Treats at the Dog Park?

Last week I discussed whether or not bringing toys to the dog park was a good idea, given the chance of conflict (both human and canine).

In the comments, Jessica from You Did What With Your Wiener mentioned the related topic of bringing treats/food to the dog park, which shouldn’t be left out.

But before I dive into discussion, I’d like to start with a true story.

– * – * – * – * – * –

Until Moses was fixed, he was not at all food motivated.

There would be the odd time he’d show some interest, and pockets were certainly lined with cheese and dried liver when in the show ring (aka: How to Ruin a Pair of Pants in One Easy Step!), but if we could’ve somehow harnessed the scent of in-heat female dog, then maybe we’d have left with more than default participatory ribbons.

Once Big Mo’ went in for the ol’ snip-snip, however, the quickest way to his heart soon became food.

Fast-forward a few years to a sunny weekend when I decides to take Moses for a nice afternoon walk at Nose Hill Park, a large multi-use park here in Calgary that has a huge off-leash area.

Moses at Nose Hill Park

Moses at Nose Hill Park

We were walking in the off-leash area when three women approach, orbited by their off-leash dog.

Moses and the dog had a great greeting, but as a lab or lab-type, the play style was too quick for Moses and he declined the game of chase with the dog, instead lumbering over to greet the women who were oohhh-ing and ahh-ing over him.

“He’s so big!” “He looks like a bear!”

The usual conversation about Moses and his size ensued between me and the women, and the women pet and greeted Moses while their dog bounded around in the distance.

Then one of the women wanted the other dog’s attention and called his name and reached into her jacket pocket for some treats.

And Moses noticed.

He plunked himself right in front of her, gave her his best puppy eyes, and began to drool (as Moses does).

How can you say no?

Treat? For me? Please?

“These aren’t for you, buddy,” she replied, tucking the treats back in her pocket and petting him on the head.

So Moses craned his neck and sniffed at her pocket.

That’s when the tone of the interaction drastically and instantly changed.

“No!” She exclaimed. Then she grabbed Moses’ ear, pinched, and pushed downward.

Moses yelped, hit the deck, and looked at me like “Why did she do that?”. The yelping was out of surprise more than pain, I’m sure – both of us were extremely startled.

As someone who struggles with Resting Bitch Face on a regular day, I’m not sure if the look on my face communicated actual murder or just attempted, but she took notice and went on the (very weak) defensive.

Her friends were already extracting themselves from the situation, following after their dog down the path.


“I have to go out after this!” she tried to explain, following her friends. “I don’t want to get these pants dirty.”

I’d like to say I was the bigger person, taking the high road, offering forgiveness on behalf of Moses and I, and wishing her peace on the rest of her journey.

I’d like to say that, but I can’t, because that was not the case.

Instead I shouted after her as she retreated “Maybe you shouldn’t wear good clothes to the dog park! Maybe you shouldn’t pet dogs if you don’t want them to pay attention to you! Maybe if you wanted him away from you, you should’ve backed up or walked away or asked me – his owner – to do something! Maybe leave the treats in your pocket next time!”

Moses and I then headed in the opposite direction to continue our walk, during which I muttered to myself and thought of hundreds of more clever – and crude – things I could’ve said in the moment.

Moses – in the great way that dogs do – shrugged off the situation as quickly as it happened and had a wonderful time exploring the park and meeting other dogs.


That’s my most memorial experience of treats at the dog park, so as you can image, I’m on the fence.

And as someone who probably doesn’t go to the off-leash more than once per month mostly because of potential interactions like this, I was soured by the experience for a couple of months.

I do understand that a lot of people use treats for training and can still be in the stage of relying on them for certain behaviours, so maybe keep them on hand just in case.

And unlike toys, treats don’t necessarily illicit the same resource-guarding concerns in dogs if doled out discretely and sparingly.

But problems can still arise when other dogs happen to notice the treats and want in on the action. Do you hold back the treats and deal with some canine persistence until something else catches their attention? Or do you share?

And if you’re tempted to share, then you open up several other concerns. Does the other dog’s owner even want you to share with them? Does the other dog have a food sensitivity or is on a special or restricted diet? Maybe the other owner doesn’t want you to reinforce their dog’s behaviour.

Coming back to the toy subject, I’ve seen owners with treats try to coerce dogs (theirs or not) to drop stolen toys in exchange for food. Frequently works – the dog will drop the toy, but will have gained a new focus.

Cute print from Etsy shop MarkJAsher.

Cute print from Etsy shop MarkJAsher.

I’m actually hearing that some dog parks have no-toy and no-treat rules, which is not something I’ve seen locally.

