The Dog Park Is Bad, Actually

Updated: Mar 11

By Sassafras Lowrey

Feb. 6, 2020


Some great information on dog parks! Entire article here


Dog parks may seem like great additions to the community, but they’re rife with problems — for you, and for your dog. Here’s what to know before you go.


Every morning, rain, shine or snow, people stand around making conversation with strangers as their dogs chase, run and mingle. Ranging from elaborate fenced playgrounds and rolling fields to small inner-city runs, dog parks are among the fastest growing park amenities nationwide. The Trust for Public Land found that there has been a 40 percent increase in the development of dog parks since 2009.



The first dog park in the United States was the Ohlone Dog Park, which was founded by Martha Scott Benedict and Doris Richards in 1979 in Berkeley, Calif...


Especially for urban dogs that don’t have backyards to exercise in, dog parks can sound like a great idea. There is nothing natural, however, about dogs that aren’t familiar with one another to be put in large groups and expected to play together...

The socialization myth

Nick Hof, a certified professional dog trainer and chair of The Association of Professional Dog Trainers, explained that in terms of canine behavior, the term “socialization” isn’t just dogs interacting or “socializing” with other dogs, but rather, “the process of exposing young puppies under 20 weeks to new experiences.”


“This helps them have more confidence and adapt to new situations,” Mr. Hof said.

Though socialization is critical for the healthy development of puppies, the dog park is not where you want to bring your puppy to learn about appropriate interactions with other dogs, Mr. Hof added.


“Dog parks are not a safe place to socialize a puppy under 6-12 months old,” he continued. “During our puppy’s early months, they are more sensitive to experiences, so a rambunctious greeter at the park may be enough to cause our puppy to be uncertain of all dogs,” Mr. Hof explained.


The goal for socializing young puppies is to ensure they have only positive interactions, and to avoid any overwhelming or frightening interactions...


Unfortunately, this can backfire; a dog who is nervous or uncomfortable is more likely to be easily overwhelmed in a park setting, which can lead to dog fights or a long-term fear of encountering other dogs...


Playground bullies

Although dogs are social animals and regularly engage in various forms of play, the artificial setup of a dog park can be challenging. Many people bring their dogs to the park to burn off excess energy, but these dogs often display over-aroused and rude behavior that can trigger issues between dogs. Dr. Heather B. Loenser, senior veterinary officer of the American Animal Hospital Association cautioned that “unfortunately, just because an owner thinks their dog plays well with others, doesn’t mean they always do.”


Having your dog in a dog park requires trusting that everyone in the park is monitoring their dog, and is a good judge about whether their dog should be in the park in the first place. That’s a lot of trust to put in a stranger.


Unlike doggy day cares or play groups, most dog parks are public spaces that are not screened or supervised by canine professionals.


This can be an issue with fights between dogs that can lead to dogs learning inappropriate behaviors from other dogs. “Bad experiences can also ripple outward and cause our dogs to have issues or concerns outside of the dog park as well,” Mr. Hof said, adding that dogs at dog parks might pick up bad habits such as being pushy when greeting or engaging in play with other dogs. On other hand, dogs that are overwhelmed by the boisterousness of others may become withdrawn, skittish and nervous when meeting other dogs in and out of the dog park.


Injuries

One of the biggest dangers of dog parks is that they often don’t have separate play enclosures for large and small dogs, or when they do, owners can choose to disregard those spaces. Even without meaning to, a large dog can easily cause serious injury or even kill a smaller dog...


Diseases

Even clean and well maintained dog parks can pose health risks, in particular the spread of easily communicable diseases. One challenge of dog parks being unregulated public spaces is that while most post signs saying dogs should be vaccinated, no proof of vaccinations is actually required.


The American Animal Hospital Association advises owners who bring their pets to the park to have them vaccinated with the Bordetella vaccine, which prevents “kennel cough,” as well as distemper. You’ll also want to have your dog vaccinated against leptospirosis, as communal water bowls, puddles and other water features in dog parks can carry leptospira bacteria. All dogs should be vaccinated against rabies, and dogs that visit dog parks should be on flea and tick prevention as well as year-round heartworm prevention. Dogs that visit dog parks should also be vaccinated against canine influenza (dog flu) that can be transmitted through the air...



Body language

Most dog owners aren’t skilled at reading their dog’s body language beyond a wagging tail, so warning signs that your dog is uncomfortable, unhappy or angry are often ignored. This leads to minor and major dog fights. Understanding canine body language is key to supporting your dog’s comfort and safety, and assessing if a playgroup at the dog park is going to be a good match.


“The dog park is not a place for you to let your dog run unsupervised while you socialize with other people,” Mr. Hof said. “Keep an eye on your dog and make sure that they are both being good and having a good time.” This means watching the actions and behaviors of your dog and the other dogs in the park. If things are getting too intense, that’s a good time to leave...


Dog park alternatives

On a good day, if the dog park you visit is large enough, it may physically tire out your dog. But the visit won’t actually provide your dog with the kind of enriching mental and emotional stimulation that dogs need. Dog parks, unfortunately, are often more about humans than they are about dogs.


As much as humans enjoy the chance to socialize with other like-minded animal lovers while our dogs play, it’s far safer and more fun for your dog to skip the dog park and spend that time engaging intentionally with you and their surroundings by going on walks, taking a training or general obedience class or even trying a new sport together...


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