The Good, the Bad and the Ugly about Dog Parks
There are lot of good and bad perceptions about dog parks. This article is intended as an educational source to address some of the most common myths and perceptions about dog parks as well as to highlight their positive aspects. I have visited many dog parks throughout the United States and Canada some I loved and some my dogs and I just we're not a fan of. I often describe dog parks as the good, the bad and ugly so here is may take on my years of experience since dog parks have evolved.
Great dog parks often have large open spaces so that dogs are able to walk and explore/sniff if that is their preference instead of hanging out with other dogs and people. You may think then why go to the dog park? Dog parks or trails are legal places to allow your dog to be off leash. It's a great opportunity for those who live in apartments, condos or townhouses when there isn't a back yard and the dog park gives their dog an opportunity to run, sniff and play outdoors.
Dog parks provide great mental stimulation for your dog in regards to providing the opportunity for great smells so the opportunity to sniff, see and hear different sights and sounds.
Dog parks can become a social community for both owner and dog where they become well acquainted with each other.
Dog parks can often provide the right setting for families to play with their dogs, either through recall games, hide and seek or just a chance to romp along with their owners.
Is it a good place to socialize your dog? That depends, it should not be the only source of socialization and as I will explain further down what to consider.
The dog park is a great opportunity for dog to interact for those dogs that otherwise might not do well on leash.
It's important to know who your dog is and to be aware of his body language. Dogs often show signs of being uncomfortable before any reactivity starts. So become dog aware. There is a great dog park app for iPhone users by Sue Sternberg which can help you learn these signals. You can also learn more about this topic through Lilly Chin's dog language handouts online.
Often dog owners believe that dog parks are ideal locations to socialize their puppies. It's not something I recommend and I would definitely get your veterinarians okay before you decide to do so. There is no control over the health of the dogs that are being brought into the dog park and your young dog's immune system may not be ready for that type of exposure.
From a behaviour standpoint, taking a puppy into a dog park can be risky due to many under-socialized dogs visiting the park. I don't really recommend socializing your new puppy or dog with unknown dogs until they have had lots of good experiences with known dogs.
Owners can misinterpret their dog’s body language as well as other visiting dogs.
Some owners tend to congregate in groups and then do not monitor their dogs or give other owners bad advice like ‘let them work it out’. This can lead to dangerous interactions.
You don't want to use dog parks as the only form of exercise for your dog, especially if your dog becomes over stimulated at every visit.
Some dogs bully other dogs.
Dogs can become sick from other dogs.
Some dog parks do not have separate areas for different sized dogs, some smaller dogs are afraid of larger dogs and some larger type dogs may like to bully smaller dogs or worse.
Certain dog parks that are not big enough so they become too busy for certain numbers of dogs which increase the likelihood of stress which could result in fights among the dogs.
There are some dogs that really don't belong in dog parks. They have short fuses and can do a lot of damage physically and emotionally to other dogs. Having your dog exposed to too many dogs who do not know how to play appropriately can cause your dog concern and could lead to your dog becoming dog aggressive.
Dogs do and can become injured, and sometimes fatally. Dog owners can also become injured by dogs that are not under owners’ control, or those who bite, and people have been knocked into or down to the ground by out of control dogs. Under Canadian law, dog owners are responsible for the actions of their dogs regardless of the location.
Many dog can feel intimidated when too many dogs group together which can lead to fights and injury. Allowing for movement keeps things less intimidating and allows for dogs to move away. When dogs are walking they have an opportunity to move, stop and sniff and keep moving if they aren't interested in interacting with the other dogs.
“Do’s and Don’ts for Dog Parks
Do look and watch before you enter the dog park to see what kind of dogs are inside the park. Observe their behaviours to see if dogs are bullying other dogs. Watch the owners to see if they have control over their dogs. If you see something that makes you uncomfortable do not go in. If you are inside the dog park and there is anything that looks uncomfortable to you and more important to your dog leave. Do not expect dog parks to socialize puppies or socialize your dog that has no dog to dog experience. Do not take your dog to the dog park when he is not feeling well. Remember to take litter bags with you so you can pick up after your dog. Do take water for your dog.
My favourite type of Dog Park is those that have large open spaces that allow for movement, and legal off leash trails. I love to see my dogs have the opportunity to have some off leash time. My goals for going to a dog park is mostly for the mental and physical stimulation for my dogs and less so for socialization.