As with most dog laws (off-leash designation and leash lengths, for example) these regulations are only as good as compliance and enforcement, but I’d be curious to know statistically how well they do to achieve their intended results of fewer altercations.

As for me, I don’t bring treats to the park and it wasn’t anything I’ve ever truly considered, but I can see why some might. For the most part, it doesn’t bother me as long as those with the treats expect food flaunting to get some canine attention.

Then again, I also don’t dress in my expensive jeans to go to places where dogs of all kinds are free to run loose… but that’s just me.

I think Kristine from Rescued Insanity said it best: “This is a dog park. A dog park for dogs who do dog-like things.”

About ThatJenK
Writing from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 90% pictures of my dogs; 10% miscellaneous opinions nobody asked for.

32 Responses to Treats at the Dog Park?

  1. I always ask before I give other dogs treats with a brief explanation of the treat contents. Also if I give Mr. N a treat, I’m prepared to give all the dogs who visit and sit nicely a treat. I usually only treat for recall and I try to do so a far distance away from other dogs if possible.
    I would be so angry at that woman! Once we were at the off-leash area and there was this woman who didn’t want her dogs to interact with any of the other dogs. Why bring him?

  2. Oh and I was at a dog event where there was a picnic and the organizer brought her food aggressive dog. Seriously did not compute.

  3. I’ve never encountered that at a dog park. Yet anyway. Treats don’t seem like a great idea around a bunch of dogs. All dogs want are treats.

  4. I think the treats belong in the same category as the toys…no. I think, just as it happened to you, something innocent becomes something not so innocent.

  5. Seriously, this strange human pinched your adorable Moses’ ear? Bless his heart and yours, I am afraid that I would have gone completely stupid on her! Warning: My dog won’t bite but if you mess with him, I will! Why do we always think of the best comebacks afterwards?

    • ThatJenK says:

      You bring up an excellent point! Moses is a big wuss, but what if another dog had reacted to her much differently – e.g., with their teeth? That’s a big risk to physically handle a strange dog (especially one as huge as Moses). And had a dog bit her, or even shown teeth, THEN who would be at fault?! Recipe for some serious trouble.

      But I’m definitely the same way; I’m far more like than my dogs to snap at someone.

      • Jessica says:

        Yeah, Silas would likely (and I’m not proud of it) have either put actual teeth to her or threatened to.

        This is actually why we quit going to the dog park. Silas was fine with the other dogs, or could be managed. But with all of Silas’s rules, I just couldn’t count on the humans.

  6. I don’t bring treats into the dog park. But I work enough with Honey that I know she’ll listen to me without a treat bribe. Even in a dog park.

    I have had issues on walks, however, with dogs who smell my treat bag and start begging. (Liverwurst is a particularly potent temptation). I always ask their person if their dog can have a treat and I tell them what it is.

    But since we’re in an on-leash situation, walking on a city street, I feel like they should be working with their dog before he jumps on me looking for food.

    I have only one response:

  7. harrispen says:

    I would have gone nuts if she made my dog squeal even if it was just a little tweak. She had no right to handle your dog like that and could have messed up a young insecure dog. If she is waving food in front of any dog then she better be willing to share. If I have treats with us (like when we visit with our rescue group at their meet and greets) and another dog notices I always ask if they can have any and then share. The couple of times we took Millie to a play group they insist that there are no treats. It is a much smaller area with a limited number of dogs.


    • ThatJenK says:

      Another great point! She could’ve really caused harm to how a dog feels about strangers (and food rewards) in the future. Moses is not short on confidence, thankfully, but I hadn’t even considered that outcome.

  8. lexy3587 says:

    I think i’d have punched that woman… or at the very least given her my most murdery look. Ugh, i hate confrontation. but I hate strangers who try to ‘train’ my dog more.
    I’m a ‘often has treats in her pocket at the dog park’ person. I walk to the park 99% of the time, and am working through Gwynn’s weird obsession with cats (in a neighbourhood full of feral cats), so I generally have treats. But at the dog park I don’t get them out, and the dogs that do show an interest have never bothered me enough to need to leave or anything – it’s usually a case of an inquisitive nose snuffling at my pocket, me giving him a pat on the back and saying ‘nope’, and the dog (having discovered that I smell of delicious, but don’t produce it) loses interest and goes back about his business.

    I don’t like for people to give Gwynn treats at the dog park, especially if they don’t ask me for permission first. I’m fussy about what he eats, and I don’t give treats without asking permission because other people feel the same as I do. For one thing, all play stops once Gwynn’s gotten a treat. he will follow the stranger until they leave the park, ignoring all dogs. One of my friends doesn’t like people to give his dogs treats, because many of them have peanut products in them, and his niece who visits often is allergic to peanuts, and has gotten reactions from a dog who ate peanut butter that day licking her.

