Are Dog Parks Safe for Dogs?
As a dog owner, you know that daily exercise and play are essential to your dog’s health and wellbeing. But, is taking them to a dog park a safe and effective way to help them burn off energy?
You may be surprised to find out that many pet behaviorists, trainers, and even veterinarians advise against taking your dog to off-leash dog parks. In this article, we’re going to talk about their main concerns, and offer up a few suggestions to keep your pupper safe and happy.
Why your dog trainer hates the dog park
Okay, okay, they might not hate the dog park. But many dog trainers do have some compelling reasons to be wary of them:
- You can’t predict or control the behavior of other dogs. One of the biggest dangers of bringing your dog to a dog park is the unpredictability of other dogs. Because while your pup may be well-trained and socialized, there’s no guarantee that the other dogs will be.
- Some dog owners don’t supervise their dogs. If there’s one place that we should put down the phone and focus, it’s at the dog park. Friendly encounters can turn in an instant, and dog owners should always be ready to de-escalate a situation before it becomes an all-out brawl. Unfortunately, some dog owners let their furry friend run free without paying attention.
- Dog parks get crowded. When dogs are in large groups, it can be more difficult for us humans to pay attention to body language. Escalations can also be less manageable, as dogs may naturally revert to pack mentality when things get out of hand. Finally, it’s important to remember that just like us, our dogs can feel intimidated by large crowds.
- Dogs get overstimulated. If your dog tends to get very excited when playing with other dogs in the park, this can easily boil over into overstimulation, resulting in impulse control issues and even out-of-character aggression. You might find that your dog seems wired and stressed even after you take them home, which is a sign that they’ve been pushed over their threshold. We should also mention that this kind of overexcitement can be dangerous when driving to the dog park. If your dog seems like they might jump out of the window as you get closer to the park, and during other times of hyper excitement, be sure to keep them safely in the backseat with BreezeGuard Screens.
- Severe fights are dangerous and can have a lasting impact. Most dogs recover from minor disagreements without too much of a fuss. But, in the unfortunate case of a severe fight, your dog could be in very real danger. Not only is there a risk of bodily harm, but your dog could develop a lasting phobia or distrust of other dogs, the dog park, or the outside world in general.
Are these outcomes guaranteed when you take your dog to the dog park? Of course not. But it is a good idea to be aware of the risks when taking your dog to an off-leash area.
Your vet has a few things to say as well
So far, we’ve covered the behavioral risks associated with dog parks. But there are a few additional ones that your vet would like to point out:
- Parasites and communicable diseases. Things like fleas, kennel cough, and internal worms are all more likely when your dog is in contact with other dogs. Although the risk of contraction is lower when your dog is up-to-date on their vaccines and parasite prevention medication, your dog may still be at risk when exposed to infected dogs.
- Heat exhaustion. It’s especially important to watch out for signs of heat exhaustion at dog parks, as dogs may not self-regulate when surrounded by others. If you have a dog that doesn’t quit, you may need to force them to take breaks and drink water.
- Pregnancy. If your dog isn’t yet fixed, there is a risk of getting pregnant at the dog park. Because while dogs are only able to become pregnant while in heat, it’s not always obvious when a female has entered this phase. Until your dog is spayed or neutered, it’s safer to keep them away from places like dog parks.
What can you do as a dog owner?
As you can see, some of the hesitation around dog parks is valid. But, what should you do to ensure that your dog is getting safe exercise? Here are some ideas:
- You don’t have to abandon the dog park. If you and your dog enjoy the dog park, there are ways to use it safely. Pick a time when the dog park is less crowded and try building rapport with the other dog owners. Always keep a close eye on your pup and make sure they’re up-to-date on all vaccines and parasite medication.
- Schedule playdates with trusted friends. According to dog behavior researcher, Dr. Stanley Coren, dogs can build devoted friendships with other dogs. That’s why it’s best to arrange one-on-one or small group playdates with dogs they already know and like. This will help them get their energy out without the undue stress of interacting with unknown, potentially aggressive dogs.
- Find other activities that your dog will love. The only thing that your dog might like more than other dogs is you! And taking a more interactive role in your dog’s fitness routine has a few benefits. For one thing, exercising together will encourage both of you to stay active! And, it will also deepen your bond by giving you quality time together. So, try out jogging, biking, hiking, frisbee, or another fun activity with your dog. It’s a great way to keep them healthy and mentally engaged without the chaos of the dog park.
As the dog owner, the choice is yours!
Overall, whether or not you take your dog to the dog park is your decision. You may have a dog park that is calm, quiet, and perfect for your pooch. Or, you might have noticed some of the risk factors we’ve listed here and are looking for alternatives. As your dog’s best advocate, you can help them find the exercise routine that is perfect for them!