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7 Tips for the Dog Park (No.1, Stay Off the Phone)

by Borderstan.com April 12, 2011 at 9:00 am 1,302 8 Comments

Borderstan, DC Dog Parks, Luis Gomez Photos, Shaw Dog Park

The Shaw Dog Park is one of three in the area. It has an area for larger dogs as well as a space for small dogs. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Editor’s note: Borderstan welcomes Tori Tyree back with her weekly column on you and your pets. She is the owner of Walk of the Town, a dog walking and pet sitting company. Tyree has been working with animals most of her life — caring for them in animal hospitals, training dogs, volunteering at zoos and the Washington Humane Society, and counseling customers about pet nutrition.

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From Tori Tyree

The dog park can really be a wonderful place to bring your dog so she can run around and socialize with other dogs and people. However, going to the dog park (local parks listed at bottom) is not a free pass for owners. You should never think of it as a chance to eat lunch or talk on the phone.

In other words, you must be alert and engaged for the sake of your dog — and the other dogs and people in the park. Here are seven dog park tips to remember so that every dog stays safe, including yours.

Forget the Phone. The majority of the problems I see at the park are the result of owners who are completely disengaged from their animal. This is a big no-no. You shouldn’t do it, and if you see a lot of other people doing it, it should be a signal to skip the park that day.

Know Your Dog. Is your dog the dog that gets ganged up on when she goes through the gate? Or is she the one that gangs up on the shy dog? Does she sometimes get territorial about toys? Is she outgoing or would she prefer to hang out with you? Knowing these important signals will help you determine if the dog park pack she is about to encounter is the right fit for her temperament. Always remember that dogs together are a pack and they will take on pack behavior when interacting. Your dog is not your child!

Scan the Scene. Are there only big dogs running full speed but you have a dachshund? Are owners paying attention? Is there a tennis ball that your dog is going to be convinced is only for her? Is it calm or hectic? Remember: it’s okay if your dog isn’t perfect in every situation, you just have to recognize the potential situations. So you’ve determined the scene is a good fit for your dog… now what?

The Gate. Dog parks generally have two gates at the entrance, an outer and an inner gate. Once you are inside the entry area between the two closed gates and, take your dog’s leash off. You then have two responsibilities. The first is to make the inner gate wide open so she doesn’t feel cornered. Dogs love to greet here and it may be too much too quickly. Make the space for her to get inside without be surrounded or trapped by other dogs already in the park. Your second responsibility is to clear the gate quickly — get your dog in the park quickly so she can run away and play. Hesitation from you or your dog will cause other dogs to sense anxiety, which is the worst thing that can happen. Be confident and things will run a lot more smoothly for your dog.

Watch All the Dogs. I often look for dogs whose bodies become still and rigid, or there’s intense eye contact from the dogs. This is usually a tense situation and it may mean that a dog feels threatened and may want to fight another dog. I try to combat these situations with silly noises. For example, think of a rapid kissing sound — don’t laugh it works. Usually this distracts a dog and she will go do something else; what was once a tense moment is almost instantly forgotten.

Don’t Create a Problem. The other day I saw a man pick up his dog off all four legs and spin him around in the air. The other dogs came running over and were jumping in the air to get to him. Essentially this man just made his dog “prey” and caused every other dog to become frantic. His dog may love this game at home, but it is not appropriate for the park!

Be Prepared to Leave. Sometimes everything is going great, but then a new dog comes in and changes the dynamic. Or maybe your dog is what changed the dynamic. Don’t take it personally — it just wasn’t the right mix. Leave before a situation becomes dangerous! Remember: you can always come back another time.

Local Dog Parks

There are three public D.C. dog parks close to home in the Dupont-Logan-U Street area.

  • loganboydc

    It would appear that feeling guilty about the dog park should be on your list of things to do. Amazing. I woke up yesterday morning and read this stuff from Fully Loaded Brown’s dad and just wanted to go back to bed.


