Are Dog Parks Good for Dogs?

Last Updated 12 MARCH 2023

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Lacey Kelly BVSc (Hons)

Off-leash dog parks have grown in popularity of late; with new ones popping up in pretty much every suburb. They provide an excellent opportunity for your furry friend to enjoy the fresh air and burn off excess energy and they even provide some socialisation for owners. But are dog parks actually good for dogs?

Why we like dog parks

  • Opportunity for exercise
  • Enrichment: both mental and physical
  • Exposure to new experiences
  • A sense of community for dog owners
  • Socialisation between dogs and dogs to humans

Whilst there are some positives to visiting the neighbourhood dog park there are also a number of risks to consider. It is important to remember you don't know the dogs in the dog park and neither does your dog. You don't know their vaccination or parasite prevention status. You don't know what poor behaviours they have that your dog may pick up. And most importantly you don't know their reactivity or potential for fighting and causing harm to your own dog. Without an understanding of each individual dog your own encounters you may be unintentionally putting your dog at risk.

Learning bad behaviours

There is no screening process to determine who is and isn't allowed into the dog park so it is a bit of a free for all in terms of what sort of dogs you will encounter when taking your pup there. Inappropriate and dangerous behaviours exhibited by other dogs at the park may soon find their way home with your dog. Things like ignoring recall or boisterous and rough play can quickly be picked up which you will then need to retrain your dog out of. A lot of people like the dog park because they feel they are doing the best thing to help socialise their dog. Unfortunately in the dog park setting your dog won't always be learning from well socialised and well-behaved dogs and there are definitely better ways to ensure your dog is well socialised.

Exposing your dog to a variety of different situations in a controlled and positive manner is the best way to ensure a well socialised dog. Organising a dog walk with dogs and owners you know, and trust is a great alternative. Controlled and supervised play dates is another fun and safe option for your pup.

Infectious Diseases and Parasites

Dog parks are a popular spot with many dogs frequenting them, especially in urban locations where green space is limited. With a large number of visiting doggos it is no surprise that there is also a significant number of parasites and diseases that your dog may encounter if frequenting these locations. Even if there is no direct dog to dog contact your dog can still become infected through sniffing the ground or faeces.

This is particularly important to consider for owners of young puppies and elderly dogs with lowered immune systems.

A recent study across Australian urban dog parks found that almost half (42.7%) of the parks sampled were contaminated with at least one species of canine soil-transmitted helminth, with hookworm being the most prevalent. Not only is this a risk to your dog's health and wellbeing but it is important to remember some of these parasites are zoonotic so your own health may be at risk too.

Potential Infectious Agents at your dog park

Dog fights and injuries

It is important to remember that by taking your dog to the dog park you are putting them in a situation that may very well end in disaster and heartbreak.

Dog parks are truly unpredictable and the second you walk into one you are forfeiting all control. You don't know the dogs there. You don't know if their owners can read their behaviour and intervene when necessary. You don't know how different combinations of dogs are going to interact. You also don't know which dogs have aggressive tendencies and what their triggers are.

Even if your dog is well-trained, well-socialised and well-behaved that doesn't guarantee that every other dog and person entering the dog park is on the same page. The dog park is a high energy, high arousal environment that has the potential to escalate at any mdoment.

Unfortunately, a lot of owners don't know how to read the behaviours of their dog and therefore don't intervene when it is necessary. It is also quite common to see owners more focused on their phone or their conversation with others than on proper supervision of their own dog. Checked-out owners plus highly aroused dogs leads to bad behaviour and that is where things tend to go pear-shaped.

Dog fights at dog parks are inevitable and the dog park dynamics often result in an all-in brawl. They escalate quickly and can result to injury to dogs and owners and in some sad cases even death.

Precautions to take when going to the dog park

  • Stay up to date with vaccinations and parasite prevention
  • Do not enter if you notice a dog that is outwardly unwell (diarrhoea, hacking coughing etc)
  • Bring your own water bowl
  • Ensure your dog's recall is excellent before entering an off-leash dog park
  • Closely supervise your dog for the duration of your visit
  • Remove your dog from any situations that have the potential to escalate

Top products for dog parks

Further Reading

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