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Dog Park Safety

The park is a great place for pets to socialize with other pets and burn off some of that excess energy - but how safe are dog parks for pets? In this blog, we’ll discuss some of the safety considerations to make before letting your pet roam free:

Two dogs running

Exposure to parasites

First, it is important to clarify that things like fleas or intestinal parasites can be contracted anywhere outdoors as both can be found in grassy areas. However, as many intestinal parasites are contracted through fecal-oral contact (such as ingesting affected feces, eating grass, or licking paws after walking on affected particles), the probability of intestinal parasite infection is somewhat higher for pets who frequent public dog parks. If you frequent the dog park, we definitely recommend keeping up with your pet’s monthly heartworm and flea/tick prevention as both can help prevent and treat exposure.

Transmissible diseases

In addition to intestinal parasites, other diseases spread through bodily fluids (feces, urine, saliva, etc.) are a possible risk any time your pet is around other pets - or places other pets frequent. For example, diseases such as Canine Parvovirus can live in soil for up to 7 years after being shed in feces, while illnesses such as Kennel Cough are airborne, highly contagious, and can be spread through fence-to-fence contact. Thankfully, many of these illnesses can be prevented by keeping up to date with your pet’s routine vaccinations. If your pet is too young to be fully vaccinated, or unable to be kept up to date on vaccines due to medical reasons, we recommend avoiding dog parks. Because there is no way of knowing the vaccination or health status of all the other pets at the park, some risk is assumed anytime you visit the park.

Altercations with other pets

It is important to keep in mind that even if your pet is generally well-behaved, other dogs in the park might not be. Even if all of the owners in the park are closely monitoring their pet (which is not always the case), an altercation between two or more dogs can occur at any moment. Just like us, dogs have personal boundaries for what they consider acceptable and unacceptable behavior. If your pet likes their personal space and gets snappy when other dogs get too close or too rambunctious, it’s probably best to skip the park and go for a long, leashed walk instead.

Other undesirable interactions at the dog park that may result in a scuffle include mounting, barking, rough play/wrestling, chasing/herding, or resource guarding if there are toys or water bowls around. Additionally, some dogs might feel protective of their owners and react negatively if other pets get too close to “their person.” If you do choose to visit the park, we recommend monitoring your pet closely at all times and removing them from situations where they appear to be instigating a situation, or being provoked by another pet. Don’t count on other owners to do the same and trust your gut to leave when situations feel a bit risky as scary or painful interactions can have lasting effects, such as anxiety or aggression. 

Learning Bad Behaviors

Keep in mind that when dogs hang out with other dogs, there is always a chance that they might learn new things from one another. Some of those undesirable behaviors may include mounting, marking, or even unsavory habits such as eating poop. This is especially true for younger puppies and dogs who are more impressionable and still learning about how to socialize with other pets.

Size Matters

Dog parks are often separated into two areas: one for small dogs and one for large dogs. It is essential that you allow your dog to play in the appropriate area for their SIZE and not their temperament. Large dogs can easily injure or kill smaller dogs, either by accident or out of aggression. Some large dogs may mistake smaller dogs for small prey like rabbits or squirrels, or small dogs might get stepped on or thrown around by larger dogs. If you are a small dog owner and see large dogs in the “small” park, it’s best to just skip the park that day, just to be safe. Again, each dog may have unique triggers and we shouldn’t always trust that dogs being brought to dog parks are all well-behaved.

Our Recommendations

Our go-to recommendation will always be a leashed-walk, jog, or run. Your pet is safest when leashed and in close proximity to you, but we understand that socialization with other animals is important at times, too. Here are some of our recommendations to keep your pet as safe as possible when socializing with other animals:

  1. If you have friends or neighbors with pets who have a comparable play style to your pet, small get-togethers can be a great opportunity for the pets to play while their humans get to socialize, too! This keeps groups from getting too large and better insight to the health or vaccination status of your pet’s playmates.

  1. Doggie daycares can be a great outlet for active pets, and most facilities require temperament testing and vaccination records in order for other pets to come and play. Additionally, there is an added bonus of having staff trained in being able to manage group play and identify body language changes to prevent situations from escalating.

  1. Visit the park during slower hours (early in the day, during the work day, or later in the evening) to avoid larger crowds. Smaller numbers of dogs in the yard make it easier to keep an eye on your pet and identify any troubling behaviors.

  1. Familiarize yourself with dog body language and be able to read the warning signs in your pet and others. Dogs usually offer some warning signs before they bite, but these may be easily overlooked as part of play (snarling, teeth showing, posturing, etc.) for those who don’t know what to look for. Identify when your pet is reaching their limit and remove them before a situation escalates.

  1. Leave immediately any time you are feeling uncomfortable, either from the behavior of another dog, other owners not paying close attention to their pets, or any concern regarding the safety of you or your pet. It is always better to cut the outing short than risk an injury!

Please give us a call at 972-347-6100 if you have questions or concerns.

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