To Dog Park or not to Dog Park. What should you do?
So you want to bring your dog to the dog park? I mean, why not?! It’s a great place for dogs to play and socialize with each other. It helps tire them out and distract them while you hang out with your friends and catch up on life. What could possibly go wrong?
Dog parks can be controversial. Some people bring their dogs every day and have a wonderful time and their dogs are very happy and content. While others will tell horror stories about dog parks and how their dog got attacked and ended up at the ER. So what gives? Are dog parks good to go to or not?
Large Dog Parks vs Small Dog Parks vs Open Field Parks
Honestly, we will always have our own opinions about what’s best for us and our pups, so take what I have to say and do what you will with it. In my honest opinion large dog parks are bad and
should be avoided at all cost, while smaller parks are better but can still hold some risks. I think if you’re going to go to a dog park, you should find one that is an open field without any gates with off leash dogs allowed.
Why an open field dog park? Simple, to have an off leash dog in an open park the dog has to have at least some obedience and a decent recall. No one is going to let their dog off leash if they worry that their dog is going to run off. Now I’m not saying these kinds of parks don’t come without risk as well, there is just a lower chance of something happening because dog owners will be a bit more aware of what’s going on with their dogs.
Growing up I had very friendly dogs that loved going to the park and playing with other dogs. I enjoyed taking them, I got to meet other dogs and also watch my dogs have fun running around and enjoying life. But the parks I brought them to were very small and there were only generally a max of two or three other dogs in the park. The owners were constantly watching them and the dogs were fairly well behaved. I thought dog parks were great at that time!
As I grew up and went to other dog parks, I found one that was HUGE. On average I could probably count a good 50 different dogs as I walked around. My dog and I enjoyed it for a bit. There was a nice river and for the most part other dogs and people were respectful of us and I saw most people pick up after their dogs when they inevitably went number 2. One day, on our routine dog park walk I saw a couple new dogs that I hadn’t seen running around before. They were on the bigger side, I tried to keep a good distance between us and them just to air on the side of caution and I am glad I did. I watched as those dogs ran up and attacked a bystander and her dog. The few people around started yelling and tried to get the dogs off of the poor lady and her dog, shouting for the owner to get their dogs. Finally their owner came around and as I am aware he did not have any control over his dogs and he did not seem to care at all at what his dogs had done. Finally Animal Law Enforcement showed up, but by that time the man and his dogs were gone.
That’s honestly just one experience I had and I was done after that. I just don’t want to risk mine or my dog's safety going to that park again. And thankfully I did stop when I did, apparently quite a few dog fights had started to break out at the park and a dog ended up dying from their wounds. Also at that time I worked for an animal shelter and we had gotten reports that the river tested positive for Giardia and the ground positive for Roundworm. Upon further research I found that the grounds were always testing positive for some kind of Zoonotic disease. I’m sure I could find other stories about bad experiences people had at parks, but I think you get the picture. The larger the dog park, the greater the gamble.
Smaller parks are definitely easier to control. For the most part people are more likely to have a
better eye on their dog and know what’s going on in their surroundings. There is still risk with smaller dog parks as well though. Because the parks are smaller I have had times where someone with an aggressive dog will bring their dog in because no one else was around at that time. So if you are going into a park with only one person and dog, you might want to double check and ask if their dog is friendly. Dog fights can still break out in a smaller park, so it’s very important to keep aware of your surroundings and dog.
So should you not go to dog parks at all? How will you let your dog socialize?
I’m not going to tell you not to go to dog parks, but there are some other options if you wish to try and avoid them. Look around for a reputable Doggy Daycare that offers monitored play groups! There are many daycares out there, so definitely do your research. Preferably pick a daycare that has video surveillance that you can access to check in on your pup. Ask to tour the facility before you leave your dog, make sure that they will be staying in clean kennels and ask how often they will be let out to play and potty.
