Should You Skip The Dog Park?
This post contains affiliate links. See our disclaimer for more details.
Some dog owners believe taking their dog to a dog park not only lets them exercise but also socialize with other fur-friends. Unfortunately, not all dog parks are safe. It is important to take into account all of the risks that can affect you and your pup while at a dog park.
Are Dog Parks Safe?
Professional dog trainers and behavior specialists caution about the dangers of public dog parks. Many believe the risks out-way the benefits.
It is up to you to identify the potential hazards of a dog park before you make the trip. Get the facts, ask your friends or veterinarian about their experiences at a dog park.
If you find that dog parks aren’t for you, we have some fun alternatives that can help you and your dog have some healthy outdoor adventures together.
Dog Park Pros and Cons
While some dog parks may have a positive effect on dogs, there are others that pose many risks to you and your dog.
- Providing a fenced-in place to run
- Allowing your dog to play off-leash
- A way to help your dog release energy
- Dogs can learn unwanted social behavior
- Aggressive Canine Behavior
- Injury or Death
- Contracting Various Diseases and Parasites
Dog Park Dangers:
1. Aggressive Behavior:
Your dog may love to play friendly with other dogs, but there are dog bullies out there too. You don’t want your dog to feel overwhelmed or unsafe in a hectic environment.
You are your dog’s protector. If you are helpless and unable to help your dog during an attack, this can negatively affect your dog/human relationship.
Different Dog Play Styles:
Various dogs have different play styles that may not be compatible with your dog.
Ask yourself: Does your dog love to play with other dogs?
Dogs are known for being social animals. But, just like humans, some dogs just prefer to hang out with their Pack (their humans or fur-siblings) at home and would rather not meet other fur-friends.
Some dogs love to rough house with others. If your dog enjoys this type of play and is not getting hurt or hurting others, you might want to give dog parks a try.
Dog Parks Are Not the place to Train your dog. Unfortunatly, many dogs coming to the dog park are not trained, which puts your dog at risk.
Canine Command Training and Socialization Training should occur before entering a dog park. Throwing an unsocialized pup into a large pen of dogs is not a safe idea.
3. Off Leash:
You must be comfortable with your dog running off leash in a large pen with other off-leash dogs. Some even recommend to also take off your dog’s collar or harness to avoid getting caught or grabbed by other dogs.
4. Multiple Dogs:
Avoid taking multiple dogs to a dog park all at the same time. Consider taking one dog at a time or ask a friend to join you so you can split up and closely monitor the dogs while they romp around.
Multiple dogs off leash will go in different directions and you will not be able to efficiently watch all of them at the same time.
5. Park Construction:
Look for a well-built dog park with several acres available for running and playing. It should have a solid, well-maintained fenced and access to water.
Some dog parks have fun equipment to play on, open fields, small creeks, and even wooded areas to run through.
A dog park that has a huge amount of room and various terrain will help keep the dogs occupied so that they are less likely to be bothering each other. Parks that are a bit smaller and overcrowded increase the chances of more violent canine behavior.
6. Dog Size Separation:
Does your local dog park separate the large dogs from the smaller dogs? As a small dog owner, it is a given that you would prefer to have your dog in a pen with other smaller dogs.
As an owner of a larger dog, consider the risk of your dog “accidentally” hurting a smaller dog.
7. Dog Park Rules
Public Dog Parks should have rules that are posted for owners to read prior to entering the park.
Unfortunately, it is rare to have Park Staff in attendance to help enforce the rules and regulations. So, dog owners are pretty much on their own… and as you know, not everyone follows the rules.
Aggressive Dog fights aren’t the only threat to your dog’s safety at the dog park. In public dog parks, no one is checking the dogs to see if they are healthy or have had all of their vaccinations.
Make sure your Dog is Fully Vaccinated. Bringing in a puppy with half of their vaccines is a sure way to obtain numerous diseases or parasites.
Even if your dog is fully vaccinated, there is still a risk of spreading canine influenza and kennel cough. The dog flu and kennel cough vaccines only cover “some” strains of the disease. So, your dog could still obtain another strain that he is not vaccinated for.
Let’s talk about Dog Poop! Eww, I know. There are lots of dogs at a dog park that do it. Some with and without random diseases and parasites.
Many people who attend a dog park will pick up their dog’s poo, per the Rules of the park. But, there are some that won’t pick it up.
Whether your pup eats another dog’s poop or just steps in it and licks his feet when he is at home, he can get a nasty parasite! Parasites like ringworm and hookworm can be found in a dog’s feces.
10. Fleas and Ticks
When boarding your dog at most Doggie Kennels or Doggie Daycares, they require your dog to have some type of Flea and Tick preventative.
Whether it is a stated requirement or not, always apply flea and tick preventative before entering the dog park. We love to recommend Advantix or Vectra 3D.
It’s always a good idea to become familiar with Removing Ticks as well just in case you find one stuck to your pup.
What to Look for Before Entering the Dog Park
What do you picture in your head when you visualize a dog park? Your dog running happily through a field with all of his best doggy friends? Unfortunately, not every dog park is right for your dog.
Prior to taking your pup to the dog park, take a few walks past the dog park to get a feel for the type of dogs and people that are spending time there. Ask yourself the following questions before jumping in those gates:
Are there any dogs bullying other dogs?
Are the dog owners watching their dogs attentively?
Do some dogs have personal toys that may cause conflict with the other dogs?
Are there a lot of intact (not neutered) male dogs?
Is there a separate area for the smaller dogs to play?
Is the Dog Park Gate strong and secure?
Is there a group of dogs congregating at the main gate?
Warning Signs of Aggressive Behavior
While playing at the dog park, if you notice any of the following behaviors around your dog, safely remove your dog before anyone gets hurt. Don’t wait for them to “Work it out”. That Doesn’t Work.
- Stiff Body Posture
- Ears Pinned Back
- Baring Teeth
- Bites (snipping to puncturing bites)
- Direct Eye Contact
- Raised Hackles
Need some help with Dog Aggression? Check out the dog whisperer on Youtube.
Safe Alternatives to Public Dog Parks:
- Doggie Playdates: Arrange small group play dates with dogs that you know are compatible and healthy.
- Doggie Daycare: Doggie Daycares are monitored by trained professionals that will watch over your pup’s behavior and enforce the rules.
- Private Dog Parks: Private Dog Parks have staff that closely monitor the dogs playing in the park and can assist with any issues that may arise. Dog Parks that have staff on attendance also will enforce the rules of the park. Some private parks require registration sign in and issue ID tags that owners must wear while in the park.
- Playtime at Home: Using interactive toys is a nice way to work your dog’s brain (mental exercise). It can tire them out as much as physical exercise.
Dog Parks May Not Be Appropriate For Your Dog:
Dogs do need plenty of exercise, but playtime should be a safe and fun experience for your dog. Don’t discount the importance of personal playtime at home with your dog.
Even the most well-trained dog can experience a set back with one bad incident at a dog park. You Can’t make your pup like other dogs. Dog Parks can be crowded and unpredictable, which can be dangerous.
Be aware of your dog’s surroundings, always keep an eye on your dog, and most importantly, keep your dog and yourself safe.
See Leerburg.com’s Article on Dog Parks: Why they are a Bad Idea.