Pat Miller, a dog trainer and frequent contributor to Whole Dog Journal recently wrote a great article on this very subject. (Whole Dog Journal January 2018 ed.) If you frequent dog parks, I highly recommend taking a couple of minutes to see what she has to say, as well as the comments of other certified dog trainers.
I must say none of what I read surprised me about what often occurs in dog parks, especially in today’s world of smart phones and the constant connection to visual distractions.
Dog parks have been around for the last couple of decades but the number of them has really grown in the last 10 years, as dog ownership has increased. They provide large spaces for dogs to run, play, meet other dogs and generally work off their energy and need for socialization, in a controlled area. It’s been a real boon for getting more dogs adopted by people that live in apartments, condo’s or areas with no yards.
The problem with dog parks, Pat details, arise when concept meets reality. The idea of the dog park is awesome and makes sense. The reality is off leash dogs, running around, basically unsupervised, their distracted owners not paying attention to their pups and untrained, unsocialized dogs colliding with one another. Therein lies the potential for trouble and even serious injury to dogs and their owners.
Another unintended consequence of dog parks can be the transmission of disease, as has recently been the case in Arizona of Leptospirosis. One of the dog parks in Fountain Hills had 5 dogs come down with the disease, which has become more virulent in the last year.
Only you can determine what the best play solution is for your dog but it is probably worth your while to check out the dog park you want to take your pup too, sans the dog. Go inside and walk around – try this different times of the day and different days of the week. Get a feel for how busy the park is, what kinds of dogs show up and how their owners manage their canines.
Personally I like taking my 2 1/2 year old lab, Bear, to Fountain Hills Fountain park – where there are lots of trees, a walking trail, and, most importantly, dogs on leashes. Bear still needs a lot of socializing experience and in this particular environment I am able to let him see and be around other dogs but at a distance, if need be.
What are your thoughts about dog parks? Good, bad or so-so?