Dog parks, normally when I think about dog parks I visualize large green pastures with high fences with dogs running around off leash playing with each other while their pet parents socialize and relax. Is that what you envision as well? I’ll be honest in saying that I have personally never seen a dog park in real life and only in movies. So in order to write this article, I did quite a bit of research to find out what REAL dog parks are like, are they safe and what you should do to prepare for your visit to the dog park, or if you should even visit a dog park at all. After this article there will be a page of references, I highly recommend you read them as they contain lots of amazing information that I was not able to dive into during this article.
Firstly, I would like to go over the benefits of dog parks. Dog parks can be great places for dogs to get off leash and burn some energy, especially in big cities and places where local governments may have put restrictions on dogs and where they are not allowed to be. It creates a space for the dog parent and dog to bond and be outside and get some fresh air, and is a great way for the pet parent to get in some exercise too!
Now the next part is breaking down what you should take note of at the dog park to help you decide if it is appropriate for you and your pet.
The Park’s Structure
One of the very first things you can do to make sure your dog will be safe at the dog park is to check out the park itself first. You’ll want a dog park that has high fences and plenty of spaces for dogs to separate from each other in case one needs a break. You don’t want another dog to be able to charge at another and tackle them, even in play, and the other dog does not have an option to hide if they are not interested in playing with that dog or that way. Take note to see if dogs are conjuring around the openings of the park and how big the entrances are. If dogs seem to loiter around this spot, it could possibly start some anxiety with your dog being bombarded with new dogs and scents all at once especially by dogs who are hyper and may not read body language signs from other dogs, but we will go over that in detail after.
Is it located next to a busy road? Do you feel secure with the park’s entrance that it could stop your dog or other dogs from running outside of the park? Do they have benches, clean up areas or communal watering areas for dogs? Be careful about letting your dog drink from communal areas as they could spread unwanted germs and illnesses from dog to dog.
The behaviors of your dog and other dogs
The other area of mention is to watch how your dog is with other dogs, even before going to the dog park. Just like humans, not every dog is interested in every other dog and they may not get along with every other dog. Once a dog hits mature age, they may have less drive to meet new dogs or to play with others (and just like humans, there may be some who simply cannot get enough of other people and dogs).
If your dog is showing signs like: yawning a lot, panting, becoming suddenly startled, possessive of toys or food then maybe the dog park is not for you. Also be conscious if your dog is overly hyper and plays rough. Not every dog is going to want to play with your dog, especially if they are very hyper! Keep an eye on your dog and other dogs, if they start giving signs that they are becoming uncomfortable around your dog, or your dog is uncomfortable around another dog, you will need to be able to remove yourself and your dog until both have calmed down.
Preparing to go to the Park
After doing some research, checking out your local park and determining if your dog plays well with others then it is time to get ready to go to the park! Leashes and collars are not the only items you will need to go to the park. Disposable bags for accidents are a must, along with bringing a dish and water for your dog to drink from when they get thirsty. There are lots of cool portable water carriers for dogs that you can find online or at your local pet retailer.
Aside from physical items, I highly recommend that your dog is fully up to date all their vaccinations before visiting the park. If you wonder how long you should wait, your vet can tell you that information. They will also be able to tell you what vaccinations they believe your dog should have if you plan on visiting dog parks.
So what if the dog park isn’t for you and your pup?
As I stated before, dog parks are not for every pair of pet parents and dogs. But there are still plenty of cool activities that you can do with your dog that don’t involve them having to socialize with tons of other dogs. Consider joining a sport with them like agility or frisbee! There are also events called Barn Hunt which you can find more about at the American Kennel Club’s website.
I hope this article helped you in deciding if dog parks are right for you and your dog, and if they are not I truly hope you look into those fun activities listed just above! They will help give your pet and you some amazing bonding experiences.
Barn Hunt. (n.d.). American Kennel Club. Retrieved December 13, 2021, from https://www.akc.org/sports/title-recognition-program/barn-hunt/
Bergel, H., KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, & CBCC-KA. (2021, June 7). Should Your Pup Go to the Dog Park? Daily Paws. https://www.dailypaws.com/dogs-puppies/dog-exercise-play/are-dog-parks-safe-for-all-dogs
Dog Parks: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – APDT. (2017, March 10). APDT. https://apdt.com/resource-center/dog-parks-good-bad-ugly/
Helmer, J. (n.d.). Dog Park Safety: What to Know Before You Go. WebMD. Retrieved December 13, 2021, from https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/features/dog-park-safety#2