    • ThatJenK says:

      Yes, Moses is perfect pocket-sniffing height to most people, so he can quickly assess who has treats in the park and who doesn’t. And given that he garners a lot of human attention, he’s often welcomed into personal space to make such an assessment. He’ll inquire, but if they don’t reach for them, he’ll quickly get distracted and move on to something else.
      Alma is too busy running around and moving from greeting to greeting (she’s a quantity-over-quality-type interacter) for this to have ever come up with her.

      I also don’t like when people offer them treats without asking. I’m a diet-snob too (with personal exception as I see fit), but mostly I don’t want begging behaviour encouraged all the time.

  9. gvannini says:

    I always bring treats to the dog park, but I’m not going to complain if I have a dog jumping at my pockets trying to get them. I am in the habit of always reinforcing recalls from my dogs, so if I need to call them away from something exciting I want to reward them, otherwise I don’t have them out. However I never give other dogs treats and I hope people will not give my dogs their treats – I don’t think dogs should get in the habit of begging for treats from other people and there may be allergies or food issues involved. I can play the “ignore the begging dog” game pretty well so I just wait for them to lose interest or their owner to call them off.

    As for that lady pinching his ear… I would have yelled at her too! Drives me nuts when people go to dog parks and don’t expect dogs to be dogs.

  10. Jodi says:

    I try to avoid the dog parks down here, but we have a really nice park at the top of the street where the neighborhood dogs walk. I always have treats because so far it is the only thing I’ve found that works for Delilah. When I offer treats, if other dogs are around I ask the owner first if they can have the treat and offer to all dogs gathered around.

    If the owner is not around, well all bets are off because in my opinion they aren’t paying attention to anything in the woods that their dogs might be eating.

    And as for the lady who pinched Moses’ ear, holy crap. I think I probably would have said….”How would you like it if I pinched your @#$%&*! ear. (You know how I talk.) I think you restrained yourself very well.

    And for the record, I often times think of what I SHOULD have said after the altercation too.

  11. We do sometimes go to dog parks and there was one time I was so embarrassed because Donna went and persistently sat in front of a woman who was training her own dogs. So I do bring in treats just to make sure I will get my dog’s attention especially when I need her to do her recall and come away and not persistently bug other people, I would want to reward her for coming when I tell her to.

    I have also had the odd persistent dog that nosed around in my bag, got out my treat box, got it’s lid opened and snaffled all of Donna’s tuna. I wasn’t eager to stop the big dog since I wasn’t sure if it would have any food aggression issues or not.

    I have no issues with people bringing treats to the dog run, but I would have issues if somebody were to hurt my dog or do something that could potentially make her fearful. Although I would also understand that sometimes, people act the way they habitually would out of reflex in a situation with some stress involved.

  12. Ryan says:

    Oh my god! That story isn’t so much a story about the problem with dog treats at the park as it is a story about an ignorant idiot at the park! No one should EVER touch another person’s dog like that! What if she did that to a dog whose reaction was to bite her? The dog would be pretty justified, but would probably get in a huge amount of trouble.

    I avoid dog parks now because of the people, but when I do go, I have to take treats to help keep my dog obedient. I try to avoid other dogs noticing, but if they do, I’ll either ask the owner if they can have some, or politely refuse the dog’s request, even if the dog is misbehaving. I would never ever correct someone else’s dog in a way that would cause pain.

    I’ve also been on the other end, and had people give my dogs treats. Most of the time this is fine, but I have had to ask people to not feed my dogs in certain situations. It can be pretty frustrating when I take my dogs to exercise, and the spend the entire time begging from a stranger.

    I guess I’m on the fence as well. I’m working on more training with one of my dogs so hopefully treats won’t be required for him to listen to me soon. I plan to continue avoiding dog parks until then.

  13. Nailah Bone says:

    Wow, that woman was way out of line. Honestly, you were the bigger person. I would have said some very nasty things to her if she did that to Nailah. As for bringing food to the park, I have done that. To be honest, I am a big believer that everyone needs to be responsible for their dogs, even at an off leash park. Does that mean I get angry whenever a dog drools all over my pants cause they smell the cookies? No. But I will get mad if an owner let’s their dog jump all over me, slobbering me non stop in an attempt to get said treats. Niles has been annoying to people that have treats and I promptly put a stop to it. I don’t like her bothering others.

    Also, I don’t share unless I genuinely like the dog and the owner is cool with it. I know that may mean I’ll have a new dog friend for the next couple minutes and I’m fine with that. I just don’t like getting mauled and thrown to the ground over a treat. Also, who the heck wears nice clothes to the dog park? That’s like wearing a wedding dress to go paint balling.