If daycare is out of the question then get together with neighbors or friends with dogs and set up playgroups in someone's backyard. This can be beneficial to you and your dog! Not only do they get to play with dogs they know and are comfortable around, but now you get to hang out with friends so it’s a win-win.
Group classes are also another great way to get your dog out and socialized. Some group classes allow for monitored play groups before and/or after class and it’s under the watchful eye of a professional trainer! This also helps teach your dog how to work around distractions during the actual class part. Check in with your local dog trainers near you to see what they have to offer.
Private dog parks are another option, but it depends on location as they are not accessible everywhere. Check your local parks or even Doggy Day Cares to see if they have a membership only park for your dog. What that means is people are being held accountable for the dogs they bring to the park, their dogs must be up to date on vaccines, the park will always be clean and well maintained, and usually the dogs have to go through a temperament test to ensure that they can get along with other dogs. This is a great and safe way to get around dog parks!
Steps to take if you do go to a dog park
Like I said, I’m not going to tell you to stop going to the dog park. I might highly discourage it, but I won’t judge you if you do go. What I can do is try and set you and your dog up for success at the park. So, here are some steps you can take to make sure you and your canine companion are prepared.
1. Make sure your dog is up to date on EVERYTHING.
Make sure to have the bare minimum of a nametag on your dog's collar with your information on it. If your dog is microchipped, make sure your information is updated there as well. A pet license might be required by law in your jurisdiction, so I recommend calling your vet or local shelter and asking. This is a great way to keep your pet safe as well. Also make sure your dog is up to date on ALL of their vaccines. Some are not required, so ask your vet what other vaccines your pup might need in order to be protected at the park!
2. Know your dog's behavior.
How well do they tolerate different types of dogs? Just like humans tolerate each other in different ways, so do dogs. A shyer pup won’t feel comfortable when they’re being surrounded by other, pushy, dogs and taking them to the dog park is not a good idea. A dog that may get a little too pushy and likes to play rough may not be a good fit at a dog park as well. Lastly, if your dog has ever shown any sign of aggression towards another dog or person should definitely never go to a dog park!
3. Respect the rules!
Just like in life, rules are set to help keep everyone safe. The rules at your local dog park are set in order to protect you and your pup. If you don’t like them then find a different park to go to. Also please pick up after your dog, it’s not that hard and helps reduce chances of diseases spreading.
You never know what you will be walking into, so I say it’s better to be over prepared than under. Have a little emergency aid kit with you in case there is a scuffle between dogs. Know how far your closest Vet Office is and the closest Animal Emergency Room. Have extra water bottles and a dog bowl ready, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve regretted not bringing more water! Look at the weather for the day and prepare accordingly. And most importantly, have extra poop bags prepared, that cannot be stressed enough.
If you end up bringing treats and a toy or two, that’s great! Make sure to know your surroundings when you bring them out though. I recommend being extra careful about when you pull these items out. A super busy park is probably not the time to play a game of fetch unless you’re okay with 10 other dogs running after the ball.
5. Watch your dog, not your phone!
Get off your phone! You are at the park for your dog, so you need to stay attentive to them. Speak up for them if they are nervous or if another dog is being rude to them, or vise versa, don’t let your dog be rude to others. Also, I hate to say it, but there are cruel people in this world and there have been people that have stolen dogs from parks. If you’re not paying attention and your furry friend goes out of eyesight, that might be an opportunity someone was waiting on to snag your dog. As we all know, dogs also love to put things in their mouths! So it is very important to watch what they are eating while at the park, especially since you don’t know what might be in or on the thing they’re eating. I have been told and read articles of people poisoning items and dropping them off at parks. You're there for your dog, so take the time to hang out with them. Who knows, you might even find out something about your canine companion that you didn't even know about! I know my dog hates baths, but when I used to take her to the park I found out she likes to run around in rivers!
In short, controversy will always fall around dog parks with people asking if they're good or not. But no matter where you choose to go, be safe, focus on your dog, know your surroundings, and remember to have fun with your dog!