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Spring is upon us! So we hooked up with Certified Professional Trainer Sharon Labossiere, of Hanging With Hounds to get 10 great tips to ensure a fun and safe time at the dog park for everyone! Here is Sharon’s expert advice:

#1)…….Keep moving around the park. When you arrive at the park, try to enter when the gateway is clear and then move quickly away.  Walk the perimeter to keep your dog moving.  Entrances and exits points are high arousal areas so try not to linger there.

#2)…….Different dogs have different play styles. Some dogs like to body slam, some will play fetch for hours, and some dogs are just happy to enjoy a stroll in the park with you.  Dogs with similar play styles will have a blast, but if your dog prefers a stroll and the other dog wants to wrestle, it is not going to be a fun experience.  Watch the interactions between dogs.  When they take a break, if both dogs go back into play, it is usually okay.  However, if one dog wants to get away, it is an indicator that the other dog is not his ideal playmate, so best to move along.

#3)…….Often many of the dogs visiting the off-leash park are adolescent dogs with a lot of energy.  Just like some teenagers, they can be a bit overwhelming if the playmate doesn’t have the same level of energy.  If this is your dog, make sure to watch them.  If they are getting over the top, move on.  Good dog play is when dogs take a break on their own. If they won’t take breaks on their own, they can become over aroused and this can quickly lead to disagreements.  If you see arousal levels escalating, enforce a break by calling them to you.

#4)…….Learn to read canine body language and watch for the subtle shifts. Happy and relaxed dogs have a loose body and a relaxed demeanor.  Highly focused or over-aroused dogs will show tension in their bodies.  If your dog goes from loose and wiggly to showing tension, it is time for a break.

#5)…….Where possible small dogs should visit off-leash parks where there is a separate play area for them.  A large dog playing in the rough and tumble the way large dogs do can result in an injury to a small dog.  No small dog area?  Lots of training venues have small dog playgroups.  For a small fee, your small dog can play with other small dogs in a safe and controlled area.  This may be a better option.

#6)…….Treats in a dog park are sometimes iffy as they can change the dynamic between dogs.  If you want to use something to reward your dog, my recommendation is to use low-value treats like kibble.

#7)…….Your dog loves to fetch?  You are guaranteed to find other dogs there that do as well, which sometimes leads to balls going missing by other playful pooches. Perhaps you’d like to take a few extra balls with you and share the fun.

#8)…….Puppies should not visit off-leash parks until they are at least six months of age, maybe older if they are shy or timid.  Although off-leash parks are a great place to socialize, it can be really overwhelming to little pups. If your puppy has a bad experience it can stay with them for the rest of their life.  Attend puppy playgroups or setup up play sessions with other puppies until your pup is older and ready to visit the dog park.

#9)…….An off-leash park is just that, off leash. So it can be unfair to keep your dog on leash as it puts them at a significant disadvantage with the other off-leash dogs and you remove their ability to leave a situation that they find uncomfortable. If you need to keep your dog on leash because you are afraid they won’t come back when called, then spend the time training your dog’s recall first.  It may just save their life one day.

#10)……Visit the dog park for a good time, not a long time.  We often stay too long at the park and just like tired children, tired dogs are less tolerant.  Plan to visit for no longer than 30 minutes, maybe less and be sure to watch your dog.  When you see the subtle shifts in body language they indicate they have had enough, it is time to go home.


The off-leash park is a wonderland for our dogs and if used responsibly, they are a great way to exercise our dogs.  They are not for all dogs but if your dog is having fun and is playing well with other dogs then the dog park may be for you.  I always go early in the day to my local park.  My dogs get the chance to run and greet a few other dogs and they have fun.  But don’t be surprised if your dog outgrows the park.  Just like us, the nightclub scene may have been fun at one point in our lives but a night in with good food, wine, and close friends suits me better now.  Know your dog.  If your dog would prefer to spend quality time with you and go for a long walk instead, then respect that.  Your dog will thank you for it.


Sharon Labossiere is the owner of Hanging With Hounds, a Calgary-based certified positive reinforcement dog trainer specializing in private training and behaviour modification.  Sharon lives with her two golden retrievers and loves spending quality time with them visiting different locations in Calgary.  Sharon is a certified canine massage therapist and an instructor with the Walks N Wags pet first aid.

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