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Tips for Keeping Your Dog Safe at the Dog Park

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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The other day I saw a magnet on a car that read "What Happens at the Dog Park Stays at the Dog Park." Oh, if only that were true!

Each year a larger segment of the parks in the United States include areas designed specifically for dogs. These dog parks are a great place for dogs to run, play, and socialize with their dog peers. They're a huge help in areas where most owners live in apartments without access to places for their dog to exercise. However, it's not all fun and games at the park. Many problems can arise when owners aren't responsible or a dog is pushed out of their comfort zone.

After communicating with various emergency veterinarians across the country, we came up with a list of common problems that can occur or result from a trip to the dog park.

The goal of this list is not to scare you away from the dog park but to make you aware of potential risks. The more you know, the safer you and your dog will be.

Common dog park problems include:

1. Sprains – One wrong twist and turn (or a collision with another frolicking dog) is all it takes to sprain a joint.

2. Soft Tissue Injuries – Rough and tumble play, especially between dogs of vastly different sizes, can result in bruises and other tissue damage.

3. Ligament Tears – Running, jumping and playing can be associated with partial or full ligament tears, especially the cruciate ligament of the knee.

4. Kennel Cough – This is a contagious disease (also called "bordetella") which causes respiratory distress. It is extremely contagious and common anywhere that dogs interact such as vets' offices and dog parks.

5. Parvovirus – Commonly known simply as "parvo," this viral disease primarily affects unvaccinated dogs and puppies. It is spread through the feces and can be picked up at the dog park if an infected dog visits before yours. It takes 5-10 days for symptoms to appear after exposure.

6. Parasite infection – Parvo isn't the only parasite lurking in dogs parks. Various other parasites such as giardia and cryptosporidium are also common.

7. Fleas – Many dogs that go to the dog park may have fleas. The flea often bites a dog then lives for a period of time on the floor or ground until he is ready to jump on your dog for another blood meal.

8. Insect Bites – Even if an insect bite does not result in an infection, it can still irritate sensitive canine skin.

9. Heat Stroke/Dehydration – Many dogs really have so much fun that they don't know when to stop. As a result they can suffer from heat stroke or dehydration within a brief period of time.

10. Bite wounds – Your dog might be the sweetest pup on Earth but not every dog is friendly...and not every dog owner is responsible. A dog who is nervous or aggressive may bite another. Bites occasionally result from overzealous play as well.

11. Lacerations – An excitable dog can get caught on fencing or other sharp objects in a dog park. Most parks are very careful but we do see occasional problems. For example, a dog who can jump high might get stuck on the top of a chain link fence.

Any of these problems can occur to a dog in the dog park, but they can also happen at home in a yard. In particular infectious diseases and parasites are always a possible when other dogs are involved.

How to Prevent problems at the dog park

Now you know about some major risks in dog parks. How can you prevent problems them? There are several things you can do to try to avoid some of the situations mentioned above.

  • Follow all dog park rules and regulations.

  • Pay attention and monitor your dog at all times.

  • Ensure your dog is well-socialized with a variety of other dogs and people. If he doesn't play well with others, don't go to the dog park.

  • Keep your dog up to date on vaccines including rabies and bordetella.

  • Make sure your dog stays on a good flea control medication and heartworm prevention year-round. Many preventative medications also repel a variety of parasites and are a good value.

  • Take your puppy to the park only after he has received all his puppy vaccines. Check with your vet before doing so; they are typically safe to visit after about 16 weeks of age.

  • If you see a dog that is not "playing nice," take your dog out of that situation. Don't rely on another dog owner to obey the rules in order to keep yours safe. If you have a bad feeling about a dog and suspect he could hurt your dog, follow your instincts and move to another part of the park or leave entirely.

  • During extremely hot days, go to the park in the morning or evening when it is cooler. Always bring a bowl and fresh water for your dog to drink regardless of weather.

  • Maintain a current dog license and ID tags, and keep them displayed at all times on your dog.

  • Never take your eyes off your dog while they are in the park. Don't get distracted by your cell phone, book, or dog park companions. It takes only seconds for a problem to occur and you want to make sure you always have your eye on your dog.

  • Keep an eye on your dog after they return home from the park. Look them over for evidence of injury including scrapes, bruises, or bite marks. If you notice signs of overheating e.g. excessive heavy panting, noisy respirations or weakness, call your veterinarian immediately.

  • Create a "park bag" with extra water bowls, poop bags, leash, collar, towel, and notepad with pen for trips to the park. In case of any incidents with another owner's dog you will need to take down their information.

  • Stow a canine first-aid kit under the back seat or in the trunk of your car.

  • Observe the dog park's rules and know your dog's limits. Do not force dogs to interact if they are uninterested or uncomfortable with each other. If your dog appears to be aggressive towards another dog, take them home.

  • Know what to do during a dog park attack.

  • If you have a small dog, do not allow them to play with much larger dogs and vice versa.

  • Always keep your dog's best interests in mind-you'll both be happier!


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