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  • Writer's pictureRenée at Bravo Dog

Are Dog Parks Bad?

This is a heated topic of debate. Let me start by saying this; labelling ALL dog parks as "bad" isn't really fair. I think it's an important topic to discuss because people utilize these spaces for a variety of reasons, and will likely continue to. It seems more useful to me if we break down WHY they may not be appropriate or healthy for certain dogs.

Why would someone use a dog park?

Many people need access to off-leash areas for their dog to give them adequate exercise. Sure, you can say that not all dogs need to be off-leash, BUT if you are living in an urban environment your dog may be very limited in the exercise they are getting. Why? Well, some dogs don't thrive in city environments, they become over-stimulated with all of the sights, sounds and action. Some dogs were never socialized as puppies to that environment and may have anxious or reactive tendencies. Some time off leash may be an important way for that dog to be able to decompress or obtain the right amount of exercise they need.

Others will use the dog park as a social outlet for them-self AND their dog. Is that "right"? Well, I'm not here to say it's wrong, I'm only here to share whether it may or may not be healthy for your dog. It can be an enjoyable space depending on WHO IS THERE.

How could a dog park be "unhealthy"?

Let's talk about size, because size matters. Some dog parks are MASSIVE and enable dogs to be able to move around with plenty of space and aren't squashed into large groups which has potential for more fights to break out. Some parks are small and if there are too many dogs in a small space, this can result in more arguments and fights breaking out.

Small dogs and big dogs together is something to think about. There is always a larger risk when we are co-mingling "bigs" and "littles". Why? If a fight does break out, we know that there is a higher risk for a serious injury if there is a large size difference. Dog parks with a "big dog side" and a "small dog side" are more ideal.

Another BIG thing to consider is your dog! Every dog is an individual. I don't like busy places so I don't socialize in spaces with lots of people. Your dog may be the same, and that's totally normally.

Dogs that should not be spending time in dog parks (unless they are empty):

  • Puppies are very vulnerable. I don't recommend bringing them to a dog park to socialize. There are too many variables and risks. If they have a negative experience, we are setting them up to have some behavioural issues in the future. Even heading into adolescence, be very careful!

  • If your dog is selective, meaning they like some dogs but not others, this isn't the place to bring them either. It's unfair to them and it's unfair to the dogs at the park.

  • If your dog is reactive, and you want them to be "social" this is NOT the space to do that either. The variables are again, just too risky. Never should we be risking the general public's safety, and our own dog's safety, in the name of "socialization".

  • Newly adopted dogs. Dogs need time to decompress and they are at a very high risk to have reactions towards other dogs, even if they are dog social, when they are under stress. Do not rush taking them into new spaces, especially those with lots of dogs!

  • Note: in-tact males. Be careful. They can be targeted by other males! If this is continually happening to your in-tact male, avoid these environments or you risk your dog becoming reactive.

Dog Park No-No's

  • Kids and toddlers. Why? This is a space for dogs, and there are a lot of dogs that don't love kids. The risk is pretty high for a dog bite. Kids, especially toddlers, sometimes do things they shouldn't when it comes to dogs, and with so much going on, there is a high liklihood that parents may not be supervising as they should.

  • Bringing your lunch and snacks and expecting dogs to steer clear. Picnics are a big no-no! Plenty of other spaces for you to do that

  • Toys. Resource guarding is a natural animal behaviour. Don't risk it by bringing toys into a dog park unless it's completely empty.

  • Dogs in heat! I didn't think I had to spell this one out but I have seen it happen with my own eyes! Hormones are a real thing and animals will be drawn to a female in heat with the intention to mate.

  • Forcing interactions with unknown dogs. A lot of dogs are there to spend time with dogs, not necessarily people. I have plenty of clients in which this is the case. If a dog is avoiding you then leave them be. Also highly recommend taking my Free Body Language Course so you can spot the dogs that aren't into you. :)

  • NEVER, EVER LET THE DOGS WORK IT OUT THEMSELVES. These are toddlers. We don't just let them sort it out themselves. Intervene and leave if things aren't looking good.

  • Shock and electric collars. If you see dogs wearing shock collars there is a risk that if their collar is activated, they may associate it with the dog nearest to them, and there is a risk of aggression. And to my point about reactive dogs in dog parks, if these collars are being used for that, the dog likely isn't a match for a dog park either. I leave when I see a dog wearing one of these.

  • Taking dogs ON leash into off leash dog parks. Why? Your dog is likely going to feel defensive. They are unable to move away if they would like.

Dog Park Do's

Now, I can't tell you to flat out avoid dog parks. I don't think that's realistic. I will share with you some tips to set your time up there for success, assuming you've read the above and your dog has positive experiences there.

  • Scope the park out first before you go in. Observe what types of dogs are there and their body language. I also recommend observing the people. Are they talking on their phones? More interested in socializing with the people and drinking coffee? If they aren't paying attention to what the dogs are doing, that's not a good sign.

  • Don't over-stay. Long periods of time in the dog park can potentially see tip-overs with high energy play for long durations. I usually recommend 20 minutes unless it's a park that is rural, with lots of space and you can get moving and walking.

  • Everything in moderation. Going to the dog park every day isn't necessarily a good thing. We also want to ensure we are helping our dogs on-leash with training and engagement so that they are not so used to off-leash parks that they cannot cope. A few times a week maximum would be my recommendation. Again, for some city people it may be needed more frequently.

Dog Park Alternatives?

Many dogs aren't suitable for dog parks, and that's ok! Next week I'll share alternatives to dog parks so feel free to subscribe to be notified when it's published.


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