Dog parks are a fairly modern idea but they are gaining popularity and more are being opened in many areas of the USA, UK and Australia. They are basically a fenced-off area where you are allowed to let your dog off the leash so that they can run around freely. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
There have been some concerns about the safety of these parks and some owners are reluctant to use them. Here is a useful guide which will help you weigh up whether a dog park would be safe for your pooch.
Why Would You Want to Use A Dog Park?
Dog parks do bring a lot of health benefits so you will need to weigh these up against the risks. Some of the benefits of dog parks are:
- They provide opportunities for socialisation. Socialisation is an important aspect of puppy training. A young dog, in particular, needs to be with other dogs in order to learn how to communicate and read body language. A lack of socialisation can lead to anxiety or aggression.
- They provide physical and mental exercise. Running around is obviously good for your dog’s general health but investigating new smells and meeting new dogs is very mentally stimulating and will wear your pooch out as much as the physical exertion.
- You get to meet owners. You can chat with other owners and exchange tips and stories.
What Are the Risks Involved In Dog Parks?
Dog parks do present some dangers to dogs as well. Here are some of them.
- The risk of getting infections and infestations. The germs that carry dog diseases can live in the soil and water in dog parks. Some can be transmitted directly from one dog to another and transmission is more likely when a lot of dogs are in one place at the same time. If your pooch is up to date with their vaccinations the risks are much reduced. It is easy to pick up fleas from dog parks so be vigilant for signs that your pooch is infested and treat appropriately.
- The risk of getting injured by another dog. Some dogs are more aggressive than others. For a shy or small dog, this will be terribly stressful and could lead to long-term anxiety. Actual physical injuries are another possibility. They can result from a game that gets too rough or a real dog fight. Regular doggy visitors to dog parks can start to form packs and may attack a newcomer. It would be best to visit at a quieter time of day when the ‘regulars’ are not there!
- The risk of confrontation with other dog owners. Unfortunately, there are different opinions on how dogs should behave and how their humans should respond to that behaviour. This can lead to very heated exchanges between owners which can also upset the dogs.
How To Work Out The Risks For Your Particular Dog
There is no such thing as an ‘ideal’ dog for a dog park but there are some characteristics that will make it more likely that your dog will enjoy it and will stay safe. In general, a well-socialised dog will be safer because they are less likely to get into a fight.
Dogs that are aged under two years will find it most fun to interact with multiple new playmates whereas older dogs can be a bit fussy! Only take a healthy dog that has been fully vaccinated to a dog park. Sick dogs will not cope with the rough and tumble and could have lowered immunity and be vulnerable to infection. Dogs that have not been spayed or neutered are not always that popular in dog parks as it leads to unwanted sexual behaviour and possibly aggression.
Dog parks are not safe for unvaccinated puppies. They are also not safe for unneutered males because their high levels of testosterone will make other dogs aggressive towards him. It is no place for a female dog in heat unless you want puppies from an unknown father!
A dog park is not a safe place for an under-socialised or anxious pooch. It will just be too overwhelming. You should work on socialising with one dog at a time first. They are not suitable for very small and dainty dogs including some of the new hybrid breeds of ‘handbag’ dogs. They are physically too small to stand up to the rough and tumble and could get seriously injured or even killed.
Top Tips for Keeping Safe in Dog Parks
If you feel that a dog park would be suitable for your pooch, there are still plenty of things that you can do to make sure that they stay safe.
- Tell your vet that you are going to visit a dog park and check that your pooch has all the additional vaccinations that are needed for frequent contact with a lot of other dogs. The Bordatella (kennel cough) vaccine is one that they may recommend.
- Take your own water bottle and water – it prevents the risk of picking up an infection from a shared drinking bowl.
- Don’t take a dog that is not neutered or spayed to a dog park. They will be more aggressive with other dogs and you could end up with pups!
- Visit the park without your dog. Check out how responsible the owners are being and if dogs are forming into packs.
- Pick a big park where there are not too many dogs. Fights are more likely when parks are crowded.
- Check that the fences and gates are actually secure. It is best if there is a ‘holding pen’ creating a double entrance so that dogs cannot escape as others are coming in.
- Keep your eye on your pooch. As soon as a difficult situation arises you need to intervene.
- Don’t let your dog mob a new arrival. They may not like it and could get aggressive.
- Dog Park Behavior and Etiquette Tips Pets Web MD
- Dog Park Dangers: 5 Considerations Before Visiting a Dog Park Better Homes and Gardens