The number of dedicated dog parks in large U.S. cities increased 80 percent between 2009 and 2020, according to data from the Trust for Public Land. That’s great news for dogs and dog lovers alike! The idea of a public gathering spot where dogs can run freely and socialize with other pets and people is a dream come true.
While dog parks may be popular and appealing, they can also pose hidden dangers for the unsuspecting pet parent. By knowing what to watch out for, you can better protect your pup from common dog park risks.
Are Dog Parks Good for Dogs?
Dog parks offer several benefits for pets. First and foremost, they give dogs an opportunity to socialize with other pets and people. Socialization from an early age is important, as it helps dogs acclimate to a variety of new sights, sounds, and situations.
Another pro of dog parks is that they provide a space for dogs to exercise, which is vital to their overall well-being. Regular, appropriate exercise can help support joint health, strengthen muscles, and keep your dog at a healthy weight.
Lastly, dog parks can benefit dogs and humans on an emotional level, helping them forge a stronger bond as they spend quality time together.
That being said, not all dogs enjoy going to the dog park, so always keep your pup’s preferences and comfort level in mind.
8 Dog Park Dangers to Know
While dog parks offer a lot of potential perks, they can also present several hazards for dogs. Below, we look at some of the top dog park dangers pet parents should be aware of.
Untrained and Unsocialized Dogs
Dog parks bring together dogs with a wide range of personalities, temperaments, and behaviors. This means not all pups at the park will be the best-trained listeners.
Dogs who won’t come when called, refuse to sit and stay, or don’t follow other basic training cues like drop it can put other dogs and themselves at risk of injury. If your dog isn’t well-trained, teach them the basics before spending time at the dog park.
Dogs who did not socialize with other dogs at a young age may struggle to read the body language of other dogs. These dogs may fail to back down when warning signals are given. If they do not have good recall training, this can make the situation more dangerous.
Dog parks bring members of the community together in a shared space, with the expectation that everyone will follow a similar set of rules and guidelines designed to promote safety.
But even if you follow all dog park rules to the letter, that doesn’t mean other pet parents will do the same. Pet parents who don’t clean up their pet’s waste or who are on their phones and not paying attention to their dog’s behavior can create hazards for others. Keep in mind that some visitors may bring small children with them, which may pose a risk if adults do not supervise their kids around dogs.
Any communal space can pose the risk of spreading infectious diseases between animals, such as parvovirus and kennel cough. “Dogs not up to date on vaccines are at a greater risk for contracting diseases,” says Dr. Clarke Garthwaite, VMD at Horsham Veterinary Hospital in Pennsylvania. “Diseases at dog parks can spread from contact with other animals, as well as exposure to their urine and feces.”
Young puppies in particular may not be properly protected against disease risks. “Puppies that have not completed their vaccination series should avoid dog parks,” Dr. Garthwaite says.
Before heading to the dog park, pet parents should also consider parasitic risks, such as fleas, ticks, worms, and Giardia. “Intestinal parasites are often transmitted through feces,” says Dr. Garthwaite. In a national study, nearly 50 percent of dog parks sampled had at least one dog infected with intestinal worms (1).
“Making sure your dog is receiving monthly heartworm and flea/tick prevention helps reduce the risk of fleas, ticks, heartworm and intestinal parasites and makes for less risk at the dog park,” says Dr. Garthwaite.
A broad-spectrum parasite control product, such as Interceptor Plus, can protect against multiple types of worms in dogs, including heartworm disease. To provide your pet with 360-degree protection, consider also using a flea and tick control product, such as Credelio.
Pet parents should speak with their veterinarian to identify appropriate parasite control products for their individual pet. (Editorial note: Dr. Clarke Garthwaite, who was interviewed, and Dr. Rhiannon Koehler, our veterinary reviewer, did not endorse or recommend any specific products for this article.)
Too Much Activity
A new setting with lots of sights and sounds can potentially over-excite your pet. “Some dogs will play too hard and for too long at dog parks,” cautions Dr. Garthwaite.
If your pet shows signs of overdoing it, such as a limp, be sure to monitor them and contact your veterinarian with any concerns.
“If your dog comes up lame after playing, you can rest them for 24 hours and schedule an appointment with your local veterinarian if you are concerned,” says Dr. Garthwaite.
While too much exercise can put any dog at risk of joint damage, pet parents should be especially cautious about over-exercising puppies, since their bones and joints are still developing.
In addition, the youthful energy and overall environment of a dog park may be too much for senior pets to handle.
“Senior pets can get tired more quickly, and play should be monitored closely and limited,” advises Dr. Garthwaite. “Many senior pets have other conditions, such as osteoarthritis, which may be exacerbated through rough play.” Low-impact exercises, such as walking or swimming, are more ideal for dogs with osteoarthritis.
Lastly, dogs who have flatter faces like Bulldogs or Pugs are prone to overheating when they exercise too much. If you notice your flat-faced canine is acting tired or breathing heavily at the dog park, it’s time to cut your visit short. Consider keeping your dog at home when it’s really hot outside. High temperatures and overexertion can lead to heat stroke in dogs, a life-threatening condition that requires immediate care.
A pup who overdoes it at the dog park is also at risk of dehydration, especially on a hot summer day.
“Make sure your dog has access to fresh, clean water throughout their time in the park, taking breaks if they need to,” Dr. Garthwaite says. It is best to provide your dog with their own water rather than using a shared water source, which could pose a risk of disease transmission.
Rough Play or Dog Fights
While pet parents may enter dog parks with the best of intentions and utopian vision, the reality is that not all pets will play together nicely…or at least not as nice as we’d hope.
“It’s important to be mindful of behavior dynamics between different dogs,” says Dr. Garthwaite. “Not every dog will play well in a dog park.”
This, of course, can result in rough play or outright fights, which can prompt a trip to the veterinarian.
“In the event that there is a fight, check your pet for injuries and follow up with your veterinarian if needed,” advises Dr. Garthwaite.
Pet parents who stay in tune with dog body language may be able to help prevent altercations from occurring. Keep in mind that dog parks don’t usually separate large dogs from small dogs, and a large dog can seriously harm a small dog, often unintentionally.
The ideal dog park is well-maintained, clean, safe, and secure. But not all parks are equally maintained. Loose, damaged, or worn-out gates and fences can create the risk of escape. A loose dog can be exposed to multiple dangers, such as getting hit by a car or becoming lost. Do a scan of the perimeter to make sure the fence is secure before letting your dog off-leash.
Dog Park Etiquette: Tips and Advice
While dog parks can present dangers, consider these tips to help mitigate risk and make your time more enjoyable:
Brush up on basic training. Regular training sessions can not only improve your bond with your pet but can also make trips to the dog park and interactions with other pets safer and less stressful.
Take preventive care measures. Keeping your pet up to date on vaccinations can protect them against serious diseases while also protecting other pets and people at the dog park. Regular flea and tick control and heartworm preventives can also protect pets against tick-borne diseases, heartworm disease, and intestinal parasites that they may be exposed to when spending time outdoors.
Be vigilant. Many dog parks are off-leash since they are fenced in, but that can sometimes give pet parents a false sense of security. While at the dog park, always keep a close eye on your pet and be mindful of other pets’ behaviors to prevent harmful encounters.