8 Reasons Why I Think Dog Parks are Dangerous

Kimberly Gauthier, Keep the Tail Wagging

This article was originally published on my blog, Keep the Tail Wagging.
 

I’ve been going back and forth about dog parks for a while.  Little things have been turning me off – aggressive dog owners, toddlers at the park, and difficulty managing our growing pack – but I didn’t want to give up on dog parks.

I gave up on dog parks. 

I now think that dog parks are dangerous for our dogs.  If you’ve been following you, then you may have read my rants on experiences at the dog park.  These experiences aren’t a reflection on the dog park; they’re a reflection of some of the encounters I’ve had at the dog park.  And I’m not the only one.

A few dog owners helped me develop this list of 7 reason why the dog park is dangerous for our dogs which explains why we’ve stopped going through the pearly (actually, they’re black) gates to doggy nirvana (sorry, Rodrigo)…

1.  Our Pack is Too Big

I never realized how much adding a third dog would impact our lives.  I expected more work, more costs, and a change in the dynamic.  What I didn’t expect was the juggling act I would have to play at the dog park – which now seems like a “no duhhh” change.  Of course it’s going to be more difficult to manage three dogs than it is to manage two.

It’s impossible to keep track of three dogs at the dog park and when I can’t keep up with them, I get stressed, they pick up on my stress, they attribute that stress to other dogs, and it goes downhill from there.

2.  I Don’t Trust Other Dog Owners

I get that sometimes it’s hard to decipher between loud (growling and barking) play and actual fighting, especially when you’re new to dogs or unfamiliar with the dogs at the park.  This is why it’s important that we’re familiar with our dog’s signals.  I can tell when my dog is going to lose his cool, because he feels threatened or challenged and I can intercede if I’m nearby.

My dogs have also been accused of hurting other dogs; blatant lies that were repeated and whispered as I walked on nearby trails.  I do understand that aggressive dogs are a concern for dog owners, but take care when repeating gossip.

3.  The Park is Too Big

 

Which brings me to my next point; the parks are just too big for me to be there should something go wrong.  I know that a lot of dog owners are okay with letting dogs “work it out,” but I’m not okay with this.  What if one of the dogs get hurt, what if more dogs jump in, what if someone standing nearby gets hurt?  I want to be able to allow our dogs to play and have fun, but I always want to be able to intercede if it’s required.  I can’t do this at the dog park.

Fellow dog parent, Nicole T, agrees and adds that “it’s unsettling to not know exactly where they are” when you visit a big park or the park is crowded.

4.  The Park is Too Crowded

The other day I went to the park and there were at least 15 dogs running around and playing.  That was too much for my pack.  I like the park when there are fewer than 5 dogs there, because the dogs stay close by, we can manage the play better, and the dog owners can actually interact too.

When there are too many dogs at the dog park, our dogs get over excited.  Walking them on a leash becomes a hassle, the dogs become impatient and stressed, and I end up leaving, because it’s just too much for all of us.

Benjamin C shared that he and is dog won’t go in the dog park if there are more than 5 dogs there, because in his experience “whenever the number of dogs approaches seven the dogs begin to establish pecking order. They start by finding the lowest member, usually a sick dog, and they attack it.”

5.  People Fail to Pick Up Dog Poop

With the failure to pick up dog poop comes the risk of illness.  Dog parks in the Pacific Northwest are managed by nonprofit groups who employ volunteers.  They don’t have the manpower to check vaccination records.  Going to the dog park does add additional risk to our fur kids, especially if they already have a compromised immune system.

My favorite veterinarian, Dr. Cathy Alinovi, shares “there are studies that humans who spend lots of times at parks are exposed to larval migrans -it’s linked to ADD in children in large cities. The same will happen for dogs in parks. While some private parks insist on annual fecals, many intestinal parasites are hard to detect.”

6.  Unvaccinated Dogs

 

Update: the person who originally contributed to this article requested that her quote be removed on February 9, 2013, because I didn’t credit her the way she would have liked and instead of correcting the accreditation, the tone of her email made it clear that she didn’t want to be associated with Keep the Tail Wagging and I respect her wishes.

Now on with the blog post…

We unknowingly exposed the dog park to a puppy infected with the canine parvovirus, so we understand how easy it is to make this mistake.  I’ve seen people bring puppies to the dog park and at the time didn’t see any harm.  The only reason why we didn’t bring our puppies was because our veterinarian was so adament about keeping our puppies home until they were fully vaccinated.

After our experience with Riley and Canine Parvovirus, and hearing about kennel cough and guardia outbreaks from fellow dog lovers, I understand that there can be dangers for dogs.

7.  Aggressive Dog Owners

I’ve written about aggressive dog owners and to be honest, I completely understand, because sometimes I get impatient and would love to come unhinged, but it would make the experience even worse for my dogs.

Gianna M wrote to me recently, sharing an experience she had at the dog park that resulted in her filing assault charges against a dog owner who didn’t appreciate her helping him out on his first visit to the park.  I understand bristling a little when a stranger approaches with advice when you’re already feeling stressed, but I also know that it’s important that I shelve my ego if I want to best for my dogs.  This guy couldn’t do that and was ultimately banned (by the courts) from the dog park.

It’s silly for any of our interactions at the dog park to reach the level that the authorities need to get involved.

8.  People Don’t Respect My Space

 

I think that part of being a responsible dog owner is knowing our dogs well – knowing their body language and their mood.  It’s just as important to respect another dog owner’s choice not to engage, not to “greet,” or not to play.

Walking 3 dogs isn’t easy and when they’re keyed up (like when we arrive at the park) I don’t like them to greet other dogs, because they want to play immediately after the sniff and dog play on leash rarely works out in my experience.  The dogs feel hampered, get stressed, identify the other dog as the source of their stress, and then play quickly turns to fighting.

When I don’t allow my dogs to greet other dogs while on leash,  I’m not be snooty, I’m being cautious, because I know my dogs.

So that’s that…

There are plenty of dog parks that are fantastic.  There are many people who go to the dog park with buddies to improve their experience – by getting together a group of like-minded dog owners, you can attempt to provide a safer environment for your dog.  Dog parks aren’t all bad, but for me – the Fur Mom to 3 – they’re not great.

I miss the park and the dog lovers that I’ve met.  But I have one humper, one shy princess, and a puppy who only wants to play with small dogs.  Once again I’m faced with the fact that the world doesn’t revolve around me and that includes the dog parks.  Since other dogs and dog owners won’t bend to my needs, I will adjust to theirs and excuse myself from this one experience.  The beach is much better anyway!

 

Now it’s Your turn – what are your thoughts on dog parks? Please share your good or not so good experiences.  And if you know a great park with great people – give it a shout out!

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