Dog park, dog run or off-leash park – whichever name it may fall under. Sometimes it may be a tiny concrete or gravel fenced off area in a busy city and other times it may be acres of fields with paths, picnic tables and sometimes even be waterfront. Campgrounds or ocean side towns may have dog beaches that act in the same manner. Bottom line is that it’s an area where people can bring their dogs to run off leash with other dogs.
Dog parks were created as a “safe” and contained area where dogs can run free. Many people do not have a fenced yard or may live in an apartment or condo. If your dog is not reliable off leash then you may not trust letting them run in an open field or an area that is not contained. Dog parks act as a solution to this.
· Having the ability to exercise your dog in an environment where you don’t have to worry about your dog running away.
· Allowing your dog to have social interactions with other dogs in a neutral environment
· Meeting new like-minded friends for yourself
Dog parks are often used as an “outlet”. People bring their over-excited, rambunctious, cooped up dogs here to burn off steam. The problem with this is a bunch of dogs that are over stimulated and over aroused together can be troublesome. When you start to introduce toys/balls within the park, water bowls, humans petting dogs (affection), or new dogs coming through the gate this is when you may start to see signs of impending disagreements between dogs or issues beginning to arise that could lead to fights. The problem is, nobody is watching. Many times, owners are sitting together chatting or huddled together with coffees in the colder weather. The dogs are going about their business but nobody is watching their mannerisms or behaviour changes until it’s too late. That pesky dog that won’t leave the other dogs alone and is ignoring warning signs; needs to be called off. That fearful dog who is running circles trying to hide under the picnic table to get away from a pack of 3 or 4 dogs chasing it; needs to be called back (and so do the ones doing the chasing). That puppy who is hiding behind its owner’s legs because its terrified and stressed; needs to have a better experience before it lives its entire life with a negative association to other dogs. You may see dogs with resource guarding who start a fight over a ball when both dogs want it. You might see a pack of dogs picking on another and none listen when they’re called. Usually recalls off play are non-existent. The dogs within the park aren’t listening and they surely aren’t going to listen when they are in chase mode (prey drive).
The reality is that if you want to bring your dog to the dog park you should do so when your dog is already in a calm state of mind and has already been mentally and physically satisfied. You want to bring your dog there for PROPER social interaction with other calm dogs. Therefore, you should reconsider going to the dog park at all unless you are prepared to watch and intervene when needed. Calm and respectful dogs are rarely what you will find there. It will be a much more pleasant and positive experience for you to meet with friends who have respectful dogs where your dog or puppy can have a positive experience and play in a controlled environment. One negative experience at a dog park can set your dog back for years to come and create behaviours like reactivity and fear aggression that could have been prevented.
Dog boarding / daycare or training facilities may offer proper monitored socialization opportunities as another option. It should never be a giant free for all with no boundaries, supervision or interruptions. If you do want to visit the dog park, try to find one that is spacious and has lots of room for dogs to spread out. This way it’s not a tiny, crammed environment with no space to get away if needed.
Lastly, disease control. Internal parasites can live in the environment. Dog poop containing parasites (worms / eggs) can make transmission very easy in an area such as a dog park. Keeping your pet on preventatives or checking routine fecal samples can help keep the chances of transmission down. Airborne diseases such as kennel cough can be easily transmitted in areas with high dog traffic. Don’t bring a coughing dog to the dog park and talk with your vet about the vaccination for kennel cough and influenza (dog flu) in prevalent areas. Sharing water bowls can make viral infections spread rapidly and at the dog park it’s not often that the bowls are cleaned or sanitized. Keep this in mind and remember to always advocate for your dog to set them up for the best chances of success.