Perfecting your Park Etiquette


Is your pooch a well-mannered park-goer or are you that dreaded owner the other dog walkers avoid? Make sure that you stick to the unwritten rules of public parks by teaching your best friend how to behave around other dogs, puppies, children and adults. It could save you from some very nasty situations.

Finding the right park

If you want your dog or puppy to enjoy the park, the first thing you need to do is choose the right one. The ideal park:

  • Is fully enclosed
  • Has no access for any type of motor vehicle
  • Is a park that other dogs frequent

The dos and don’ts

Some of the best parks offer free ‘poo packets’ and ‘poo bins’ to make cleaning up after your dog as easy as possible, and a drinking fountain or two so that you don’t have to carry a water bottle and bowl with you.

Many dog-friendly parks have a children’s play area and you should be aware of toddlers, children on bicycles, runners and other people enjoying a sunny day in the park.

The basic rules of a shared dog walking area include:

  • ALWAYS pick up after your dog.
  • Make sure that your dog has a collar with his name and your contact details.
  • Carry a lead with you, even if your dog listens to voice commands.


“If the park rules include keeping your pet on lead, adhere to the rules,” says Karin Pienaar, co-founder of Thinking Pets and qualified ethologist. “There may be others using the park because it’s an ON LEAD park, whose dogs may not appreciate off-lead dogs charging up to them. Sometimes dogs lose their sociability because of a scary incident at a dog park and they deserve the right to be walked in a nice place. Stick to the rules and watch other dog owners. If their dog is on lead, keep yours away or put your dog back on lead until they are gone.”

Do not take your dog to a shared park if:

  • She is an intact female on heat.
  • Your dog has bitten a child or another dog.
  • Your dog is a puppy who has not yet had all three rounds of his early vaccinations.
  • Your dog has shown any aggression towards humans.
  • Your dog does not listen to you.
  • Your dog is sick or injured.

Pienaar advises that if your dog displays a behavioural problem, it is a good idea to contact an animal behaviourist and get some advice on how to curb bad habits. Once your dog is listening to you, you should be able to enjoy the park together.



When it comes to socialising and play, it is important that you monitor your dog at all times. It’s best then to leave your book or newspaper at home and bring your iPod instead (with the volume low of course) to entertain yourself while you walk, while watching your dog the whole time.


These guidelines will assist you in managing your pet’s behaviour towards other dogs:

  • If your dog is a puppy, a smaller dog or a nervous animal, follow him closely (while allowing his independence) and monitor how he socialises with other animals. Does he approach them carefully, lick their noses, allow them to sniff him and give the appropriate social signals?
  • If your dog is boisterous, aggressive or large, he MUST learn to respond to you. If he intimidates other people, children or dogs, you should keep him on a lead or distract him by throwing a ball for him.
    • “Many dogs may appear social but their social skills are appalling in dog language. Charging straight up to an unfamiliar dog and pouncing on him is considered extremely threatening. The correct way to approach is slowly, signalling your intentions without forcing the other dog into a tight spot. If your dog is a social hooligan, train him how to say hello appropriately,” says Pienaar.
    • If your dog has been known to bite or snap, you should consider a muzzle. A lead may be enough for a smaller dog, but a large, strong breed may be safer if muzzled.

If your dog is not a danger to other animals, here are some basic principles to follow:

  • DO NOT pick your dog up. If a larger dog intimidates yours, walk away and call your dog to follow you. “Do not stand still and force your dog into a situation he is uncomfortable with,” says Pienaar.
  • DO NOT baby your dog. Allow your pet the freedom to run and play unhindered and only interfere if he engages in rough play or becomes reactive.
  • “DO NOT let your dog behave inappropriately with other dogs or gang up on smaller or timid dogs,” says Pienaar.
  • “DO NOT let them run around playing like loons if there are elderly people or small children nearby, as they could knock them off their feet and injure them,” says Pienaar.


Common questions:

Q: What should you do if your dog becomes too boisterous around a young or nervous dog, or around a child, or if he engages in rough play?
A: The answer is simple: remove him from the situation. Clip on his lead and distract him by taking him to the other end of the park.

Q: How do you train your dog to come to you when you call?
A: This is extremely important, especially if you are letting your dog off his leash. Your dog could hurt other dogs or people, or he could get hurt by another animal, or escape the park and run into traffic. Carry a small, easily accessible and easy-to-open container of treats with you. Make sure that when you shake it, it makes a rattling noise. Let your dog smell it when you get to the park and shake it so he knows what the noise is. Practice calling him to you and reward him with a treat after he runs to you and sits.

“Don’t just call your dog to you to put his leash on and then go home,” says Pienaar. “He’ll quickly learn that ‘come’ means the end of his fun. Start by keeping him on a long leash. Call him back to you frequently, and reward with a treat before letting him go off on the long lead again. If he doesn’t come when you call, just start reeling him in gently and praise him when he does get to you.”

Q: How do you stop your dog from rolling in or eating other dog’s faeces?
A: “Teach him the ‘leave’ command,” says Pienaar. “When he shows interest in faeces, say ‘leave’ and distract him and remember to reward him when he complies.” If your dog seems to particularly like faeces, keep him on a lead.

Quick tips

  1. Dog parks are muddy, dirty places. Keep a pair of old boots or gumboots and an old jacket in the back of your car (or near the door if you walk to the park) so that you are always park-ready.
  2. Carry treats, ‘poo packets’, a leash and water with you every time you visit the park.
  3. Get a small bag that hangs on your hip so that your treats are easily accessible.
  4. Keep an old towel or blanket in your car to prevent your seats getting full of park mud.
  5. If there is a water source at the park, make sure it is clean before you let your dog use it. This is a very common way for dogs to pick up bacteria.
  6. Treat your dog for ticks, fleas and worms regularly and check him for ticks, fleas and grass seeds after a visit to the park.
  7. Make sure your dog’s vaccinations are up to date.
  8. Make friends with other park-goers! Dog-people are definitely the best people.

Text: Peta Daniel
Photography: Johann Theron

A dog park or beach is a wonderful place to let your hound loose to run, play, socialise and enjoy the smells. Your dog will learn some very important lessons in the park, provided you initiate the right sort of behaviour.


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