  • perochico

    Tori, I like your columns. They are very practical. I am hoping that those people who go to the 17th Street dog park will read this one. I never take my dogs there. For some reason, it is full of people doing all the stuff you just told people not to do at a dog park. I walk by there every morning on the way to work and in the evenings and it seems that the limit on the number of dogs is never enforced.

  • Tori

    Thanks for the feedback, I do appreciate it! I understand that not everyone spends as much time with animals as I do, so a lot of people never learned some of the things I have. I do hope people can take something from what I write about and apply it to their own life.

  • claire

    I really like this article, too, Tori. Thanks! The information is excellent and I wish every dog owner in the city reads, and takes to heart, this information.

    perochico, I agree that many of the users of the 17th Street dog park don’t follow any of Tori’s suggestions and that the park is almost always overcrowded before and after work. It’s also almost always overcrowded on the weekends. I don’t take my dogs there except during the middle of a weekday – and then, only rarely. However, I wonder how you would go about “enforcing” the number of dogs allowed in the 17th Street park. Since the rules are plainly posted it is assumed that people will behave as adults and self-monitor. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen.

    Unless there are full time monitors at the 17th Street dog park overcrowding will continue to be the case. Because, who’s willing to stand outside the gates every morning, evening, and weekend to tell people they can’t come in due to capacity? Who’s willing be there every morning, evening, and weekend to tell the people inside the park that they’ve been there long enough and have to leave because others want to come in? Who’d do this full time for free (it would have to be volunteer), and face all the arguments and attitude and anger? The answer is no one.

    So, overcrowding will continue at the 17th Street park because the users of the park feel like the rules are “stupid” or don’t apply to them. I know this is the case because I’ve tried to address people in the park on this very issue myself and have been told so — and not politely in many cases. The most common response is “This is a public park. No one can tell me I can’t be here.”

    I’d love to think that people will suddenly start to behave like actual adults but I’ve stopped expecting that to be the case. That may sound cynical, but at least I’m not disappointed and frustrated anymore. Sorry, here endeth the rant!

    Anyway…thanks again, Tori, for a great article. Keep them coming!

  • Robbin May

    Tori-excellent suggestions! I know you have been raised around animals all your life, as have I. Your suggestions seem to be common sense, but not all folks have the advantage of living with four-legged friends, and don’t know these things. Your suggestions will help people understand what seems to be second nature to us. Good job!!

  • barbar

    Uh oh. It wasn’t this guy was it?


    Great advice for dog owners. I think it’s not often emphasized that if it’s not a safe or comfortable situation for your dog, the owner has a responsibility to remove his/her dog.

    Oddly, though, one of the reasons I don’t like the 17th Street dog park is the owners seem too involved with their dogs and very tense, standing right where the dogs are playing.

    • Tori

      wow! No, it was not that dog, but there’s proof that nobody seems uncomfortable with that game inside a dog park : (

  • Mandy

    The majority of “todays” dog owners are without question totally disengaged from the mere existance of their pet that THEY brought into their lives.The dog had no say so in choosing it’s owner, if it had it certainly would have chosen an owner that didn’t ignore it on daily walks or plays at the dog park because it’s owner’s crackberry and Facebook friends are more important than their 4-legged property that was stopped up in a pint sized apartment for 8 hours without their ONLY friend while their owner…crackberried and networked all day at work. I’ve seen the most split second disturbing scenes begin and end at the Shaw Dog Park without the owner even noticing. Space in a dog park is not reserved for me and my dog. It’s a community space where no reservations are accepted and all (within limits) are welcome. Play nice, play well and accept the responsibility that you elected to undertake when you added Fido to your network.
    Just as many have elected to be disengaged from the children they are rearing (mommy and daddy are on the phone, raise yourself) unfortunatly pets have been pushed to the side as well.
    People aren’t playing well with each other in real time anymore. Do we really expect that their pets will?
    Until I find the answer I will continue to do weekly walks to the dog park in hopes that this day everyone will be on the same page, if not (rubbs Fido’s head) we’ll come back tommorrow and maybe it wont be full of IPhones.
    You’re all your pet has.


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