There’s a protocol regarding acceptable human behaviors behind the gates of Austin’s dog parks. If you are new to town (or old to town and new to dog ownership), here’s what you need to know about Austin dog park etiquette.
The First Rule of Dog Park Is: We Do Not Talk About Dog Park
The second rule of Dog Park is: Bring extra poop bags. No, seriously. Have you ever felt like you’re a day late and a doodie bag short? That’s how I felt the first time I stepped through the fence at West Austin dog park. Dogs mark their territory usually more than once in new and exciting surroundings, and my first trip with Smokey the Blue Heeler was no exception. I’m now a triple bagger: two for him, and one bag in case any dog park rookies show up.
Dog parks in Austin are the only place – maybe in the world – where puppies are frowned upon. Sure, they’re cute and their breath smells like bologna, but it’s not safe for them to run with the big dogs. They also might be too young to recognize their own name when called, and that’s another huge no-no with Austinites: dogs who don’t come when called.
I witnessed the aftermath of wrong-time-wrong-place puppy incident once at Auditorium Shores. It wasn’t pretty. There was so much judgment from the veteran dog owners, so many scowls and shaking heads, the park could have been renamed Frown Town Park. The girl who brought the puppy must have left with an Alpo-like taste in her mouth for how poorly she was treated.
But the disdain stemmed from concern. Austinites are obsessed with their four-legged children, and we don’t want to see them get hurt. And don’t worry – no puppies were harmed in the making of a disgruntled Austinite.
There’s Always an Alpha in the Pack
I don’t mean the canine variety. Every time I’ve been to a dog park in this great city, there was someone essentially “in charge.” There’s a lot to keep in mind in terms of official park rules and etiquette, but don’t worry if you’re new to the scene. The alpha will keep you in check, whether it be introducing you to the “regulars,” or just showing you where the community water bowls are located.
Arguably one of the best places to meet people in Austin is at any of the 12 off-leash dog parks, so don’t be shy! And if you find yourself at a dog-friendly (not off-leash) area, pup owners look out for each other. We all love to see our fur children run and play freely, so you’ll get a head nod if there’s a park ranger policing the area for dogs who are off-leash.
No Work All Play
Multitasking at an Austin dog park is the equivalent of committing social suicide for both you and your dog. This lesson I personally learned the hard way. We were at Pease Park, and I was checking my emails on my phone when Smokey the Blue Heeler (a herding dog by nature) tried to round up all the other pups in the park by circling and yipping at them. Candy the Terrier’s mom was not amused, and passive aggressively told me, “This isn’t New York City…people actually pay attention to their dogs when they play.”
I got the message loud and clear, so we left with our tails between our legs.
There Will Be Mud
The elements here can be brutal. Triple digit heat means two things to Austin dog owners: 1) Park time is in the morning or evening when the ground is a bearable temperature for puppy paws, and 2) Red Bud Isle and Barking Springs will be packed! These are debatably the two most popular dog parks for swimming.
And technically, Barking Springs has not been officially announced as an off-leash dog park, but Austin City Council is working on a solution. If you want to cool off with your best friend in the peak of summer, just remember to bring a change of clothes and plenty of towels for the car ride home.
This is an incredibly dog-friendly city, so take advantage of it! You’ll meet new people, get exercise and most importantly – your dog will have a blast! Here’s a listing of dog park addresses. Hope to see you there soon!
Which Austin dog parks have you been to? Was your experience enjoyable or ruff?
Cover photo by MarkScottAustinTX via Flickr CC.