I’m not a fan of dog parks. I never have been and I doubt that will change. However, I do see the allure and of course, most pet owners have the best intentions in mind.
When we think of dog parks, we think of a tidy patch of green expanse, our beloved Fido romping through the meadow, chasing butterflies, rolling blissfully in the grass, tongue flopping around, and making fast friends with all of the other adorable, friendly dogs at play. Of course we do! We rarely consider the contamination in the soil, the sick puppies that were there before us, or the dog-version of the school bully just looking for trouble. However, as good dog owners, we have to be aware of those things too.
There are alternatives to dog parks but if you can’t resist the urge to take Fido to the dog park, here are a few things to observe before entering:
- Did a dog owner bring a toy that could cause conflict between dogs? While we like to imagine that dogs will share and take their turn, generally this isn’t the case and a conflict can arise quickly.
- Is there a separate area for smaller dogs? Small dogs and large dogs don’t always play well together. It’s not always about their intentions but rather their size difference. A large dog is accustomed to a different bite tolerance (thanks to his littermates) than a small dog can handle. If a small dog gets stepped on or maneuvered in the wrong way, injuries can easily happen.
- Do the dogs surround new arriving dogs? Of course some dogs will be curious but a dog just entering the park can become overwhelmed, fearful, and therefore defensive which could set off the original group of dogs.
- Are there too many dogs in the dog park? Just like with humans, when you get too many dogs together in one small space, all with their own personalities and pet-peeves (pun intended), a riot can develop and breaking it up can be much more challenging than breaking up that school yard bully fight.
- Are there are too many intact males in the park? This isn’t just a female in heat issue. This is an aggression issue if too many intact males are together.
- Are the dogs being supervised by their owners or are the owners eyes glued to their cell phone? Do they have on headphones? Dog owners, just like parents, should always be watching their dogs to ensure their safety and the safety of all of the other dog-children at the park.
- Fleas, ticks and worms – OH MY!
Of course none of the above items will tell you if a puppy with Parvo has been at the dog park recently. Parvo can live in the soil for up to 6 months and is lethal in dogs that haven’t been vaccinated or aren’t current on their vaccinations. There are a lot of other health concerns to consider as well, aside from the other possible dangers in a dog park.
I would also like you to remember that dogs have emotions too. A traumatic event can affect your dog emotionally for a very long time. It can change his behavior and can even cause him to become aggressive in situations that make him uncomfortable. All it takes is one really bad experience for that to happen. If you do find yourself at a dog park after all, you MUST leave if your dog isn’t having a good time, if other dogs are making him uncomfortable, or if anything feels amiss at all.
Differences In Personalities And The Way Dogs Play
Every breed is bred for a specific purpose. There are hunting dogs, working dogs, companion dogs, and on and on. Some dogs are more predatory in nature than other dogs and were bred to chase and kill. When aroused in situations like a dog park where the dog is amped up, chemicals are released into the dog’s bloodstream that were once useful for a dogs’ survival in the wild.
A cute little Pomeranian can go from looking like a cute little Pomeranian during play to looking like a tasty rabbit running for its life. A play drive can quickly turn to prey drive with very undesirable outcomes.
Breaking up a dog fight in a dog park can be a very challenging situation. Many times, other dogs jump in the mix and once you have teeth snapping in all directions from aggressive angry dogs, it can be very difficult to stop the fight without getting seriously injured yourself.
In conclusion, I don’t suggest dog parks for anyone (or anydog). As a dog trainer, I wouldn’t even take a dog to a dog park for the “socialization” aspect of dog training. There are safer alternatives to dog parks that will often be more enjoyable for Fido anyway.