Dog Parks – 11 Questions That Need Answers Before You Go

The idea of a dog park is certainly appealing, particularly if your dog spends most of his time on a leash or at home alone. Perhaps you picture your dog romping gleefully in a grassy enclosure, tumbling playfully with his newfound canine friends. This may actually be the reality in some parks; but there is also potential for serious problems, whether from the dogs themselves or, yes, even from the owners.

In short, the creation of dog parks was well-intentioned; but not all dog parks work for every dog, and some don’t work at all. There are lots of things to consider before taking your pooch to a park. Make sure you’re not barking up the wrong tree by giving some serious thought to the following questions.

Having a Dog-Park-Ready Dog

1.  Is your dog a good candidate for a dog park?

If your dog is shy or skittish, fearful or anxious, a dog park may overwhelm her. Perhaps a one-on-one “play date” would be better, particularly with a pup you know to be gentle and well behaved. If your dog sits at home all day while you’re at work, he may have an explosion of energy once you walk in the door. Don’t release that energy at the dog park! Better to take him on a long walk or give him some rough-and-tumble playtime in the back yard.

It probably goes without saying that an aggressive dog is not a good fit for a dog park either! If yours doesn’t tolerate other dogs well, or has shown signs of aggressiveness, keep her on a leash and in a controlled situation.

2.  Is your dog protected from disease and, well, unwanted advances?

While you don’t want to over-vaccinate any of your pets, you should protect your dog from highly infectious diseases like rabies and distemper. Be sure your vaccinations are up to date before you expose him to other dogs.

Never take an un-neutered or unspayed dog to a dog park! Too much testosterone can make a male dog the target of harassment or aggression from other males; and a female in heat will certainly lead to other forms of harassment and perhaps an unwanted litter of pups!

Sadly, your dog can pick up fleas from other pets. Be sure she is armed against the little pests -- with protection that is free of harmful chemicals, of course! A bite can turn into a hot spot literally overnight; so spray any bites immediately with PurSpray Pet Care to soothe the skin and prevent infection. Get some today!

Being a Dog-Park-Ready Owner

3.  Are you ready to make your dog the focus of your attention?

Many dog parks have benches where owners can sit and chat; but this may be encouraging irresponsible behavior. Any time your dog is off the leash, 100% of your attention should be on her.  Don't stay in one place, but rather move around, calling your dog to you every once in a while and rewarding her when she comes. If you feel the park is too crowded for good supervision, go on “off hours” when there are fewer pets and owners.

4.  Do you have a basic understanding of dog body language?

You may be watching your dog, but do you know what you’re seeing? What do dogs look like when they’re being friendly? And when they’re not? Can you tell when your own dog is threatened or in distress? Nearly every canine body part – eyes, mouth, ears, tail and overall body posture -- conveys nonverbal messages, to you and to other dogs. Both the ASPCA and animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell have great tips on interpreting canine body language. Definitely check them out before heading to the park!

5.  Can you control your dog?

If you aren’t absolutely sure your dog will come instantly when you call him, don’t go to a dog park, McConnell says. "They could go right through a fence, or eat a dead bird, or get caught up in a dog fight even if they didn't start it."

Recognizing a Good Dog Park

If you feel you and your dog are “dog-park-ready,” be sure the park is ready for you! Visit the park sans pet so you can check it out before your first visit. If you need help finding a good park, try googling "dog parks in [your city]". Other dog owners can help, too, as can local animal organizations and your veterinarian or trainer.

6.  Are there updated park rules and are they clearly posted?

This may very well be the key to a well-run park. Good rules include requiring a valid license and proof of vaccination and not allowing any food in the park.

7.  Are there amenities?

Amenities in a dog park?? Well, yes. Playing can be hard work, so your dog will need a source of water and a shady place to lie down, cool off and rest, especially on hot days.

8.  Is the park clean and well-maintained?

Are there poop bags and garbage cans available, and are visitors conscientious about using them? Many canine diseases are spread through feces, so cleanup is essential.

9.  Is the enclosure intact and safe?

Fencing should be in good condition, i.e. no holes or broken-down sections that will allow a dog to escape.

10. Are there separate entrance and exit gates?

Dogs should be able to come and go without meeting each other in a cramped area. Ideally, two-gate systems help ensure that unleashed dogs cannot escape as another exits.

11. Are there separate areas for small and large dogs?

Mixing large dogs with small ones is simply not a good idea. Serious injuries can happen very quickly when one has a size advantage. A docile older dog may mix well with little guys regardless of his size; but in general, segregating by size is wise.

What has your dog park experience been? Any tips for first-timers? We love getting input from our readers!

SOURCES for this article:

“Dog Parks: Why They Are a Bad Idea.” No date.

“Dog Parks.” No date.

“Dog Park Behavior and Etiquette Tips.” No date.

Nancy Kerns. “Really? A Dog Park I’d Visit?” Feb 13, 2015.

Chris Martell. “Speak! Before Hitting the Dog Park, Brush Up on Common Canine Expressions.” April 12, 2009.