why dog parks are a bad idea

Why Dog Parks are a Bad Idea

Hello and welcome to today’s short-form podcast, where we, as dog trainers, answer your dog training questions. I’m your host Nicole Forto, the pro trainer for Dog Works Training Company. In today’s episode, we answer the question, why are dog parks a bad idea? Dog parks are an ever-growing popular attraction for dog owners, even though there are many reasons not to use them. Since about 2009, the development of dog parks has increased by about forty percent. According to a survey conducted by the National Recreation and Park Association, ninety-one percent of Americans believe dog parks provide considerable benefits to the community.

Let’s start with the more straightforward facts. Dog parks hold a lot of bacteria, including the amount of dog urine and feces and any animals like birds that land within the park. Dogs can catch diseases from other dogs very quickly. They can transmit it to other dogs and to humans, depending on the disease. Research done by the National Recreation and Park Association gave shocking numbers. Samples of dog feces analyzed from dogs that were allowed off-leash at a dog park showed that twenty-five percent contained giardia, fifteen percent contained cryptosporidium (a parasitic infection picked up in water and food) and seventeen percent contained cystoisospora (sis -toe-I-spo-spera) the parasite found in coccidiosis that is carried in birds—all parasitic infections are associated in dogs that are easily transmitted to other dogs.  

There are many factors when considering taking your dog to the dog park, but the biggest question we consider as trainers is whether it is worth it. Is the quote on quote freedom worth your dog’s well-being and quality of life?

We don’t think so. With the thought of disease and bacteria aside, what about your dog’s potential to be attacked? It happens more often than owners want to admit, but often, dog parks are a catalyst for significant dog fights. There is a lack of understanding in dogs’ body language both as an owner and in the dog’s position. A lack of responsibility on some owners is also a huge thing to consider.

With a brand new puppy or an even older dog that is new to you and to the dog park, there can be a pack mentality with the dogs that frequent the park, and all know each other. With that breed, the pack attacks the newcomer, especially if your dog is dominant, intact, or screams in fear and insights the prey drive of the others.

A startling one in seven dog owners have reported their dogs have been attacked at a dog park. Dog parks are not a controlled environment, and even the most trained dog is at risk. It may not be your dog that is the problem, but there is one that is. Dog parks are an environment that over-stimulates dogs and can cause stress. When dogs are stressed and continuously bothered by others, reactions happen.

As a dog trainer, I can count more than ten instances where we have clients who have either come to us for their dog developing reactivity after a dog park attack or who were trained with us between three and twelve months of age who visit a dog park and end up attacked and then return to us in hopes to rehabilitate them from the trauma that ensued at the dog park. With that knowledge alone, if I was an average pet owner, I would never be taking my dog to a dog park. That said, I have a dog of my own who is very much spoiled, friendly with other dogs, and well-trained. He is never taken to dog parks because it’s not worth the risk. 

It’s believed that dog parks are a great thing because they offer a “safe” environment for them to roam freely and socialize. However, if you know anything about a dog’s instinctive nature, there is nothing natural in grouping together large numbers of dogs unknown to each other, and expecting them all to just be happy and go lucky, playing and frolicking together. Nick Hoff, the chair of The Association of Professional Dog Trainers says “socialization is not just the process of dogs interacting with other dogs but rather the process of exposing your young puppy to new experiences.” Hof adds, “Dog parks are not a safe place to socialize your six to twelve-month-old puppy. During our puppies’ early stages, they are hyper-sensitive to experiences, so a greeting from an overly rambunctious dog may be enough for your puppy to become uncertain and even fearful of all dogs.” 

We get it. You want your dog to have a fun place to go, hang out with friends, and run around being social, showing you that they are happy. Just with a human child though dog parks have park bullies.

Even heavily socialized dogs can run into dog park bullies, have harmful interactions, and pick up bad habits from others who are not as trained. Dogs in dog parks become easily overly aroused, in that emotional arousal, bad reactions, and rude bully-like behaviors can and do happen. Dog parks are public spaces with a severe lack of monitoring and rules. That means anyone and their dog are welcome to be there, even if they shouldn’t be. So before you take your dog to a dog park, consider all of these factors and make an educated choice.

If you do go, pay close attention to your dog’s behavior and the behavior of the dogs playing with yours. If you see your dog get stressed out, uncomfortable, or trying to hide behind you, it’s a good time to go ahead and leave. Remember to always advocate for your dog and stay vigilant. If there’s a dog training question you’re dying to get answered, let us know, and maybe your question will be answered next. For Dog Works Radio, I’m Nicole, and I’ll catch up with you guys in the next episode. 


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