Dogs are naturally social animals that benefit greatly from the opportunity to interact and romp with fellow canines. To meet this need, especially in urban areas, going to the dog park has become a regular activity for many dog owners. Here are some tips for keeping these outings enjoyable for everyone.
DO be selective of the dog parks you use. Dr. Kandi Norrell, a primary care veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, recommends “Choose a park that requires a membership.” To join such parks, owners must supply proof of vaccinations such as rabies and distemper. Dr. Norrell also suggests using “a park that is gated, has separate large and small dog areas, and has some form of shelter like trees or other shade.”
DON’T let your small dog play with the big dogs. “Even if you know your little dog is comfortable around large dogs, you can’t know how all the large dogs will be with small dogs,” cautions Dr. Norrell. “There may be a larger dog with a high prey drive that will go after a little dog.” There is no guarantee how well-trained or aggressive the other dogs may be.
DO keep your dog’s health in mind. Dr. Norrell notes: “Make sure your dog’s vaccinations are current, though not all vaccinations are 100 percent effective.” Even if your dog is up-to-date on vaccinations, it is still a good idea to take precautions, for example, not letting it drink from communal water sources. Also, to protect other dogs, do not bring yours to the park if they are coughing, vomiting, or having diarrhea.
DON’T bring puppies to the park until at least two weeks after their final set of puppy vaccinations. Dr. Norrell explains, “It takes at least two weeks for puppies to reach full immunity after the final puppy vaccinations at 16 weeks of age, though peak socialization for puppies occurs at 9 weeks old.” Rather than risk your puppy contracting parvovirus, viral enteritis, or an-other disease at the park, socialize younger pups in a more controlled set-ting, such as a puppy training class.
DO constantly supervise your dog, from the time you leave your car to the time you return to it. Dr. Norrell says, “Keep your dog on a leash between the park and the car. Many people assume that their dog will run from the park right into the car, just like at home, but that is how many dogs are lost.” When you first arrive at the park, keep your dog on the leash until you assess the atmosphere inside the park. “If there is an aggressive dog,” points out Dr. Norrell, “just come back another day.” Once your dog is offleash, always watch so you know what she is doing, where she is, and that she is not getting overheated.
DON’T ignore body language. If the ears are pinned, the tail is between the legs, or the hair on the back is raised, aggressive behavior could soon follow. Once a fight has broken out, it is difficult to safely separate fighting dogs, explains Dr. Norrell, especially if neither pet is leashed. People attempting to separate them are frequently injured. Safer options for separating fighting dogs include spraying them with water, distraction (although difficult) such as with loud noises (pennies shaken in a can), or snaring one or both dogs with a leash while keeping a safe distance, which is difficult without professional help and a rabies pole (a special leash used by animal control to safely leash an aggressive dog).
DO have a good time! Dog parks offer many benefits like socialization and a good place for dogs to exercise, though it is important to always keep safety in mind.
If you have any questions on safe dog park practices, contact your local veterinarian.
University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine