You and Rover are heading out on the road. And while you know your pup loves being in your camper, there are times when he needs to stretch his legs and run like the wind. The solution is to visit a dog park. But how do you find one and feel confident that it’s a safe place for you and your canine companion?
Knowing if your pup is park-ready
Keep in mind that not all dogs are dog-park-ready. They should be trained to follow basic commands and used to socializing with other dogs, recommends Companion Protect. If your dog is just a young puppy, he might not have a fully developed immune system, making him more susceptible to diseases, ticks, and fleas.
Consider your dog’s personality. Is he too shy, very aggressive, overly defensive, or bold? In any of those cases, skip the park and take him on a walk or a run to get his exercise, says the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. Finally, if your dog has special needs or doesn’t do well in a crowded, noisy environment surrounded by other four-legged inhabitants, a dog park might be more stressful than safe.
Needless to say, whatever its age, your dog should be current on all the vaccinations and preventatives that your veterinarian recommends before you set out on your journey. Have the information ready since some dog park owners may ask to see it before allowing you access.
Finally, ensure your pet has proper and current identification — preferably a tag and a microchip.
Choosing the right dog park for your pup
You’re confident that your pup is ready for the park. But how do you know if the park is a safe environment? Here are some tips on evaluating a dog park from The Spruce Pets, AKC, Just Right Pet Food, and Pet-How.
Does it have separate areas for small and large dogs? This can be especially important if your canine companion is of diminutive size. It also puts your pet in with others the same size, potentially making them more compatible playmates.
No designated areas for the little ones? Just Right Pet Food recommends bringing your pup to the dog park during non-peak areas when it will be calmer and quieter. It also allows your dog to sniff each tree trunk and grass patch to its heart’s content without worrying about encroaching on another pup’s territory.
What is the condition of the dog park? If the fencing is inadequate or missing in areas, if the ground is covered in pet poop or trash, or if it’s overly crowded, you should probably give it a pass for your safety and your pup. A double-gate system is the preferential, notes Better Cities for Pets.
What reviews has the park received? Check online for positive and negative comments about the park. While it’s not foolproof, it may give you some insights into what to look for when you arrive. This might also be a way to learn if your dog’s breed won’t be welcome at that park since some dog parks have implemented breed-specific restrictions, according to Pet-How.
It’s not just the park that should be evaluated. The weather also plays a role in whether the visit will be a positive experience or a bad one, says AKC Pet Insurance. High temps and humidity can lead to heat stroke, while a rainy day will leave your pet a muddy mess in need of a bath.
Following Dog-Park Etiquette
It’s not just the pups that must follow the rules at a dog park. Owners must also know the guidelines and basic park do’s and don’ts. The following list is compiled from PetFriendlyTravel.com, The Spruce Pets, Just Right Pet Food, Association of Professional Dog Trainers, AKC, and Companion Protect.
- Know the rules at the dog park and follow them.
- Keep your dog leashed until you both are in the fenced-in area.
- Leave the pet toys and pet treats at home. A dog park isn’t the place to try to teach your pet to share.
- Supervise your pet at all times and be ready to intervene if necessary if your dog is being bullied or is the one being aggressive. (No, you shouldn’t let them work it out on their own.)
- Never bring a female dog in heat to a dog park. (No explanation necessary!) If your male pup isn’t neutered, he might be overly aggressive when the “ladies” are around.
- Know how to break up a dog fight safely. Not sure? Ask your vet to demonstrate the proper technique. You can also use an air horn since the loud noise may startle battling pups enough to let go of each other. Go to Preventive Pet for a free printable flyer of the steps for breaking up a dog fight.
- Bring water and a water bowl for your dog as well as clean-up (aka poop) bags. If your dog does his business, clean it up ASAP and discard it in the appropriate receptacle.
- If your dog is sick, skip the park. It’s not fair to the other pups or their owners, and it’s certainly not in the best interest of your own pet if he’s not feeling well.
- Pay attention to your pet. This isn’t the best time to check your messages or chat with other pet owners. Watch your pet’s body language and be ready to step in if warranted.
- Follow the one-pet/one-owner rule. It can be challenging, if not impossible, to monitor more than one dog plus watch the other pups that are in the dog park.
- Know when to go. A visit to a dog park shouldn’t be several hours long. A half-hour to an hour is enough for your dog to play with others. Sometimes he might make it clear he’s had enough by staying at your side or waiting by the gate.
Finding a Dog Park
A good starting place is LawnStarter’s study of 2023’s Best Dog Park Cities. The report ranked the 200 biggest U.S. cities on climate and access to and quality of dog parks. (Note: Boise, ID, was the “top dog” with the best access to pooch-friendly green space, while Toledo, OH, had the highest average consumer rating across all its dog parks.) Check the list for a high-ranking city near your travels.
Then check out the following sites for ratings and reviews.
Peanuts or Pretzels — Top Dog Parks In The USA (Including Hana’s Faves)! has a round-up of 37 of the best dog parks in the U.S., with descriptions and links.
Bring Fido — Top Off-Leash Dog Parks Worldwide has a searchable list of dog parks. Put in your city and state, and the site returns a list of parks and their “bone” rating. (Five bones are the best!) It includes reviews from guests and TripAdvisor Traveler and details of the pooch-friendly amenities.
Another option is KampK9, available at a KOA Journey, Holiday, or Resort location. You’ll find dog-friendly, fenced areas for off-leash romping, complete with cleanup stations and fresh water.