Reviewed for accuracy on March 11, 2019, by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM
When most pet owners think about dog parks, they conjure up images of fenced-in play areas where dogs roam free and have fun. And in many respects, that’s true.
“Dog parks are a great way for well-socialized, healthy dogs to exercise off-leash and interact with their own kind,” says Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinarian based in Fort Collins, Colorado.
And while dog parks are generally fun places, dog park accidents are not uncommon. In fact, according to Nationwide Insurance, their pet insurance policy holders spent $10.5 million dollars in 2016 alone just to treat pet injuries that happen at the dog park.
“Dog parks unleash a totally different dynamic than simply walking your dog down the block,” says Dr. Rachel Lippman, a New York City veterinarian. “So, pet owners need to carefully consider whether or not their dog will be safe, both for themselves and other dogs.”
Dog Park Safety Tips to Follow
To avoid dangerous mishaps, make sure to follow these dog safety tips while at the dog park.
Get your dog vaccinated
While you may be eager to take your new puppy to the park to watch him play around with other dogs, don’t rush it. Ensuring that your dog has all of his vaccinations is necessary to protect him from transferable diseases.
“Because it is impossible to determine the health status of all the dogs there, it is best to only bring fully vaccinated dogs to a dog park,” says Dr. Coates.
Consider your pet’s size
Many dog parks break out play areas for large dogs and small dogs, and it’s a good idea to use these designated areas to prevent possible injuries.
“Very small dogs should only be allowed to play with dogs of a similar size,” says Dr. Lippman. “Even if larger dogs are perfectly friendly, sometimes the difference in size can cause accidents.”
Don’t bring young puppies to the dog park
In addition to not having all their vaccinations, puppies shouldn’t go to the dog park without socializing in a more controlled environment first. Very young dogs may not know how to interact with other dogs, which may cause stress or conflicts that can affect a puppy’s overall socialization process.
“Puppies under the age of 4 months should be socialized under more tightly controlled conditions,” says Dr. Coates, “such as with a puppy class run by your veterinarian or a reputable trainer.”
Make sure your dog masters basic dog training cues
Before going to a dog park, ensure that your canine companion knows how to follow important dog training cues, such as “sit,” “stay” and “come.”
Dr. Lippman explains that teaching your dog to respond to your calls is the most important command to know if you’re planning on taking him to the dog park.
“You want your dog to come when called even when distractions—such as 20 other dogs—are present,” she says. “‘Come’ can save your dog’s life and save you from futilely running after them if they decide they aren’t ready to go home just yet.”
Check the area for trash
When you’re looking for a dog park, make sure to find one that is well taken care of. And, before letting your dog loose, do a quick check to see if there’s anything on the ground that could be potentially dangerous for your dog.
“Check for things like chicken bones, trash and anything else you wouldn’t want your dog getting ahold of,” says Dr. Lippman.
Always keep an eye on your dog
When you are at the dog park, it’s essential to pay attention and keep a close watch on your pup.
“Be observant,” says Dr. Coates. “Never get so engrossed in a conversation—or with your phone—that you are going to miss the sometimes subtle signs that your dog is in a situation that requires intervention.”
Dr. Lippman agrees that monitoring your dog while at the dog park is part of responsible pet ownership. “It’s important to always, always supervise your dog, even if they are generally well-behaved and friendly,” she says. “Dog fights can happen very quickly, and it’s important to always keep an eye out and make sure everyone is getting along.”
Dog Park Gear to Keep Your Pet Safe
If you’re planning on visiting a dog park, it’s important to be prepared with the right dog supplies to keep your pet happy and safe.
Dog Poop Bags
All pet parents should bring along their own dog poop bags, like these Frisco planet-friendly dog poop bags, just in case the dog park does not provide or runs out of bags. You can easily keep a supply of them attached to your dog leash with this Frisco planet-friendly dog poop bag dispenser.
Additionally, Dr. Lippman recommends that pet parents bring their own water. “It’s always a good idea to bring some treats and a collapsible water bowl and some water,” she says. “Many dog parks have a water source, but you can never be too careful when it comes to hydration.”
Many vets also tell their clients to avoid communal water bowls, as they are the source of many infections, such as intestinal parasites, viruses, or bacteria such as Leptospirosis.
On the other hand, if it’s particularly muddy, it’s never a bad idea to have travel wipes handy, so that you can clean off your dog’s paws and coat after playtime. Both TropiClean deep cleaning deodorizing dog wipes and Earthbath hypo-allergenic grooming wipes for dogs are designed to pack up easily.
Dog First Aid Kit
The hope is that your dog never sustains an injury at the dog park, but it’s always best to be prepared with a pet first aid kit, like the Kurgo pet first aid kit, that you can fit in your car or backpack.
Make sure your dog has proper identification on his collar or a microchip that will help locate him if he goes missing.
You can also opt for ID tags like the Platinum Pets Pawsitively Safe pet finder tag, which comes with a unique location code that anyone can use to help you find your dog, should he go missing while at the dog park.
Avoid Bringing Dog Toys
Dr. Lippman warns pet parents against bringing toys to the dog park, since they could cause conflict between dogs. “Dog toys can quickly become points of contention amongst dogs,” she says. “They could get into a scuffle if the toy is really enticing and they all want to play with it.”
By Deidre Grieves
Featured Image: iStock.com/Milaspage