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April 28, 2023

Introducing Your Dog to the Dog Park

Golden Retriever dog in harness

Dog parks: you’ve probably heard of them. They’re places where you can take your dog, or dogs, for a bit of off-leash exercise and socialization. You might have a fenced, unfenced, or even both in your community. Regardless of where you choose to bring your pup for their first dog park visit, there are a couple things to keep in mind. 

Before You Go to a Dog Park... 

There are at least two things that you should do: 

  1. Dog parks are filled with dogs, some vaccinated some not. To protect your pet & others from unwanted illnesses, make sure your pup is up to date on their vaccinations, especially young puppies. Better safe than sorry. 

  2. Whether you’re in a fenced or unfenced park it’s always a good idea for you pets to have recall training: they come when they’re called. This will keep your pup safe and give you peace of mind no matter where you are. 

Planning Ahead 

If your pup hasn’t had much experience with other dogs, introducing them one-on-one in a safe, neutral environment can help them learn to socialize in a gentle way. 

Two dogs sitting in front of fireplace

Timing Is Everything

Imagine trying to make 100 new friends today - Feeling overwhelmed? I know I am. This is how your pup can feel during their first park visit. That’s why we recommend doing your first visit outside of peak hours. This gives your pup a chance to get the lay of the land while also making some new friends along the way. 

Your First Dog Park Visit

Try to ensure that your dog gets some exercise prior to going into the dog park, especially for the first time. This will help to prevent over-excitement, which may lead to them bounding over other dogs and having poor manners, which can lead to some doggy disagreements. Rather than driving to the dog park, walking there should be enough to calm your pup if the park is within reasonable distance.

When you go to a fenced dog park for the very first time it’s a good idea to walk the outside perimeter of the fence if possible. This will allow you and your dog to get to know the area.
Shirley Culpin with her two dogs
Shirley CulpinDog Owner, Sitter + Trainer

You will both be able to watch the activities inside the park and get a feel for what dogs and doggie parents are there. If it appears that there is any sort of canine bullying going on it is best to plan to come another time so that your pup will enjoy a happy introduction to this new experience. 

Many dog parks will have separate fenced areas for large dogs and small dogs. If you have a young puppy you may want to consider introducing them to the small dog side first. Although your pup may eventually get big enough to play with the large dogs, it can be an overwhelming experience for a young puppy to be introduced to a lot of large dogs all at once. 

If your dog isn’t reliable on their recall, attach a long line to their collar or harness so that you can retrieve them if you need to. 

Some Important Things to Remember

  • Leave your dog’s toys at home. Many dogs don’t like to share, and bringing toys can cause conflict.
  • Let your dog off leash as soon as they enter the park. Some leashed dogs aren't comfortable being approached by off-leash pups and may feel defensive or overwhelmed. When all dogs are off-leash, they're generally more comfortable.
  • Don’t turn your dog loose and then hang around talking to other dog parents. If you keep moving, your dog will be more likely to keep at least some of their attention on you. This makes them more likely to come when called.
  • Pay close attention to what’s going on while your dog is out playing with their new friends. Sometimes an accidental bump or tumble can evolve into disagreements. You should pay close attention to body language while your pup is out there playing.

Proper socialization is so important for your pup. With planning, a dog park can be a great place for your dog to make friends. Plus, it’s fun. Enjoy your first dog park visit!


Shirley Culpin with her two dogs

Shirley Culpin

Dog Owner, Sitter + Trainer

Shirley has been involved with the purebred dog world for 45 years. Her Irish Setters have won many Best in Show awards, top obedience accolades, and advanced agility titles. She remains active in dog volunteer work and with her dog sitting service.