So You Want to Visit the Dog Park?

written by Tracie Nielson
founder | owner | president

Warm spring weather is always accompanied by our enthusiasm for getting outdoors, and as much as I encourage involving your dog, not all activities are feasible to do so. Golfing, biking along our city’s amazing pathways, long runs, outdoor concerts or events, visiting outdoor swimming pools, playing sports on fields or taking your kids to the playground where dogs are not permitted, all keep us very busy but can leave very little time left for our best friend.

To help satisfy our dog’s need for exercise, education, entertainment, and engagement, I often find people flock to the off-leash parks. Fact is, they can be frightfully busy when the weather is nice. Why “frightful”? Well, because off-leash parks can be a risky place to visit.

I’m not talking about what the spring thaw has uncovered, such as bacteria, old poop that may contain E.coli, or that standing water likely contains a parasite called Giardia. I’m talking about behaviour challenges or problems that are often present in these off leash environments, either from other dogs or even from your own.

Play is a very important dog social activity. Through play, dogs learn how to use their communication skills to ask for acceptance, ask for play, problem solve, and even how to avoid conflicts. Off-leash dog parks are a great way to exercise and socialize your dog, while having fun. But even the most well trained, socialized, behaved, and polite dogs can find themselves in a conflict.

Not all dogs have the proper socialization, manners or reliability with their obedience commands, to really provide a safe experience to other park users. And, no matter how good your own dog may be, it can be easy for them to fall in with the ‘wrong crowd’. There is no better teacher for a dog than another dog. Therefore, we have to understand that it’s possible for our dog to pick up on or learn bad habits from other dogs in the park.

A strong bond between you and your dog is vital. Until this is developed, off-leash parks should be out of the question. Hands-free training (taught in all our programs) not only builds a bond between you and your dog, but it also shrinks their comfort zone when off leash, meaning their radius gets smaller when off leash, keeping them closer to you.

Proper socialization and manners include having a polite greeting style, proper play etiquette, and a good understanding of canine communication. Reliable obedience commands mean your dog responds appropriately and respectfully, not turning it in to a keep-away game when you ask them to return to you, drinking from the puddle even after saying “leave-it”, or continuing to follow another dog across a street after calling out “STOP!” If you are still working on these things, then either you are visiting the park for a specific training purpose, or you should be working in a different environment. Remember, it’s important your dog is practicing the behaviours you want to see more of (not less of!)

DID YOU KNOW that Calgary ByLaw requires dogs to be under control in off-leash parks and be able to respond to both sight and sound commands? Fact is, if ByLaw were to visit an off-leash park they could ask you to recall your dog, and if your dog doesn’t come back after two calls they can issue you a fine between $150 and $250! (Hey – they give you two try’s?! That’s one more than clevercanines gives you!)

Allowing your dog to run off-leash is a great energy outlet, but it’s not the only way to exercise your dog. Dog’s require both physical and mental exercise, which means they need to tire their bodies and their brains. The simple act of running as fast as they can meets a physical need only, so it’s simply not enough. However, if you add in challenges throughout your off-leash time, well now, that’s pinning the tail on the donkey!

DID YOU KNOW that our dayschool was created to meet all these needs? Our team monitors play to ensure it remains polite, they monitor arousal and get dogs to practice time-outs or skills to bring arousal down when it gets too high, every dog receives both group and one-on-one skill-based training every day, and all dogs receive a one hour on-leash walk! So, now you can attend to your weeknight activities guilt free, knowing your dog has received their 4 E’s (Exercise, Education, Entertainment, and Engagement)!

As outdoor activities fill our weekends and evenings, it can be hard to find time to satisfy our dog’s needs. Talk to us about dayschool to help on these busy days, and if you visit the dog park, check out our top ten tips to help you along!


  • before your first visit, walk the park either on your own or with your dog on-leash – make note of any areas with standing water, access to roadways, ledges or cliffs, parking lots, and other possible dangers
  • park your car several blocks away from the off-leash dog area and walk there and back – walking gets your dog to focus on you prior to their off-leash time and allows them to calm down on their walk back
  • have your dog practice a brief stay prior to being released off leash – practice both at a distance and/or for the length of time that would allow your dog to be successful; their reward for doing so is being released off leash
  • interrupt your dog’s play every few minutes with a new activity, such as to practice an obedience command, perform a trick, collect a treat, or to play directly with you – these activities should be very short in the beginning so you can reward them by sending them back out for play quickly
  • recall your dog often, not just when it’s time to leave the park, and reward by releasing back to play – this practice will increase your recall reliability
  • keep moving and change directions often – zig zagging through the park will keep your dog’s eyes on you and have them paying attention to your whereabouts
  • don’t bring toys to the park – other dogs may steal the toy, some dogs can be toy possessive or aggressive but polite otherwise, and some dogs get too aroused by the sight of a toy causing them to loose focus
  • use an easy command that your dog is really good at to test your dog’s arousal level, such as their name (which means ‘look at you’) – if they can’t perform that request, they are too aroused and need to unwind, relax, or finish play (dog’s can become over-stimulated (over-aroused) after anywhere between 2 and 20 minutes of steady play – an over-aroused dog is an unfocused dog, and an unfocused dog can make things unsafe or frustrating for you, or others)
  • take our core program to learn about canine communication and signals, polite greetings, how to create a perfect recall (and other reliable commands), teach your dog to focus and pay attention to you, and build stronger bond with you based on mutual trust and respect
  • visit the park for the right reasons – dog parks (and dayschool too) are not the place to rehabilitate or fix dogs with issues around strangers or other dogs