The Ups and Downs of Going to Dog Parks by Krista Vollick ACA

There is more to consider then you would generally think when choosing to take your furry friend to a dog specific park. There are things that can affect their health as well as their mental state and development, for both good and bad reasons.

Up Sides

Dog parks are great places to take dogs for much needed socialization and mental stimulation. There is so much for them to do and smell, and usually many choices of great playmates they can rough house with outside of their usual day to day routines. It can help younger dogs get use to social situations with other dogs, people, and places so that they grow up to be a better-rounded individual. Not to mention it can be a great place of socialization for the owners too, where they can share dog experiences and similarities and information with each other. It is also a wonderful way to expel a lot of excess pent up doggy energy that if misplaced, can lead to some unwanted behaviors. Besides the fact that watching them play can just be downright fun to watch. It can also be utilized as a good place to keep your pooch on their toes when it comes to training. For the more advanced training sessions it can help provide a lot of tempting distraction to train through and help make your dog more reliable as a result. Short 2 or 3 min bursts of training during their play time can help keep them focused on you while they are having fun. A lot of parks also offer fenced off sections to separate small dogs from large ones, as an injury preventative.

Down Sides

One of the larger down sides to dog parks is there are all kinds of social diseases and parasites that can be picked up, especially if your dog or other dogs are not fully protected by annual vaccines or monthly parasite prevention. Some of them, like Giardia, can even make us sick as well.  It is usually strongly recommended by park rules that your dog be fully up to date on vaccines. Another park rule that should be abided by is that all dogs entering the park should be spayed or neutered. This is for the protection of all the animals entering the park. Unneutered males can be a little more territorial around one another, especially around unspayed females, making fights more likely to happen. If a fight does occur not only does that mean a trip to the hospital for one or both dogs, but it can also leave some lasting effects on the mentality of the animals as well as the owners involved. It can cause fearfulness or aggression towards other dogs in general or sometimes it can be individual, breed, or colour specific. Once this happens it can be quite difficult to try to fix. One of the reasons dog fights in a park happen is because owners aren’t always vigilant enough of their own dogs. Unfortunately sometimes people take their dogs to the park in order to let them run around and play without supervision while they socialize. Other times there just isn’t enough knowledge to know what behavioral signs to look for in order to prevent a problem from happening in the first place.

Final Considerations

If you do decide to look into taking your dog to a dog park, make sure they are up to date on vaccines and parasite prevention, and also make sure to do a bit of research. Observe the park you’re looking to go to without taking your dog and see how the other dogs and people interact with one another. Talk to the people in the park and see if there have been any problems and let them know you’re considering bringing your dog there. Most of the people who use it regularly would love to give their opinion. Be cautious of bringing small children to the park, while it might sound like a great family outing, if there are large dogs romping around they may get knocked over, and you never know if the other dogs at the park have been socialized with children or not. Look for a well-kept and clean park; make sure there are no holes in the fencing that can become an escape rout and that other people using the space  are considerate enough to pick up after their own dogs. Not only will it make a clean place to play but it will help prevent parasites. Bringing your own source of water from home will also aid in helping to prevent parasites and diseases, never allow your dog to drink from puddles on the ground. Make sure there are separate areas of play for large and small dogs; this will help prevent injuries, especially to our smaller friends who might get trampled. Always monitor your dog and his behavior while at the dog park as fights are better avoided then to try to fix the aftermath later. Don’t be afraid to do a bit of research into animal behavior so you know what signs and signals to look out for in order to avoid a potentially dangerous situation.  There is a lot of helpful literature available either at a book store or on the web. But over all have fun. It is the primary reason for going, just make sure it’s safe fun! If on the other hand you decide it’s not the right fit for you and your dog, maybe consider looking into classes, such as flyball or agility. Although it costs money, it could be an extremely fun alternative.