Taking your dog to the dog park can be a fun activity for everyone. Your dog gets a chance to socialize with other dogs. You both get to enjoy some fresh air and playtime. However, it is important to ensure your dog’s safety while they visit a dog park.
Owners should vaccinate their dogs, supervise play sessions, and watch for signs of dog-on-dog aggression to keep their canines safe in a dog park. Learn more about how to stay safe at a dog park by reading these three tips.
Dog Parks Come with Pros and Cons
Dog parks have many benefits, as evidenced by Animals. They include:
- Increased physical and social health for both owner and pet
- A sense of community
- Stronger bonds between owners and dogs
However, many people cite the cons of dog parks, including dog-on-dog aggression, unsanitary park conditions, the risk of diseases and parasites, and poor dog park layout.
Before taking your dog to the park, research your local dog parks and get input from other dog owners. Well-maintained dog parks can be a terrific way to spend time with your dog and give them the social enrichment they need, but there are several precautions you should take first.
Vaccinate Your Dog
Although vets advise that all dogs get vaccinated for rabies, parvo, and distemper, not every owner gets their pet the necessary vaccinations. If an unvaccinated dog has an illness, they can spread it to others at a dog park.
Younger dogs who have not received their full rounds of vaccines are at the highest risk of contracting these illnesses. Experts suggest dog owners wait until their puppy is fully vaccinated before taking them to a dog park to mitigate their risk of developing a preventable illness.
Most off-leash dog parks have no medical care requirements. According to research, 85% of dog parks have at least one dog infected with parasites. Parasites spread when a dog ingests a parasite egg or larvae. Most often, these types of infections pass through fecal matter. If the dog park is unsanitary or poorly maintained, try another dog park or consider alternate social activities.
Supervise Play Sessions
While your dog is playing at the dog park, you need to watch them closely. Your dog should be well trained, so they understand basic commands. Also, be on the lookout for how your dog reacts to the dog park. Some dogs may feel intimidated by other larger dogs coming up to them.
So, if you have a dog that is a little more wary of unfamiliar dogs, you should make sure you keep an eye on how they react to other dogs coming toward them. They may become overwhelmed by groups of dogs––especially if there’s a large size discrepancy.
You can promote solid playtimes with your dog by limiting romps. Overtired dogs are more prone to aggression and other behaviors. How long a session should last depends on the breed; for instance, an Australian Shepherd will need more playtime than a Pomeranian.
Watch for Aggression
It only takes a few seconds for playing to turn into fighting. When you are with your dog at a dog park, be sure to watch for signs that your dog or other dogs are getting overwhelmed. Some signs of dog aggression include:
- Raised hackles
- Biting (not nipping; there’s a difference)
- Lip lifting
- Lunging toward other dogs
- Mounting (or attempts to mount)
If you see any of these signs, remove your dog from the area. Additionally, if you see your dog showing signs of fear, such as crouching, tail tucking, or backing away, you should also step in. Your dog may be frightened and need to get away from another more aggressive dog in the park.
Remember: it only takes a minute for a fight to break out. This can often lead to injuries and lifelong trauma for all involved. Larger dogs may bully smaller dogs, so it is best to go to dog parks that have devoted areas for different sizes of pets.
Alternatives to Dog Parks
If you want the benefits of exercise and bonding with your pet, but you do not want the risk of a dog park, there are some alternative activities you and your dog can do. You can always take your dog running, go for a hike, take an obedience class, or join a breed-specific dog sport, like coursing. These are great ways for you all to get the social and physical benefits of dog parks in a more controlled setting.
You can also take your dog on an outing to a pet store or home improvement stores for some socialization. Stores like Home Depot, TJ Maxx, and Ross let you bring your dog inside. This is a great idea if you want to socialize your dog. Here, they get the chance to explore, meet new people, and experience new things.
Mindfulness Keeps Your Dog Safe
On a good day, a dog park is a great way for both big and small dogs alike to socialize and release some energy. Yet, without knowing the signs of dog-and-dog aggression and forgoing vaccines, your dog could be at risk of suffering injuries.
Long story short: don’t take your dog to the dog park until they are fully vaccinated. While there, make sure to supervise your dog closely, and be sure to rescue them from any precarious situations.
If you find that your dog doesn’t seem to like the dog park, or your local park isn’t well maintained, you can always try alternative ways to socialize your dog and forge a strong bond.