A pair of Jack Russell Terriers playing in the park

It sounds like a great idea – take your dog to a large, fenced-in area where it can run free with other canine friends. You get to skip the daily walk, check your email, maybe chat with other dog owners, then leave with an exhausted-but-happy dog. What could be better?

Dog parks can be big on the convenience factor for us humans, but being in close proximity to lots of other dogs can also present some problems for your dog. Before taking your pup to the park, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons, so we at Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center have some important points for you to consider.

The Good

For dog owners living in apartments, condos or homes with limited or no outdoor yard, an open space area for dogs to run and play together is a wonderful idea. Dogs by nature are physical creatures with an innate need to run, play and chase things — especially outdoors. Not having an outlet to be physically active can lead to frustration and anxiety, and often manifests in bad behaviors such as chewing, barking or aggression. The original concept of an outdoor dog park was to offer well-behaved dogs a place where they could work off pent-up energy by running, playing and socializing in a positive way with other dogs. In an ideal situation with well-behaved dogs and responsible owners, it can provide a very good activity outlet for your dog.

The Not So Good

Since it is a rare luxury to have the dog park to yourself, your dog will most likely be interacting closely with other dogs. With healthy, well-cared for dogs, things can go well. The problems pop up, however, when the dogs are not all vaccinated, or one has a contagious illness or transmittable parasites. Although in our modern world, most dogs get routine veterinary care  and have these issues addressed, some may not. This poses a serious disease risk, especially, if a dog has not had its rabies vaccination. Anytime dogs mix socially, there’s a chance for disease and/or parasite transmission. You can protect your dog by following these guidelines:

  • Never take a puppy or unvaccinated dog to a dog park.
  • If your dog is sick or coughing, even if the illness is being treated with medication, keep your dog home so it can’t spread the illness to other dogs.
  • Make sure your dog is current on all vaccines and is on year-round flea, tick, and heartworm preventive medications. External parasites can easily be transmitted directly from another dog. Internal parasitic worms can be spread through dog feces.

The Bad  

Regardless of how friendly your dog is, not all dogs are friendly with other dogs or will accept and play well with other dogs. How a dog will respond to an unfamiliar dog is unpredictable and dog park fights that develop suddenly are a very real possibility. Fighting usually progresses  from dogs becoming overly stimulated – by other dogs, the activity, or people – to the point where they start acting out aggressively.

Whether it erupts from dogs feeling fearful, threatened or intimidated, when fighting occurs in a dog park, your dog could be seriously injured. Your dog could also injure another dog. Some dogs even develop long-term anxiety when around other dogs as a result of a bad experience.

Furthermore, attempting to stop a dog fight can easily land you in the ER with serious bite wounds or worse. For the most skilled dog trainers, breaking up a dog fight can be risky, and even dangerous, and is to be avoided in every way possible.

Before You Go

Before you bring your furry friend to a dog park, make sure you check out the park ahead of time. Know what dogs tend to play at certain times. Are the dogs friendly and well-behaved? Are the owners friendly and paying close attention to what is going on? Do they care about what their dog is doing? If not, find a different park. The last thing you want is to have to run out and rescue your dog or attempt to break up a dog fight to save your dog.  

Another thing, do not bring your dog’s toys or treats to use at a dog park, unless your dog is alone, as this can lead to competitive or aggressive behaviors from both yours and other dogs.

Remember, dog parks can be great fun for a social, well-behaved pooch, but not all dogs are good candidates for this type of environment. A dog that is shy, anxious or aggressive, or one that will not pay attention to you or respond appropriately to your commands, should never be taken to a dog park – period.

A good rule of thumb is this: If your dog is not trained to consistently respond to your “come here” command, no matter what distractions are present, you should not take it to a dog park.

Being able to call your dog back to you from a potential fight or other problem is an absolute must, and could easily save your dog (and you) from a very bad situation.

Dog Park Alternatives

Fortunately, besides dog parks there are many other ways to provide your pet with the exercise  and enrichment it needs each day.

  • Take advantage of our beautiful Colorado weather and natural surroundings by enjoying a leashed walk or hike with your dog in your neighborhood or on a local trail.
  • Set up “doggy play dates” with other dog owners whom you know and trust. Make sure everyone is there to supervise and can call their dogs back to their sides when needed.
  • Enroll your social dog in a doggie playcamp. In our Canine Academy, we offer indoor puppy and adult group Play Camps every week that are supervised and controlled by our certified obedience instructor.
  • Agility training is a wonderful way for active dogs to burn off energy and work on their obedience skills. We offer indoor Agility and outdoor Barkour classes in our Canine Academy several times during the year.

Please don’t hesitate to contact our staff with any questions or concerns regarding your pet. We’re always here to help!