Playgrounds are for children. Dog parks are for dogs.

February 1, 2023

When my kids were little, taking Lola on stroller walks was relatively easy.

Once we had mobile toddlers and started going to playgrounds, suddenly, it got more complicated. While we generally don’t take Lola with us on a walk when we go to a playground, sometimes we simply don’t have a choice. 

If she needs to come with us, we choose an empty & open playground in a dog-friendly park. We avoid peak times, weekends, and perfect weather. A rainy or colder day means an empty playground. 

Dogs in Playgrounds

While dogs are generally not allowed at playgrounds in many US states, they are allowed in some states or counties. Some countries don’t ban dogs from playgrounds at all. Many dog owners and parents of small children have varying thoughts on whether they should or shouldn’t be allowed. 

I asked parents in the Dog Meets Baby Community for their solutions. 

Most dog owners were against bringing a dog to a playground or tying the dog outside a playground. Many people stressed that dogs didn’t belong there and it was not fair to them or other kids.

BUT…... Finding time to exercise both a child and a dog can be tricky. 

Here is what parents came up with: 

2 Caregivers

If you have two adults, you divide and conquer. One person walks or plays with the dogs outside the playground, and the other adult is with the child at the playground. 

1 Caregiver

It gets tricky when there is just one caregiver. If dogs are allowed in the playgrounds, parents often choose to bring dogs along with the following basic safety rules in place:

  • Dogs are on a leash
  • Time of the day  - off-peak hours (e.g., early in the morning), dead time
  • Choosing a big playground or an unpopular playground
  • Time of the year - fall/winter/early spring (generally not on a sunny, warm day)
  • The dog stays in a carrier or a k9 sport sack
  • Parents stay off the playground with the dog and let the kids play
  • Having a dog on a hands-free leash rather than letting the dog wander around or being tied to a bench, especially if there are many children.


  • It takes one incident with one kid.
  • Too many people (esp. young children) don’t know how to behave around dogs and vice versa. Many young children will not only try to pet an unknown dog but might try to hug, kiss, or even pick up a dog. 
  • It might be problematic if you stay off the playground with the dog and your child needs your help.
  • Any time you swing your child or watch them climb, your attention is focused on your child. 
  • When a dog is on a leash, they can't freely walk away from an uncomfortable situation. This can mean that a dog may move into a fight response since flight is not an option if you are not next to your dog to intervene.

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It is not fair to the dog or other kids

  • Not every dog is a “playground dog”! For some, it wouldn’t be a fun outing at all. If trips to the playground are stressful, your dog might be faster to react and easier to upset over time. If your dog barely tolerates being at the playground (the noise, being on a leash, kids approaching or touching), best to stop bringing your dog to a playground. 
  • The problem with a tethered dog is that you may not be there to advocate for their space when a child approaches and tries to pet or hug them because 5 seconds earlier, your kid fell, and you are now comforting them. 
  • Some children are afraid of dogs. Terrified. My daughter went through a phase of intense fear of dogs when she was two years old. A dog at a playground, even the most docile, small, on a leash and minding their own business, would mean we would need to leave immediately. I had no problem asking people to leave; most of the time, they would do it right away, but not always. If there was a big sign, NO DOGS ALLOWED, I would call 311 (San Francisco, CA).

If your child is terrified of dogs, download my free tutorial to help your child feel safe around dogs. I combined my knowledge of dog behavior, my experience as a mom of a toddler terrified of dogs, and tips from a child psychologist into this step-by-step tutorial.

Kids in Dog Parks

Similarly, I asked parents in the Dog Meets Baby Community about their opinions. 

It is undoubtedly a topic that many dog owners are very passionate about for many reasons. Let’s have a look. 

The most frequent answers were 'NEVER' and ‘It is a recipe for disaster.’

Many people used the words ‘Dangerous.'

Many dog owners pointed out that there were so few places they could safely take their dogs for a good run. Many people have rescue dogs; some have not been appropriately socialized with little kids and are afraid of them. If you live in a city, dog parks are often the only places where people can take their dogs off leash during the week. 

‘A running and screaming toddler in an enclosed dog park full of dogs would be my worst nightmare.’

  • Having a small child among off leash unfamiliar dogs is itself dangerous. 
  • The toddler's face is at many dogs’ mouth level. 
  • Even if your dog is okay with your kid, your dog might not be okay with other children. And you can’t assume all the dogs in the dog park will be comfortable with your small child; the chances are many won’t!
  • Some dogs might be friendly with kids but easily excitable, big, and jumpy. I have seen many dogs run up to a toddler and knock them over. A crying and screaming child will almost certainly get other dogs' attention.

Unfortunately, one parent witnessed a heartbreaking situation. A toddler was in the middle of a rowdy group of dogs and got bit repeatedly. It is so important to remember that dogs are animals with instincts. Some dogs were bred to chase and kill, and they might see little fast-moving kids as prey. The risk is even higher when there is a group of dogs.

Kids in Strollers or Carriers

While it may sound like a great idea to bring your child in a stroller and carrier, there are some risks, unfortunately.

  • Strollers, probably more than carriers, are attention grabbers or triggers for some dogs.
  • A dog may try to bite the wheels, bark at, or jump on a stroller.

Protective Instincts

While a baby in a stroller or carrier is generally a better idea than a loose toddler, if your dog tends to protect you, the baby, or the stroller from other dogs, don’t risk it! Many dogs are protective of their family members or their belongings, and the last thing you want is for you and your baby to be in the middle of a dog fight.

What if I have no choice?

The reality is some of us do it because sometimes that’s the only way we can exercise our dogs.

  • There is a difference between a small & busy Chicago dog park and an empty huge (enclosed) area in a regional park. I started taking my kids to a huge open park by the Pacific Ocean, very popular among dog owners when they turned 4. We would go on a foggy Sunday morning, stay off the beaten path, and away from other dogs. They knew to walk slowly or stop if they saw a dog.
  • Some parents take their kids to the dog park if they are the only ones there. If someone enters with a dog, they leave immediately.
  • Some parents choose to bring their child, stay far from other dogs, and are vigilant.
  • Some parents bring a child in a carrier or a stroller to the same local dog park at the same time when the same people and dogs show up.

Check out the comments on this post to hear how other parents feel about kids in dog parks.

As a trainer who has seen a lot, I would never bring my kids to an enclosed dog park full of dogs, let alone have them walk around. Trusting everything will be fine is like playing Russian roulette to me.

While as a parent, I know that sometimes it may feel like we don’t have a choice, as a dog trainer who has worked with many reactive dogs and knows a lot about dog behavior, it is just not safe.