The Pros and Cons of Dog Parks

Dog park sign

In 2015, The Trust for Public Land announced that off-leash dog parks are growing faster than any other type of park in America's largest cities.  At that point in time, Portland had 5.4 dog parks per 100,000 residents, ranking it number one nationally on a per capita basis!  Dog parks can provide a wonderful opportunity for your dog to learn to socialize with dogs of all ages, sizes and temperaments. In addition learning how to get along well with other dogs, these parks offer your pet the chance to interact with different types of humans, and for dog owners to socialize with each other.  There are certainly many positive aspects to taking your dog(s) to an off-leash park.  However, there are also downsides. 

Brown dog hiding behind big fluffy dog

Benefits of Taking Your Dog to a Dog Park

 §  Socialization--is key to an overall healthy and happy dog.  When a dog has the opportunity to meet and comfortably play with other dogs and humans, they are less likely to fear new environments (like the vet) and tend to be more active.

§  Physical health and well-being-- approximately 25-30% of the general canine population is obese (see "Obesity In Dogs").  Dog parks are an excellent way to help keep your pet physically fit.

§  Mental stimulation--dogs require more than physical movement to stay healthy.  Dogs who interact and play with each other tend to get more mental stimulation, which can help with training or curtail destructive behaviors at home.

§  It's not just about them--you might meet experienced dog owners who are willing to help provide tips and tricks for training, or give information about good groomers, dog walkers, etc.

If you decide to take your pup to the park, please read our tips on "Proper Etiquette at the Dog Park"

Why You Might Want to Skip a Trip to the Dog Park

Dog parks are not meant for all dogs, or for all owners.  Without question, the two most prominent disadvantages of dark parks are:

§  Exposure to illnesses, infections, and diseases--even the most responsible dog person cannot guarantee their dog will be safe from all possible concerns.  Remember, not all pet parents are as diligent in their dog's health as you!  Moreover, certain intestinal infections (like giardia) or kennel cough can be tricky to combat.

Black and white dog playing with brown dog

§  Cuts, bites, and wounds--related to dog fights or "disagreements."  This is one of the most common conversations we have with clients who had a bad experience at dog parks.  In these situations, it is not always just the dogs who are confrontational.  Sometimes, a dog plays rougher than another pet parent finds acceptable and an argument ensues.  Of course, there are cases where real damage occurs.  This is why it is important to always remain aware of your dog and their interactions with other pets.  If they seem uncomfortable or aggressive, it might be time to leave. 

§   Size differences--many dog parks don't offer separate areas for different sized dogs.  If you have a small dog, then you need to be very careful taking him to the dog park because larger dogs could trample over him or become too rough.

Questions you should ask beforehand:

Before you bring your dog to play at the local dog park, ask yourself the following questions:

§  Does my dog enjoy playing with other dogs?

§  Does my dog play well with puppies, older dogs, and dogs of all different breeds?

§  Is my dog healthy and fully vaccinated?

§  Do I have the skills to manage my dog and curtail negative behavior?

§  Will I know if my dog is feeling scared or stressed?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you should seriously consider whether a dog park is right for you and your dog.  Call us to discuss more options for keeping your dog healthy and happy.

What to Look for in a Dog Park

Brown and white Bull terrier drinking out of water fountain

§  Safety – The dog park should be entirely fenced-in, with no broken, rusty, or loose fencing. There should be no dangerous obstacles, and there should be two gates with a small fenced area between them to keep dogs from escaping. There should never be stagnant, standing water that could make dogs sick.

§  Space – Space does not necessarily mean the size of land available.  When looking at dog parks, focus on the ratio of dogs to open area.  Dogs should be able to move freely.

§  Additions – You will often hear that a good dog park should provide adequate water, but you should bring water and a bowl with you.  As mentioned previously, giardia can be easily transmitted at dog parks and a shared bowl is less than ideal.  However, a dog park that provides hoses or pumps is certainly a plus!  Moreover, dog parks should have poop bags and disposal receptacles available. 

§  Meet the neighbors – Get to know the regulars at the park.  Is this park a good fit for you and your pup?