Most dogs enjoy a visit to the dog park. Outdoor fun with a compatible group of dogs– what could be better? Unfortunately, dog parks are also often the site of serious injuries to dogs or to humans, and some dogs have become seriously ill after visiting dog parks. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of visiting dog parks.
- Fun— Dogs and humans have fun at dog parks. Dogs get to play with new friends, while humans can socialize with fellow dog lovers.
- Exercise– Many dogs don’t get enough daily exercise. A good run and wrestle with other dogs at the dog park provides great exercise, and a tired dog is a well-behaved dog.
- Socialization— Younger dogs may benefit from socializing with a variety of people and dogs, while adult dogs get a refresher on their social skills with every visit.
- Community Building— Dog parks help to build and strengthen the community of pet lovers in a given area. While the dogs play, their owners are making new friends and discussing issues important to local dog lovers.
- Training— There aren’t many public places where a dog can train off leash with distractions. If you plan to compete in obedience or just want a better-behaved dog, reinforcing behaviors by working up to training sessions at the dog park might be just the ticket.
- Fighting— Owners should know better than to bring reactive dogs to a dog park, but in practice, if you visit an off-leash dog park often enough, you’ll eventually meet a dog who reacts aggressively to your dog. Serious dog fights do happen at dog parks, and smaller dogs in particular may be injured or killed if a fight breaks out.
- Conflicts Between Humans— Just like dog fights, arguments between pet parents can and will happen at dog parks. Whether it’s a squabble over a pile of poo that isn’t picked up or anger over another dog’s behavior, where pets and people gather, disagreements are bound to occur. Lawsuits have even occasionally stemmed from these conflicts.
- Disease and Parasites— With dogs comes poop, and with poop come parasites. Add in communal water bowls and a group of drooling dogs, and you can understand why some vets recommend against visiting dog parks. While most parks require that visiting dogs be fully vaccinated, not all owners obey the rules. However, some risk can be eliminated if owners are diligent about feces removal, and by bringing water and a dish to the park instead of allowing dogs to drink from a shared water source.
- Unaltered Animals— If your pet isn’t spayed or neutered, how can you be sure that all the other dogs at the park are? A single unwanted litter can produce more than a dozen puppies, and there are plenty of pups in shelters already. If your dog isn’t altered, you’re both safest avoiding mixed-sex groups of dogs unless you know every other dog involved is altered.
So, what’s the moral of the story? When it comes right down to it, the decision of whether or not to visit dog parks is very personal. Every owner has a different level of risk he or she is willing to accept in order to provide more opportunities for a dog to enjoy fun and socialization with other dogs. In addition, dog park amenities and rules vary greatly from place to place. I won’t tell you to go ahead and visit the dog park, nor will I advise against it. However, one should always be aware of both the benefits and the risks of visiting a dog park, and make an educated decision.