Happy Trails and Tails: Bringing Your Dog to the Parks

By: Mary Christine Kane

March 11, 2019

Category: Recreation

With more than 240 miles of dog-friendly trails in 18 parks and 17 regional trails plus 182 acres of off-leash areas, there’s abundant opportunity for you and your pooch to explore the diverse landscapes of Three Rivers. For the more adventurous, try dog sledding or skijoring

To help ensure your visit is safe and full of tongue-hanging fun, here are some etiquette and safety tips.

Is Fido ready?

Parks can be excellent places for your dog to exercise and socialize but new, public environments can also be stressful. 

Before you spell out w-a-l-k, know your dog well enough to understand their stress signals and be ready to cut a visit short if needed. Signs vary per dog but can include excessive barking, recurrent yawning or pinning ears tightly against the head. 

Morgan Campbell, dog training coordinator for Wags & Whiskers Animal Rescue, is experienced in working with dogs who have behavioral and training issues, including the three rescue dogs of her own: Desi, Aria and Finn. 

“Any dog, no matter the breed or upbringing, will bite when they feel they need to protect themselves,” said Campbell. She explained that “trigger stacking” is a way to think about the amount of stress your dog is under. 

Triggers differ for each animal but can include not feeling well, meeting a new person or hearing unfamiliar sounds. The stressors create a physical reaction in the animal and, the bigger the stressor, the longer it can take for the dog to get back to equilibrium. 

It’s not so different from humans. Stressful week at the office? You might not bite, but you may snap at someone unexpectedly. 

Biting is rare but because of the potential, it is critical your pooch has been vaccinated for rabies and that you bring the rabies certificate with you on your visit. 

Ask before saying "hello”

Whether with your own dog or not, always get permission from the handler before approaching a new dog. If you get the green light, keep visits short — a “three-second sniff” is a good general rule, according to Campbell.

“It’s important your dog greet the other politely rather than bulldozing into the situation which could be stressful for the other dog,” said Campbell. “Loose, wiggly body language is positive but if your dog is pulling, help your dog calm down before approaching.”

If you or another person is saying “hello,” here are a few tips:

  • Allow the dog to sniff your hand first.
  • If the dog seems comfortable, pet the chest or side, rather than the face or top of the head. 
  • If the dog seems uncomfortable, back up to give it space. 
  • Avoid staring, which can make the dog feel pressure. 
  • Always keep your face far enough away that you can easily get away should the dog become aggressive.

Off-leash areas

dogs in a dog off-leash area

Woofda, the off-leash areas in Three Rivers Park District are a doggie dream. There’s ample acreage for running, sniffing strangers, rolling in dirt and fetching sticks. Before you bring your pup for an off-leash adventure, be sure you both are ready. 

“You should have good verbal control and be able to recall them on command,” said Campbell. She advises leaving the dog toys at home unless you will be playing with them in a more secluded area since toys can cause competition issues. 

Additionally, “Keep an eye on your dog at all times, looking for signs of overexcitement or if they are not behaving as they would when relaxed and happy,” said Campbell.  

If bringing children, Campbell advises to make sure they are calm and not running around, which can lead to over-excitement for the observing dogs. If you are unsure if your dog is ready for the full throttle of an off-leash area, you could start with a doggie date in a fenced yard with a neighbor or friend’s dog. 

The off-leash areas require a pass, which can be purchased annually or by day online or by calling 763.559.6700.

On-leash Areas

man walking two dogs

Outside of off-leash areas, dogs must be kept on a 6-foot, non-retractable leash on designated trails

Why this is important:

  • Not all dogs (or people) like other dogs, so keeping four-legged friends leashed outside of the off-leash areas helps everyone in the park have a safe and enjoyable experience.
  • Dogs that run amok can disrupt sensitive wildlife areas and could get into things that are dangerous for them (like wild parsnip, for example).
  • Non-retractable leashes are less likely to break and are more visible (making it less likely passersby, like a bicyclist, will get tangled).

Start your next adventure

No matter where you are in the parks, make sure you always clean up after your pet, too. For more information and a full list of dog-friendly trails, visit the Things to Do page. Hours of adventure await!

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About the Author

a woman with shoulder length blonde hair wearing a plaid scarf and gray sweater

Mary is a volunteer blog contributor who has been participating in Three Rivers Park District activities for many years, as both a volunteer and participant. She enjoys camping, hiking, skiing, biking, kayaking and canoeing. Mary is also a poet; her chapbook, Between the stars where you are lost, is available from Finishing Line Press. You can find her online at MaryChristineKane.com.


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