 

Acacia Park (50 Casa Del Fuego St.)                                                                                                                                                                Gibson Rd. and Las Palmas Entradas Ave.


Amador Vista Park (1562 Amador Ln.)                                                                                                                                                        Amador Ln. and Horizon Ridge Pkwy.

Cactus Wren Park (2900 Ivanpah Dr. at Jessup Rd.)

Dos Escuelas Park (1 Golden View Dr.)

Paseo Verde Pkwy. and Desert Shadow Trail

Equestrian Park South                                                                                                                                                                                    (1200 Equestrian Dr. at Magic Way)

*Closed for maintenance Sept. 19-Oct.20


Esselmont Park (2725 Anthem Highlands Dr.)                                                                                                                              Bicentennial Pkwy. and Democracy Dr.

Paseo Vista Park                                                                                                                                                                                                    (2505 Paseo Verde Pkwy. at St. Rose Pkwy.)

For more information, visit www.cityofhenderson.com.




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