Dog parks can be a wonderful way for your dog to make new friends. If you have a high-energy dog, they can get tired out much more quickly by running free with other dogs than during a moderately paced on-lead walk.
Even so, the dog park can be dangerous for some dogs. Use these tips to keep your dog safe:
1. Avoid Spreading Communicable Diseases
Contagious infections such as parvovirus, giardia, canine influenza, kennel cough and distemper can be spread from dog to dog though faeces, saliva, bites, and may even linger on the ground and on park equipment. Do your part to avoid spreading these illnesses by vaccinating your dog, and keeping them out of the park for at least two weeks after their shots to make sure they have taken effect. Also, be sure to pick up your dog’s poo, as even healthy adult dogs can shed bacteria and viruses that can make young puppies sick. Don’t go to the dog park if your dog is a puppy that has not yet completed their core vaccine schedule, or an older dog with a compromised immune system.
2. Don’t Bring Food
Even friendly dogs can become aggressive when food is present. Don’t bring treats for your own dog, or even eat snacks when you’re in the dog park. If you would like to work on training at the dog park, go early in the morning, on a weekday, or in the late afternoon when nobody else is around.
Some dogs can become protective over toys, too. Be careful not to throw a ball in a crowded dog park; the dogs may all run for it at once, and can get into a fight as a result.
3. Learn Dog Body Language
A fight can seem to break out suddenly, but there are typically many warning signs before it happens. Overenthusiastic play can turn into a fight, especially when one dog is too pushy. Consistently running away from a play partner, flattened ears, raised hackles and a tucked tail are all signs that a dog needs a break. When dogs do not want to play, they may sniff the ground, yawn, or scratch. This is known as displacement behaviour, and it often means that your dog is overstimulated and trying to avoid contact.
Watch your dog carefully the whole time. Don’t read a book or use your phone. You should always be ready to call your dog if they are showing signs of stress, or if they are bullying another dog. You should leave immediately if your dog shows any signs of aggression or are concerned about their safety.
4. Be Careful With Size Differences
Small dogs and large dogs generally should not play together. A large dog can see a small dog as prey. Even if the large dog is being friendly, they can accidently harm their smaller playmates. Many dogs have been severely injured, even killed at dog parks. It’s better not to take a chance, even if you think you’re certain that your large dog would never hurt a small one. It can be safe to introduce two dogs of different sizes under close supervision, but one small dog in a group of large, playful dogs will be in serious danger.
5. Know Your Dog
Dogs are not like humans in that they need friends of their own species. If your dog was not properly socialized with other dogs as a puppy, they may never be able to have canine playmates. They may always be fearful of other dogs. Alternately, your dog may be a bully that can never be trusted around other dogs.
Retrievers have a tendency to be extremely friendly, while herding breeds are less likely to enjoy a dog park. One scary interaction can make some dogs forever fearful, while others will bounce right back and keep playing.
It’s perfectly fine if you decide to avoid dog parks. Your dog needs exercise, play and companionship, all of which can be adequately provided by you and your human family.