Q: I have a very energetic German shorthaired pointer. The only way I can wear him out is to run him off-leash. Is it safe to bring him to a dog park?
Dog parks have become very common due to the increased demand by dog owners for places where their dogs can exercise off-leash and socialize with other dogs. This demand is the result of increased enforcement of leash laws and less tolerance for dogs being off-leash in urban areas.
The benefits to the dogs are an increase in physical exercise and greater mental stimulation. This off-leash exercise and socialization with other dogs and people helps the dogs to be healthier physically and better adjusted mentally.
The benefits to the owners are greater enjoyment of their pet and the formation of a community with other dog owners. Also, dog parks help society in general because it promotes greater compliance with the law.
A major downside to dog parks is the potential for dog aggression or injury to dogs (especially small dogs) through rough play. People need to watch their dog’s behavior carefully for signs of aggression or fear.
Some dogs do not enjoy free interaction with other dogs. A dog with its tail tucked and ears back is displaying fear and sometimes will become aggressive because of this fear. If your dog is acting fearful, don’t force him to be there. It is better to just leave.
It is also important to pay attention to the body language of the other dogs at the park. Some dogs push too hard and can bully other dogs. Not everyone that goes to a dog park is “dog savvy”. They may not understand their dog’s body language, or they may be so desperate to wear their dog out that they bring their dog even if he shouldn’t be there.
As a general rule, young puppies under six months of age or very small dogs should not go to the dog park because of the potential for injury. Also, the dog park is not a substitute for good training and early socialization.
In addition, if you choose to go, be careful with bringing toys or treats. Some dogs will get possessive over toys or food, leading to a fight.
Also be careful with small children at the dog park. Packs of dogs will sometimes charge into people if they are intensely playing.
The best dog parks are fenced away from traffic and from other people such as joggers and bicyclists. This keeps the dogs safe and prevents unwanted contact with other park users. Make sure that the park you choose has a fence around the entire perimeter. Some parks are only partly fenced, and trees and brush make up the other boundary. You don’t want to risk losing your dog at the dog park.
Dogs are more susceptible to parasite transmission at the dog park, so please be considerate and pick up your dog’s droppings. A monthly parasite preventative medication is strongly recommended. If you are giving your dog a monthly heartworm pill, like Heartgard, this should help protect your dog against many of the intestinal parasites that can be spread through contaminated soil at the park.
Your dog should also be up-to-date on all vaccinations. The bordetella (or “kennel cough”), rabies, distemper and flu vaccines are important considerations for dogs going to dog parks.
If you are interested in locating a dog park near you, try the website bringfido.com and look under the heading of “attractions.”