dog parks?

The idea of a dog park is wonderful. Your dog gets to run around off-leash as nature intended with other dogs while getting much needed socialization with other dogs and people, plenty of exercise and new things to sniff. Ideally, only pleasant and healthy dogs will attend. What actually happens can be very different.

Here are things to keep in mind before you go to your local dog park:

  • Is your dog healthy? If you have a dog with a compromised immune system or an illness, you really shouldn’t be going to a dog park. This seems like commonsense to me. But, when I was at a local dog park in Los Angeles last week, there was an owner that brought his dog to the park with a very nasty looking eye infection. The eye was oozing and the dog could not see out of the eye. When other dogs were on his bad side, the dog became frightened and then defensively aggressive. This dog did not need extra playtime. He needed to heal. The owner said that it was not contagious — but 50/50 on whether or not he would lose vision in the infected eye. I personally did not want my healthy curious dog anywhere near that dog. Any time that you bring your dog in contact with other dogs, you risk illness. Dog parks are for healthy dogs. Make sure your dog is current on all recommended vaccines. Consult your vet if you are not sure. Many parks do not allow dogs that have not been spayed or neutered. In California, it is the law that dogs must be neutered or spayed to be at any public dog park.
  • Does your dog get along well with other dogs? Tell the truth. Has your dog been in a fight or bitten another dog? Do not be that person that feigns shock when you dog starts a fight for the first time — except people recognize you and it happens weekly. Please. Just. Don’t. Is your dog frightened of other dogs? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, try a play-date with a dog you know that your dog likes. A dog attack is not worth the risk. As the owner, you will be liable. If your dog is the victim, it can cause additional behavioral issues with any dog — especially with a dog that is already timid. If your dog needs to be muzzled, he should not be brought to a dog park. This will be extremely stressful and potentially dangerous to the muzzled dog. When you arrive, take you dog for a short walk to help them calm down a bit. Most parks have an enclosed entry area with double sets of gates. These are to give your dog a chance to sniff around and calm down before you open the second gate. Give them a minute or two to relax before entering the main park.
  • Can you watch your dog and supervise their behavior or do you have a “dogs will be dogs” attitude? Nobody want to see you texting or surfing Facebook while your dog humps every dog in the park and jumps on every person. If you cannot supervise and control your dog, please do not bring them. It is not cute. Perfection is not required and probably not possible. Just watch your dog. A dog should have some basic manners before going to the dog park. Again, you will be liable for injury if your dog jumps on someone and hurts them (think about the elderly and children).
  • While we are mentioning children, dog parks are for dogs. Babies and toddlers can be hurt very quickly at a busy dog park. Some dogs love to play with other dogs but will chase small children and bark at them. Herding dogs are notorious for this. Children (and adults) that are afraid of dogs will attract barking dogs. It is not a good idea. If you want to help your kids be comfortable around dogs, that is wonderful and I wholeheartedly encourage it. Start smaller. Find a friend, neighbor or family member with a good dog and introduce your child to them. Any older child that enters the dog park, should know how to be safe around strange dogs. They should not run or scream around strange dogs. They should be supervised at all times. I have a border collie that naturally wants to herd. She has been taught how to behave around my small grandchildren that do not scream or dart around her. If I see a bunch of little kids running around making a lot of noise, I can’t bring her into the dog park. I won’t risk her getting too excited by the kids and playing too rough. The next person may not be as diligent.
  • Does the dog park have faucets or water for the dogs? All that running around and playing can make a pup thirsty. Communal water can be filthy and harbor disease. Bring your own bowl and fill it with fresh clean water. Keep your dog from playing in stagnant water.
  • Is the park secure? I always walk the perimeter checking for holes in the fence that a dog could use to escape. I also look for weeds growing in the grass called fox-tails. These can injure paws and get lodged to the point of infection. Are there tricky potholes that a dog could get hurt running through? If the park is not safe, you are better off taking your pooch for a nice walk.
  • Is there dog poop everywhere? It can breed disease. You must scoop your dog’s poop everywhere public- even at the dog park. It’s the law in most places these days.
  • Is the park too big? Will your dog come when you call? I prefer smaller parks because my dog doesn’t tire quickly and although she will come when called, she really doesn’t want to leave the park at times. A over-sized park can make it very difficult to capture your dog if they are not ready to go home.

Ultimately, the decision is yours to make whether or not the dog park is right for your dog. I think they can be wonderful for some dogs and terrible for others. I have a very social active dog that loves the parks. I enjoy meeting the other owners. I always put my dog’s safety first. If something seems dangerous or risky, we leave. We can all make it a better experience by using some commonsense and courtesy. We might even make some great new dog loving friends.

Originally published at


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