As someone who worked in the animal ER for many years, I often wondered if dog parks were invented by an emergency vet just to drive in business.
Numerous issues were caused by groups of dogs who were wholly unfamiliar with each other sharing a confined space. So many times, I saw pets coming in for dog park injuries caused by fighting or overzealous play.
Others came in with Giardia and intestinal parasites that they picked up at the dog park from shared water bowls or playing in contaminated areas.
We require proof of vaccination and a behavioral evaluation before a dog can go to a doggy daycare or boarding facility, but you’re essentially taking your chances by hitting up the dog park.
Now, dog parks around the country are opening up again. More so than ever before, I hope that people take precautions if they do go to the dog park, as it’s not just the pups to look out for now—it’s the people, too. So there might also be new safety rules that you’ll have to follow for the time being.
Here are some ideas for how to keep you AND your pup safe during these uncertain times.
Ensure Social Distancing and Follow Dog Park Rules
Check your city or county’s website to find out which dog parks are open and whether there are any new rules for the dog park.
The CDC still recommends social distancing for people outside of our family units. This may be difficult to do in a small, enclosed area. If you are committed to going to the dog park, search for larger parks that will allow you to maintain a 6-foot distance from people.
Try to go early in the morning or late in the evening when there may be fewer people in the park with their dogs.
Take precautions touching shared surfaces like gate handles, tables, bowls, community toys, and water faucets. Use hand sanitizer or wash your hands after touching any surfaces and before getting back into your car.
Never, I repeat NEVER, go to the dog park (or any other public place) if you are ill. And while it’s not advised for pets to wear facial coverings the CDC is still recommending that people wear masks where social distancing is difficult.
Don’t Overdo It
Exercise for your pup may have been at a minimum for the past few weeks, so don’t forge forward too quickly upon your return!
Just like us when we’ve been off of our exercise game, dogs need to start back slowly to avoid injury. Muscles that haven’t been used for running, jumping, and turning for a couple of months will need some time to get strong again.
Perhaps start with some walks and short runs to improve conditioning, and look for local parks with easier hiking trails. Then, when that endurance is built back up, you can head back out and take up your usual fun activities with your pup.
Practice Good Hygiene at the Dog Park and Afterward
To prevent the spread of illnesses at the park, and after you get home, follow these suggestions:
Bring your own water. Shared water sources can harbor dangerous bacteria and parasites.
Bring your own toys. While it may be inevitable for dogs to share toys at the dog park, you can at least try to keep your pup using the toys you brought.
Avoid touching other people’s dogs, toys, and leashes.
Pick up any solid waste immediately and dispose of it properly.
Keep a towel or sheet in your car to protect your car from dirt or mud when your dog hops in after being at the park.
ALWAYS give your dog a good bath, or at minimum, a full wipe-down with waterless shampoo after returning from the park.
Be Medically Prepared
Many pet hospitals are not back to full capacity yet, so if your pet does sustain an injury or becomes ill at the dog park, ensure that you have a backup plan as to where you can take him for care.
Look up emergency pet hospitals in the vicinity of the dog park and keep that information handy. For minor incidents, keep a pet emergency kit in your car. It may just save you a visit to the vet in a pinch.
Alternatives to the Dog Park
If you’re not comfortable going to a dog park and you don’t have a large backyard, here are some fun ways for your pup to get exercise and even play with some buddies.
Research large parks with hiking trails in your area, and head out with your pups for an adventure.
Hit up a friend with a large yard and ask if your pup can come have a playdate with theirs (and ensure you pick up any accidents that occur).
Go for a socially distanced (masked) walk with your friend and their pups so you can all get some exercise.
Check out your local doggy daycare—you can always have a paid playdate for your pup (with the assurance that all dogs there have been properly vaccinated and have had a behavioral assessment).
Featured Image: iStock.com/Ryan Jello