Here’s How to Find a “Good” Dog Park!

Pug Smiling at Dog Park

Dog parks are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. More and more cities are allocating space to allow for free play for our canine pals, and cities without designated leash-free areas are often deluged with signatures from concerned dog owners demanding a beach or park where their best buddy can run.

Dog Huddle in Dog Park

In recent years, dogs have become less of a tool for safety and security and more of a loving companion and family member. Owners are often overwhelmed with information on how to be the most responsible dog owner they can be including tips on how to keep their dog happy and well-behaved.

When discussing the overall well-being of a dog, two of the necessities most stressed are EXERCISE and SOCIALIZATION. Increasingly, owners are advised that their best chance of keeping their dog healthy, happy, and as minimally Kujo as possible are plenty of exercise and regular meets and play times with other dogs. For many owners, dog parks offer a magical solution where their buddy can achieve both, with minimal effort on the part of the owner.

While finding a way to get their dog “play and meet-and-greet time” with friends and getting them well worn-out without ever having to strap on a pair of jogging shoes is a dream come true to most dog lovers, some have concerns that hold them and their canine companion back from joining in on the fun. And, let’s face it, their concerns aren’t at all unfounded. A place where dogs can run and jump and chase and wag sounds wonderful in theory, but dogs are animals, after all. Even leashed, they can be unpredictable.

Sometimes walking a beloved friend into a pack of strange dogs can seem more intimidating than valuable, and it can be hard to know when a park is a reasonably safe environment or a place to be avoided. These concerns mean a lot of owners decide dog parks just aren’t worth the risk, and there are plenty of Fidos who have missed out on some fun. But with proper research and precautions, there’s no reason you and your dog can’t be part of this magical wonderland.

Like regular parks, dog parks aren’t all the same. Due to their increase in popularity, most owners are lucky enough to have several within a convenient vicinity to their house. But how do they know which is the right one for them and their dog? There are several factors to consider when scoping out a park for some possible play time. Look for a park with good SPACE, CLEANLINESS, and, most of all, RESPONSIBLE OWNERS. You’ll notice I didn’t mention breeds of dogs. Contrary to popular belief, the mark of a good dog park is not the lack of powerful breeds, like Pit Bulls or Dobermans. I would consider a large park full of Pit Bulls with responsible, engaged owners to be much safer than a park full of Chihuahuas whose owners are daydreaming.

Space

If at all possible, try to find a dog park with sufficient space. Not all cities are able to allocate large plots of lands. Some cities have great hills or fields outside of town and can fence in a full acre, but some squeeze their parks in between a couple tall buildings and call it a day. Luckily, acreage isn’t the space I’m talking about.

Big Dog Park with Dog Sitting

What you want is there to be enough room for dogs to move comfortably. You want to make sure there aren’t so many dogs jammed in that they’re tripping over each other (and you), and that there’s an area where you can move aside if your dog is getting a little over excited and needs a breather. This is very important. Dog parks can be very over-stimulating and even the calmest dog can get over-excited, or just decide for whatever reason that they don’t care for another dog. It’s crucial to have an area they can be taken to where they can get some air and shake it off before playing again.

Dog parks can be very over-stimulating and even the calmest dog can get over-excited, or just decide for whatever reason that they don’t care for another dog. It’s crucial to have an area they can be taken to where they can get some air and shake it off before playing again.

Cleanliness

Don’t get confused… There will be poop at the park. I’m sorry to lessen some of the magical imagery, but dog poop is a reality that you’ll have to brace yourself for. However, there is a limit. Look for a space that is clearly cleaned regularly, both by owners (this will help in your gauge for responsible owners as well) and hopefully by city workers or volunteers as well. Dog feces can contain a number of different bacterias, some of which can live on surfaces for long periods of time. Diseases like parvovirus can live on grassy or soft surfaces for as many as two years. While it would be hoped that the majority of owners would be responsible enough to properly vaccinate their pooch before bringing them around a pack of strange dogs, sadly, this is not always the case. But if you can make sure your little guy is current on all their vaccines and playing in a park that is regularly cleaned you can greatly lessen the risk of them bringing home anything awful.

Yellow Labrador Retriever Drinking Water at Dog Park

Look for a space that is clearly cleaned regularly, both by owners (this will help in your gauge for responsible owners as well) and hopefully by city workers or volunteers as well. Dog feces can contain a number of different bacterias, some of which can live on surfaces for long periods of time. Diseases like parvovirus can live on grassy or soft surfaces for as many as two years. While it would be hoped that the majority of owners would be responsible enough to properly vaccinate their pooch before bringing them around a pack of strange dogs, sadly, this is not always the case. But if you can make sure your little guy is current on all their vaccines and playing in a park that is regularly cleaned you can greatly lessen the risk of them bringing home anything awful.

Responsible owners

This is the final and by far the most important factor to keep in mind when choosing a park for you and your bestie. Owners who are responsible, knowledgeable and engaged are the best way to ensure that things go smoothly for all involved. And yes, that includes yourself. Before attending a park, be sure you really KNOW your dog.

Know their energy level, likes and dislikes, mood swings, and warning signs. Introduce them to other dogs in a calm, low-pressure, leashed situation several times, and make sure they have a consistently positive reaction to other leashed dogs before considering taking them to a park. Introducing your dog to strange dogs for the first time at a dog park is a lot like letting the school bully teach your kid to swim. Except after being thrown in a pool, children can react by instinctively paddling and end up alright.
Remember, a dog’s instincts when pressured fall more in the lines of FIGHT or FLIGHT,neither of which will give them (or you) a good time at the park!

That being said, how can you tell if other owners are likely to be as responsible as you are? You want to look for owners who have a firm grasp of where their dog is, what it’s doing, and when its behavior becomes not ok and needs to be dealt with.

Picture a park full of kids. You know which moms have eyes in the back of their heads and can stop their kids from jumping off the jungle gym or poking another kid with a stick before the kid even gets the idea in their heads in the first place. Those are the kind of owners you hope to encounter, standing with other owners, discussing trick training and dog food brands with their eyes firmly latched on a certain wagging tail. These are the owners who will step in to calm overexcitement and redirect problem behaviors, not look up from their phones only after a fight has broken out and wonder what happened.

Keeping these factors in mind will help you pick a park that’s right for you and allow you to get your dog that all-important exercise and socialization with a reasonable degree of confidence and security. Remember, there are no guarantees in life, and certainly not in the behavior of animals or the responsibility of their owners. Keep an eye out for problems that may arise, and have a plan to get you and your dog out safely and you will both enjoy many happy park days in the future! Play away.


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