With busy schedules and not enough backyard space in cities and even the suburbs, it can sometimes be difficult for you to give your pup the exercise he needs to be happy, healthy and calm. Taking your four-legged friend to the dog park on a sunny afternoon or a crisp autumn morning may seem like the perfect solution.
While it’s true that a trip to the dog park can provide physical and mental stimulation for your dog, there can definitely be some downsides to visiting as well. Dangers like dog fights, contagious diseases and parasites are serious business and can land your pet in the hospital. To keep your dog safe, check out the three biggest dog park no-no’s:
1. Your dog’s vaccinations aren’t up to date.
First, you should never take a puppy who hasn’t completed his vaccinations to the dog park. Your pup will be more susceptible to picking up illnesses until the full protection of the vaccinations kick in. Ask your family veterinarian how long your pup should stay away from the park. Also, if your adult dog’s vaccinations aren’t current, you’ll need to stay away from the dog park too or risk your dog catching a disease from romping with pals.
If you plan on taking your pet to the dog park, be sure to ask your family veterinarian about getting additional vaccinations for diseases like bordatella (a.k.a. kennel cough), leptospirosis or, in certain parts of the country, Lyme disease, which are commonly acquired in places where pets are in close contact or certain environments. You’ll also want to make sure your pet is on a flea and heartworm preventative since outdoor activity can expose your dog to those nasty parasites.
2. Your dog tends to be shy, nervous or aggressive.
Dog parks are exciting, and can be stressful for dogs. If your dog gets scared, nervous or aggressive when put in stressful situations (think: meeting new people, walking by other dogs, going to the vet), he won’t enjoy being surrounded by a bunch of strange dogs and people. Only dogs who love being around other four-leggers should show up at the park. Also, to avoid tense situations sparked by breeding behavior, you should only take your pet to the park if spayed or neutered.
3. Your dog is older.
Older pets tend to be more persnickety about who they play with and might snap at overfriendly dogs or try to hide. They often don’t get much enjoyment out of being in an amped-up environment. Also, it’s important that your dog be in good health, with a strong immune system, before going to the dog park. The best candidates for park play are younger dogs (around one and two years old) who have extra, youthful energy to burn off. You know, the ones who if left to their own devices will dig up your carpet, gnaw on your door and otherwise wreak havoc out of boredom.
If You Go…
If you’re heading out to the dog park, there are several things you want to watch out for. First, make sure you go to a park where small dogs and big dogs are separated. Small dogs can be injured or even killed by bigger dogs who may rough house too aggressively or see them as prey. Also, don’t allow your pet to drink from a communal water bowl (this is one way sickness is spread!). Bring your own water bowl. While there, watch your pet at all times for signals that a situation is moving beyond play and becoming tense. A great resource to read before your next trip to the dog park is an extensive article from the ASPCA that provides information about interpreting dog play and interaction, and what to look for in a dog park.
Dog Park Alternatives
If the dog park is sounding less and less ideal, you can exercise and socialize your dog in other ways. In addition to going on walks, you can set up play dates with other pet parents whose dogs you know, or enroll your puppy in a behavior class where he’ll get to rub noses with other pups.