Your Dog Park Questions Answered

Here in Santa Barbara, the weather is getting a bit more favorable for outdoor adventuring with our pups. Maybe you’re even considering harnessing some springtime fun at a local dog park. Inquisitive pet parents sometimes grapple with this idea, wondering, “Do all dogs like dog parks? Are dog parks safe? Are there alternatives for outdoor exercising and socializing?” All great questions! So, let’s dig in!

Do All Dogs Enjoy Dog Parks?

Will a trip to the dog park be enriching for your dog? It depends. For starters, you’ll want to assess if your dog enjoys this style of activity. In my observations as a professional trainer, I would venture to theorize that not all dogs enjoy going to the dog park. Each dog is an individual sentient being with specific likes and dislikes. Not all inquisitive canines are social butterflies who make friends easily and enjoy playing with other dogs.

For those whose dogs might display aggressive, bullying, or downright “I don’t like other dogs” behaviors, taking your dog to a dog park to ‘rehab’ them is not a good option. Working with a veterinary behaviorist and a humane, force-free certified professional trainer are best initial options for helping dogs of this nature.

It’s also important to take health into consideration. If your pet is not feeling well, either acutely or with a chronic condition, dog parks might not be the best choice. If in doubt, consult with your veterinarian.

Consider the age of your dog as well. Younger dogs with little to no experience of being in a dog park environment might become overwhelmed and even scared, possibly leading to a negative stress response, and them not wanting to return to the park. “Middle-aged” and older dogs might have outgrown their ‘rough and tumble’ play years and would prefer an alternate form of play and socializing (more on that below). However, as mentioned, each dog is an individual, so it’s best to observe for signs of stress, or signs of happy consent, and go with what your pal prefers at the time.

It Helps to Be Inquisitive!

Like assessing any new environment, especially when it’s on behalf of someone else — or your dog — it’s ideal to investigate dog-centric locations on your own first. Check ‘em out and see what they’re all about. Chat with attendees and ask their opinions about the park.

Is a membership is required? Are there separate areas for small and large dogs? Is the park specifically designated for dogs only? Or are pets relegated to a section of a larger public park where there are lots of other human-centric activities going on at the same time? Are there posted signs and rules? If so, are the humans playing by the rules?

And, what are the dogs doing? Look for pro-social play behavior, being mindful of appropriate play and communication. Are dogs displaying natural body language to one another? Are messages being sent clearly? And are the recipients of such messages listening? Most importantly, does the park appear to be a place you and your dog would want to spend time?

Dog Park ‘Petiquette’

If you do decide to adventure out to a dog park with your pup, it’s a good idea to know and follow some basic petiquette, such as the guidance offered in this article from the Sacramento SPCA.

Consider your dog’s ‘good manners’ as well. Walking nicely to the park, checking in with you, coming when called, and being asked to leave something alone can make these outings a lot more enjoyable for everyone.

Also, keep in mind that it might be overwhelming for dogs to be introduced to a busy dog park that’s like a playground at recess. All of the other dogs might be familiar with one another and then the ‘new kid’ shows up and gets swarmed. This experience can be scary.

Watching your own dog’s body language is key. Are they pulling towards the park area so they can play with their friends? Or the opposite, hightailing it in the other direction? Your dog will let you know, so be sure to keep the lines of communication open.

Alternatives to Dog Parks

If your inquisitive canine is sending a clear message that they’d prefer a different outing to a dog park, please honor their request. No one likes to be forced into doing something they’re uncomfortable with. For alternative outings and adventures, it all comes down to resources and what your inquisitive canine might find enjoyable.

Starting out with a structured, force-free dog training class might be a good stepping stone for introducing your dog to socializing with other dogs. Activities such as walking and jogging along sidewalks, paths, or a greenbelt can be worthwhile options as well. Dog social play or walking groups might be available in your area. Maybe reach out to friends with dogs who would be a good match for your own. You can even look for local canine-specific dog sport classes and groups such as K9 Nose Work®, tracking, herding, dock diving, agility, canine freestyle, and more! (Google can be your friend to find such opportunities.) Bonus: Many group activities and classes not only provide some dog-dog social time, but also a fun chance for pet parents to meet up too.

Here’s to Marching into adventure with your inquisitive canine!

The Inquisitive Canine was founded by Santa Barbara certified canine behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer Joan Hunter Mayer. Joan and her team are devoted to offering humane, pawsitive, practical solutions that work for the challenges dogs and their humans face in everyday life. Joan offers coaching both in-person and online. If you are feeling inquisitive and have dog training questions, we invite you to contact The Inquisitive Canine for A Pawsitive Approach for Positive Results ™.


Written by Joan the Dog Coach

Joan Hunter Mayer is a certified canine behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer who founded "The Inquisitive Canine." More information can be found at

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