I recently had a conversation with a woman I had only met a few times and it was in response to her asking what I was doing over the holiday weekend. I told her that we were introducing a friend and her dog to the dog park here in Oshkosh. My friend has had dogs over the years but somehow never investigated this form of social interaction and exercise. Now that her dog is over six-months-old and spayed she thought this might be a good way to socialize her and wear her out.

You would have thought that I was proposing an activity created by the devil himself to ensure that all dogs got puncture wounds, kennel cough, and rabies all on the first visit. I politely explained that this is our choice and that I was sorry for anything that happened to her previously in our dog park. She assured me it had nothing to do with her dog or anyplace in Wisconsin. She had never been to a dog park yet acted as the expert. She had a friend who had a friend who was “viciously attacked by a monster and the owner sat there and laughed.”

I’m the kind of person who needs facts. Tell me where it happened, was the dog provoked, was it a random incident, were there witnesses. Show me the online article so I can read it for myself. In this case, she was spreading a story that might or might not be true without the facts in an effort to scare me from going to the dog park.

Being an adult who makes my own decisions we went yesterday and had a fabulous time. Except for the puddles of mud.

Depending on your experiences you might be like the woman I spoke to or be like me or somewhere in between. So who is right in the great dog park debate? Everyone could be on any given day.

We’ve been to the Best Friends Dog Park in Winnebago Community Park dozens of times since adopting Coconut and have never experienced any negative issues at all. The owners have been hyper-vigilant and very willing to make this a great dog community.

Dog parks are awesome because as soon as you turn the corner your dog knows where he is going and he prances around the car thrilled to be in his version of Doggy Disney. Having a community of adults who want the dog park to be a welcoming place for everyone, people and dogs alike is essential to make it all work. What makes the difference between a nightmare and a dream is etiquette and following all of the rules. When people choose to not follow the rules they ruin it for everyone.

Because our adopting area is so large and there are both private and public dog parks along the way these are general rules to consider. Please read and understand your own dog park rules. They are usually on the park’s Facebook page and also on signage you can see before entering the park. If you don’t see any rules listed please talk to the entity responsible for the park and ask that the rules be posted.

Common Dog Park Rules

1. Dogs over the age of six months must be spayed/neutered – or, alternatively, no females in season allowed.

2. All dogs must be currently licensed and be up to date on all of their vaccinations including Bordetella to prevent getting kennel cough. No unsupervised dogs. Dogs may not be left unattended.

3. Owners must clean up after dogs. (This is my number one pet peeve at our park is that I walk in and see poop obviously left by someone who either did not know their dog was pooping or chose to leave it. Knowing where your dog is at all times allows you to catch him in the act and clean up quickly.)

4. Aggressive dogs are not allowed. Do not bring dogs with a history of aggression toward dogs or humans. Dogs who demonstrate aggressive behaviors toward dogs or humans in the park should be removed from the park and not return.

5. Children must be directly supervised at all times in the park. No running or loud or rough play allowed.

6. Limit your use of toys or food treats as necessary to avoid dog/dog conflict. This may vary depending on the dog population at the park during any given visit. Don’t have a fit if you throw a ball and a dog other than yours runs after it and decides it’s now his personal property. You’ll get it back eventually.

7. No choke, prong, or shock collars. All extra gear (harnesses, collars other than plain buckle collar) should be removed before entering the park. Make sure all dogs have their ID tags and are microchipped. Dogs are fast and could run out even if someone has the gate open only a small amount.

8. Keep dogs on-leash until you enter the off-leash area. If a separate area is provided for small dogs, please honor the size restrictions.

9. No smoking or eating within the fenced dog park area. It’s tempting to bring lunch for your human group and sit at the picnic table and socialize. Not all dogs are able to smell food without begging or jumping to nab it. Plus, if you are busy eating and socializing you’re likely not watching your dog. Do we need to say no alcohol?

10. Be polite and considerate of other park users. One of the benefits of taking your dog to the dog park is letting him interact and play with other dogs. It’s always good to meet other dog parents, learn more about their dogs and explain your dog’s habits. (Coconut loves to steal dog’s balls so that the dog will chase him. He loves to run and will always be the one inciting other dogs. Once I explain that to parents they are cool with the whole ball stealing thing.)

Always pay attention to your dog and be aware of any potential problems. Dog park trips should be about time spent with your dog, not catching up with friends or playing games on your phone all the time. Keep your dog safe by being a watchful pet parent.

Dogs are unpredictable and sometimes we don’t know what will set off a dog. Yesterday one dog started running towards the largest mud puddle. Another dog saw the first dog, started barking, and quickly followed the mud-seeker. Before any of us had a chance to grab our dogs at least six dogs were happily splashing around in the mud. That was obviously not a problem to be concerned about and we all laughed and talked about baths and how our dogs like or don’t like them. But the same thing can happen during an aggressive moment between two dogs. I’ve never witnessed one but it’s entirely possible.

Like doggy daycare or individual playdates, dog parks are not for every person or every dog. Going to a dog park without your dog the first time will help you to understand the culture in a specific park and to feel out the likelihood of how well your dog will do in group play of this type.