A light brown dog runs through a snowy field carrying a tennis ball.

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Basic Dog Park Etiquette

Originally published in May 2021.
Post updated in April 2023.

The upcoming Wolf Willow dog park is one of the most highly anticipated amenities coming to south Calgary. It’s an excellent place for both people and pets to get some exercise and socialization, but in order for the dog park to be a safe and welcoming place, everyone who visits should come prepared with some basic etiquette. While our community dog park isn’t open yet, these tips apply to all dog parks.

Basic Dog Park Etiquette:

  • Make sure your dog has their vaccines.
  • Make sure your dog knows and listens to basic commands.
  • Make sure your dog has a collar with tags.
  • Make sure your leash is always on hand.
  • Make sure you’re always supervising your dog.
  • Don’t bring toys from home.
  • Clean up after your dog.
  • Don’t bring your dog if they are aggressive.

Read on to learn more about each of these points, so you can be confident that you’re contributing to a safe and fun experience whenever you visit a Calgary dog park.

Two black dogs playing in the water.

Make sure your dog has their vaccines

This is a crucial step toward helping your pup make other dog friends along with keeping them healthy throughout their lives. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association has some good information about your dog’s vaccines available online.

Some common core vaccines include Canine Distemper, Infectious Canine Hepatitis, Canine Parvovirus, and Rabies. These vaccines should be updated every three years to be effective. Your vet should remind you whenever your canine friend’s vaccines are due to be updated at your regular health checkups. If you recently added a new puppy to your family, they should not visit a dog park until they are at least 17 weeks old, which is the minimum age to have received all their vaccinations.

A small dog sitting in a field with its tongue hanging out.

Make sure your dog knows and listens to basic commands

Before heading to the dog park, your pup should have a firm grasp on 3 basic commands—sit, stay/wait, and a recall cue. These 3 obedience skills are essential to ensuring your dog has good manners while away from their home environment. A dog park will be filled with many distractions, so keep practicing these 3 skills whether you’re at home or at the park. Tip: keep a little pouch of treats or their favourite kibble on you while training—treats (and praise) are great positive reinforcement tactics!

Make sure your dog has a collar with tags

This one is pretty simple. In an off-leash setting with several acres to run and play, your dog may be excited or frightened and run off. While almost all off-leash parks (including the one coming to Wolf Willow) are fenced in, a collar with updated tags including your name, address, phone number, and your dog’s name, can help other people reunite you with your dog if necessary.

A feminine hand holding a leash.

Make sure your leash is always on hand

Even in an off-leash park, having your leash handy is important. Paired with the essential collar from the previous point, a leash will help you quickly get a handle on your dog if needed. A leash is also important for getting to and from the dog park, since anywhere outside of designated off-leash areas you’ll need to keep your dog leashed.

A golden retriever resting after playing fetch at a dog park.

Make sure you’re always supervising your dog

Part of what makes the dog park safe and fun for everyone is having so many people keep watch over the dogs. It’s very important to always monitor your dog and be ready to redirect and/or interrupt if there is a communication issue between them and another dog.  Even with everyone following all the standard etiquette, dogs’ interactions with one another can be unpredictable, so it’s important to stay vigilant and ready to act in case your dog needs help.

This article by the VCA has some great information on canine communication and body language to help give you the confidence to decipher any potential issues while at the dog park. 

A light, long haired dog smiling at the camera.

Don’t bring toys from home 

While it’s tempting to want to play fetch with your pup’s favourite toy at the dog park, bringing it along can cause more harm than good. If your dog is interrupted by another dog while playing with its toy, it can trigger resource guarding—a reaction dogs exhibit when they feel like their valuables are being threatened while in their possession. It’s better to keep the toys for playing at home! 

Clean up after your dog

Any responsible pet owner is already in the habit of cleaning up after their pup so this one shouldn’t be a challenge—especially with most dog parks including conveniently placed garbage cans for used waste bags. With everyone doing their part to keep the park clean, there should be no need to worry about your pup needing a bath when you get home.

A small dog licking its lips at a dog park.

Don’t bring your dog if they are aggressive or unsocialized

Finally, off-leash dog parks are not for everyone. It’s your responsibility as a pet owner to know how your dog would react to a large, open space filled with dogs and people they’re not familiar with. If you suspect based on past behaviours that they might respond to a surprise or an overly-enthusiastic new friend with aggression, then do everyone a favour and don’t bring them to the dog park. In addition, if your dog hasn’t had many opportunities to socialize (i.e. a young puppy or an older adopted dog with a spotty history), a big park loaded with excited dogs probably isn’t the safest choice for you either. Stick with situations where you can be confident your dog will feel safe and calm, for their sake and everyone else’s. 

Go to the dog park during non-peak hours or stick to the walking paths

If your pup is nervous around big groups of dogs, consider visiting the dog park during non-peak hours. This way they can still stretch their legs in a much less stressful situation. Alternatively, stick to the walking paths in the community or the nearby Fish Creek Park to avoid any potentially dangerous situations for both your dog or others at the park. 

Until you can visit Woof Willow (which opens later this year), we put together a list of our favourite dog parks in south Calgary here. There are also several beautiful nature trails in Fish Creek Park, where you and your dog can enjoy leashed walks together. You can access the park through our special Wolf Willow community entrance off 194 Ave SE.