A trip to the dog park can be fun for both you and your furry friend, but not every dog is suited for it. Some pups may become anxious in public and would prefer to play in their own yard. Before deciding to go to a dog park, think about your pet's personality and whether this venue is the best fit for them.
"The most important thing before visiting a dog park is to make sure that your pup is up to date on all of its vaccines and anti-parasite preventative medicines, said Mark Primiano, DVM, staff veterinarian at The Anti-Cruelty Society, the oldest animal welfare organization in Chicago. "Parks can be a very easy place for your beloved pet to catch something contagious like parvovirus, kennel cough, fleas, or lice."
Besides safeguarding their health, make sure your dog is obedient and listens to your commands. The park can be overstimulating, and they can be easily distracted. For their safety, it's important that your dog responds to commands, including come, drop it, and leave it. Puppies under six months are too young to go to the dog park because younger dogs may not have received a complete series of vaccines and are more susceptible to illness, as well as becoming overstimulated in a new place with many other dogs.
The first few times you visit, go during a quiet time without any other dogs present. Make sure your dog feels comfortable in the area and work on solidifying their cues in a new environment. Once your pup reliably responds to commands at the dog park when alone, you can start going when a few other dogs are playing.
Bring water and a bowl to keep your dog hydrated during and after play, and waste bags to clean up after them. Do not bring toys or treats. Even if your dog shares well with others, not every dog may be as generous. If you want to find a buddy or play group for your dog to join, pick one with dogs who are similar in age, breed, size, and play style. However, keep an eye on your dog and their body language to make sure they are safe at the park.
"You and your dog can be doing everything right and be on their best behavior, but that doesn't guarantee that someone else's dog won't lash out and potentially harm your pet," Primiano said. "Make sure to pay attention the entire time and don't get lost scrolling on your phone or being too distracted in conversation. The best way to avoid a dog fight is to pay attention to warning signs and stop it before it starts. If your dog is playing too roughly, safely interrupt the play and take your dog someplace quieter to calm down."
Visiting dog parks is not a good way to begin socializing your dog. Instead, bring your dog to a more controlled setting such as a training class. Unless there is a separate small-dog area, dogs under 30 pounds should be left at home. Smaller dogs may have a harder time playing with bigger dogs and may even get hurt.
Find a dog park near your home by visiting anticruelty.org/dog-parks.
The Anti-Cruelty Society offers a variety of programs and services to build a community of caring by helping pets and educating people, including free resources such as a behavior hotline at email@example.com or a comprehensive Pet Care Library at anticruelty.org/library. To learn more, visit anticruelty.org.
Lindsay Welbers is Team Builder for The Anti-Cruelty Society.