Taking your dog to a dog park sounds like a lot of fun. What dog wouldn't want to romp around with other dogs off-leash? While many dogs enjoy socializing and exercise, some dogs are not as social, and they may not enjoy it. There are also health and behavioral risks to consider whenever a dog goes to the dog park. For these reasons, it is important to look at the risks of the going to the dog park, consider how much your dog enjoys the park and speak to your veterinarian about the best option for your dog.
Let's look at the risks of dog parks and what you can do to ensure your dog has a happy and safe visit.
Health Dangers At Dog Parks
You and your dog are at risk of picking up diseases and parasites from the soil, water, and other dogs at dog parks. Such diseases and parasites that could potentially infect your dog at the dog park about include:
Intestinal parasites: examples include hookworms, roundworms and whipworms
Respiratory infections: examples include kennel cough (Bordetella) and canine influenza
Other infectious diseases: Examples include parvovirus
To avoid or decrease the risk of your dog becoming infected, they must be fully vaccinated and current on their heartworm, flea, and tick prevention. Fully vaccinated for a dog park may mean your dog needs additional vaccines beyond the standard ones. Let your veterinarian know that your dog goes to a dog park and they will make sure your dog has vaccines such as Bordetella which causes Kennel Cough.
If you frequent dog parks, it's important to know that across the United States, 85% of dog parks and 20% of dogs were found to have intestinal parasites . Keeping your dog on a monthly preventative that prevents common intestinal worms will help. Consider routine fecal analysis for your dog every six months. Your veterinarian can prescribe de-wormer medication if necessary at this time.
Don’t let your dog use communal drinking spots, as these are breeding grounds for some diseases. Instead, bring your own water and water bowl from home.
Be sure to wash your dog's paws and body following their visit to the dog park to remove any residual dirt that may be lingering. It can be as simple as having a wet towel by your front door to use when you get home.
Risks Of Injury at The Dog Park
The co-mingling of dogs of various sizes and temperaments can significantly increase the risks of serious injury and even death. Bites can happen fast, and can be very serious especially if a big dog bites a small dog. Many times people have trouble differentiating play behavior versus fearful or aggressive behavior. People frequently interpret either predatory or stress behaviors in dogs as signs of play when in fact, it is quite the opposite. Another common mistake is not watching your dog the entire time and getting caught up looking at your phone or talking to another pet owner. Always closely monitor all interactions to be sure that safe play is taking place and discontinue play if you notice a change in the play dynamic.
Never bring an un-spayed or un-neutered dog to a dog park. Un-spayed and un-neutered dogs may cause additional fights due to hormone levels and behavioral tendencies. A lot of dog parks do not allow dogs who are not spayed or neutered at the park, and even if your dogs is fixed look for a park that has this rule.
Behavioral Dangers at Dog Parks
Dog parks are a free-for-all regarding what dogs may be there. This includes different play styles different social behavior, and a variety of different owner's ability to safely manage their dog's interactions with others. Different breeds can have different play styles. For example, a herding dog may play very different than a terrier. Be mindful of what your dog likes and signs that it is enjoying itself or not. Just as some people like to be the life of the party and others are wallflowers, dogs are the same way.
Will Your Dog Enjoy the Dog Park?
You may be surprised that many dogs do not enjoy interacting with unfamiliar dogs. This is completely normal! Most dogs are "dog selective," meaning they have one or two dog friends they feel comfortable playing or hanging out with. There’s no reason to force your dog to go to the dog park, as doing so could result in having a bad experience and cause future behavioral issues like fear, anxiety, or aggression.
Consider whether your dog shows playful interest in other dogs. If so, they may enjoy dog park play. If they show little to no interest, they are likely happy with their routine and circle of dog friends. Before going to a dog park, having a playdate with one or two other dogs can be a good idea, as you can vet the other dog's behavior, play style, and vaccination status beforehand. You could also sign your dog up for a dog daycare trial to better understand whether they enjoy a group environment.
Is A Particular Dog Park Right for You and Your Dog?
Once you've determined whether your dog is a candidate for going to the dog park, it's a good idea to visit a dog park without your dog. When you arrive, take a walk around and note the following:
Is the fencing secure?
Is the entry double-gated for safety to prevent dogs from slipping out when another enters?
Is the park area well-maintained? Are there muddy areas or standing water (a breeding ground for parasites)? Is the terrain uneven, where it could cause injury to running dogs?
Is the dog park large enough for the number of dogs present?
Are other dog owners engaged and actively monitoring their dogs? Or are they not paying attention, on their phones, or letting their dog run amok?
Are there any dogs acting inappropriately?
Is there a separate small dog area?
Is there a sign that dogs need to be spayed or neutered and vaccinated?
If your first visit without your dog doesn't raise any red flags, then plan a visit to the park with your dog. If you feel uncomfortable with the number of dogs in the park or if the owners are not actively managing their dogs, come back another time to try again.
While dog parks can be an excellent exercise option for dogs who live in apartments or don't have a yard to run in, they aren't a requirement for your dog to live a happy, fulfilled life. If the dog park environment isn't right for your dog, consider alternatives like dog daycare (there are many different styles to match different temperaments), a dog walker, or yard rental services for a private dog park experience.