    • ThatJenK says:

      A wedding dress to go paint-balling! LOL! Couldn’t have said it better myself.
      Though you should sell that idea to a wedding photog for those ever-popular trash-the-dress photoshoots that’s all the craze these days.

      Moses and Alma are both naturally pocket/treat-pouch height, which makes drool-to-clothes contact inevitable, and neither have ever jumped on people (Moses struggles with balance enough as it is), but I can see why people would be concerned – they’re so big. We often get asked if they jump up, though.

  14. 2browndawgs says:

    I cannot believe the woman put her hands on your dog! Wish she had tried that with a Chessie. 😉 Well probably not…

    I think you handled the exchange very well. I think the dirty excuse was to cover bad behavior.

    In the past we have participated at a benched show in downtown Detroit, (it was cancelled this year!). Storm’s breeder gave me a bit of good advice. He said do not let people give your dog any treats that don’t come from you. If someone wants to treat your dog, take one out of your pocket. He worried about bad motives. Too bad you have to be that way but I guess it is reality. Anyway, Moses didn’t want her treat anyway!

    • ThatJenK says:

      That’s good advice from your breeder. Sad that it is, but it is. I’ll remember that. Though, I frequently request that people don’t share with my dogs – I really don’t want certain behaviours rewarded. They get fed and enough treats at home, anyway.

  15. My boyfriend and I adopted Link in June of 2012, after his litter came to PWP. His brother was the “parvo pup” and they were quarantined when we first got to see them. They all made full recoveries and got adopted out! It was awesome to see his brother Kenneth (Luke) on the updates site; they are identical twins! Link is a wonderful, loving dog. He loves treats, his whale baby (that has no more stuffing left but he cuddles with it at night), the dog park, car rides and playing with his dad! He snuggles up with me to sleep every night and loves getting to have play dates with his doggy cousins. I am finishing up my senior year of college at OSU and Link has been my best friend and stress relief through all of it. Its hard to believe he will be a year in only a couple months. He is one of the brightest, funniest, sweetest dogs I have ever met, and the best “fur son” anyone could ask for. I will always suggest people to PWP for adoptions, as they gave me the best birthday present ever.

  16. I’m a bit behind in my reading, so please forgive my late response/comment….

    Personally, I think you handled the situation very well!! Where did that fool come off handling Moses like that? I swear some people just do NOT think! I probably would have given her a piece of my mind, and not with polite words either.

    As for treats or toys at the dog park. Not me. Not ever. Not no how. I don’t bring the dogs to the dog park because of the other people, not so much the other dogs. The dog park in this town is more of a people-with-smartphone-attached-to-eyeball-and-ignoring-their-dog park. They take their dogs to the park so they can tell the vet that their dog gets “exercise” but leave out the part about being on the phone at the same time. I’m not saying you have to be right next to the dog at all times; just that you need to be aware of where s/he is and what s/he’s doing. And no one I know — myself included — is capable of being immersed in a conversation and watching their dog(s) at the same time.

    • ThatJenK says:

      Yes, other people are definitely the biggest dog park deterrent for me, too. I specifically choose parks – when we do go – that have a bit more of an ‘urban hiking’ element than a stand around and text or chat and ignore the dogs. Those places are the worst!

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  18. Clowie says:

    If you start waving treats around you should expect dogs to want them and Moses asked politely. She should never have acted like that towards him, you had every right to be annoyed.

  19. Kristine says:

    Maybe I am just over sensitive about the interactions between my dog and strangers but I would have lost it! My jaw actually dropped open as I read this. I would have wanted to pinch her ears in retaliation. We have worked so hard to get Shiva to see strangers as positive creatures full of goodness and light and this woman would have destroyed it all in a second. UGH!

    All of my horror and frustration aside, I am guilty of bringing treats to the dog park. I bring them for lots of reasons, most of them having to do with training recall and working with “stranger danger”. She would have required a giant handfuls of goodies after the interaction you described above, if only to prevent her from eating the woman’s face. However, I never mind sharing and I never get disgruntled if a dog jumps on me. I do always ask the owner before sharing and I am very good at laughing silly things like mud and drool off. No doubt my treats and I still irritate some people but unless there are official rules, I am going to keep bringing them.

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  21. Katrina says:

    This reminds me of why I stopped going to our local dog park. There is a man who ALWAYS bring treats and ALWAYS feeds all the dogs, to the point where he is training all the dogs there to do stuff you don’t want them to do (jumping, begging, playing pied piper to all the dogs). Multiple people have asked him to stop and he always says “well i just won’t give your dog a treat” then procedes to push/knee/kick the dogs who aren’t “allowed” treats away. He did it to my dog one day and literally went through the roof and to this day not ashamed that my friends had to drag me away from that man.

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