When I think of a dog park, I think of dogs running free, having fun with their canine friends while their owners sip coffee and talk with their fellow dog parents. In my mind the dog park is perfectly maintained with plenty of shade and all the dogs are getting along. Nice image right? This is the image we most often see in the movies or commercials but rarely are dog parks truly this perfect. The reality is there are a lot of dangers lurking in dog parks. Here we will discuss some of the things you need to be concerned about and safety tips to help protect your dog.
Dog Park Concerns
I was very surprised when our Puppy Kindergarten Class trainer said she would never bring her dogs to a dog park. I personally had a bad experience at a dog park the one and only time we took our adult springer spaniel, but I brushed it off as a onetime event. After listening to the trainer’s dog park concerns I realized that my bad experience was common. Some of the dog park concerns you need to be aware of are:
- Aggressive dogs
- Inattentive owners or owners who do not have control over their dog.
- Physical dangers at the park.
- Inadequate fencing that allows a dog to escape.
- Fencing that is worn or broken
- Trash, glass or other debris
- Disease – Sickness and disease can be passed through shared water bowls, fecal matter, ticks and fleas.
To learn more about the risk of disease at dog parks, visit the American Veterinary Medical Association’s page on Dogs’ Social Lives and Disease Risks – Tips for Canine and Human Safety
Before you go:
Know your dog
Make sure you know your dog and how they will behave at the park. Things to think about are:
- Only well-socialized, friendly dogs should go to a dog park. If your dog shows signs of aggression or has issues that could make him hostile toward another dog, a dog park is not the right place to go. This includes any aggression they may have involving sharing toys or food.
- Shy or nervous dogs also should not be brought to the park. A freighted dog may strike out at another dog due to fear. Plus it would not be much fun for the dog if they were afraid to be there.
- Do not bring your dog if they are in heat. Along with the risk of an unplanned litter, nothing starts a fight quicker than a group of male dogs vying for the attention of a female in heat.
Protect your dog
Make sure your dog has the proper protections in place:
- Stay up to date on vaccines. Your dog can encounter viruses and parasites at the park. Check with your vet to confirm he’s current on vaccines like rabies and distemper/parvo. Ask your vet what other vaccines they might recommend.
- Protect against fleas and ticks. Ticks can lurk in the grass and bushes. Fleas can be spread by dogs and wildlife that come to the park. The best protection for your pet is to keep them up to date on flea and tick control. Ask your vet for recommendations.
- Total recall – Make sure you have total control over your dog. Practice calling your dog to make sure he will listen to you at all times. This will be important if he gets into a scuffle.
- Don’t bring your puppy to the park until they are fully vaccinated.
Check out the park before you take your dog
Look for the following:
- General maintenance – Does the park appear to be maintained.
- Double gate entry – This will prevent dogs from escaping when dogs are entering or leaving.
- Walk the perimeter of the park. Look for any faults in the fencing that would allow a dog to escape such as fencing that is too low, too high off the ground or has holes.
- Separation – Look for a dog park that separates dogs by size. Small and large dogs should never be in an enclosure together. Even the friendliest large dog can hurt a smaller dog just because of the size difference. Also a large dog’s hunting instinct may kick in and look at the smaller dogs as prey.
- Size of park– It is important to have enough space in a dog park for the dogs to run around and get away from one another if need be.
- Rules – Are there Rules of Conduct posted on or near the gate so everyone knows how they should behave?
- Shade – Is there enough shade available for both dogs and humans?
- Visit the park – Visit at the time(s) you would go with your dog. Often people have set schedules that they go by, so you will get a feel for the type of people and dogs that will be there when you are. Visit more than once. Are you comfortable with what you see? A park filled with aggressive dogs and inattentive owners is not the right place to take your pet.
- Cleanliness – A park with trash and dog waste lying around is a breeding ground for disease and injuries.
Keeping Your Dog Safe at the Park
What to bring
- Bring a water bowl and plenty of fresh water – Don’t let him use a communal bowl. Parasites can be spread through feces and shared water bowls.
- Dog Waste Bags – Although many dog parks supply waste bags and a trash can, bring your own in case there are none. Always pick up after your dog.
- Something to help break up a fight between dogs, such as an animal deterrent spray or an air-horn.
- A breakaway collar to prevent accidental strangulation.
- Identification tags along with their rabies tags and a dog license.
- Bring your cell phone to call the police or local animal control if needed.
- Know where the closest veterinary hospital is, in case of an emergency.
Once you get there
- Don’t let your dog inside the gate if there are other dogs gathered there. Wait until they wander off before opening the gate and removing your dog’s leash.
- Be vigilant – Keep an eye on your dog and the dogs around him. At the first sign of a trouble, like growling, mounting, or other aggressive behavior that could turn into a scuffle, call your dog over for a break. If the behavior continues, leave the park.
- In the event of a dogfight, be careful. Do not get between dogs that are fighting. Instead use an air horn to distract them or throw water on the fighting dogs to separate them.
- If it is a hot day, take plenty of water breaks and watch out for heat stroke.
Alternatives to the dog park:
- Set up playdates with dogs you know in private fenced in yards
- For puppies 6 months and under consider bringing them to a puppy social. Puppy socials are safe places usually run by dog trainers.
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