Dog Parks and Why You Should Avoid Them

Two dogs playing rough

Yesterday on twitter there was a brief discussion of dog parks among a few of my friends. The story that triggered the discussion was familiar: there was a fight at a dog park, one owner was redirected onto trying to break it up, the other was unhelpful because the fight was "not his dog's fault."

I'm not a fan of dog parks. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a trainer that is.

The idea behind dog parks is laudable. Who can argue with a place where dogs can run free and play with each other? Even in suburban areas, space is at a premium and many people lack large fenced-in yards where their dogs can safely play.

The problem is most dog parks aren't a safe place to play either. What dogs are going to be there today? Are they trustworthy? Did they come with responsible humans? Are they healthy? Are they fully vaccinated? (Probably a better question than it was a few years ago, considering how reexamining vaccination schedules has turned to questioning vaccinations completely.)

The question regarding responsible humans is probably the most important one. I've been to a few dog parks and what makes me most nervous is how oblivious the people are. It really seems more like a cafe with a playground for dogs than anything else. I fall more toward the "risk taker" end on the dog/dog interaction scale, but...dog park people can be downright insensate.

What's the alternative? You have a few:

  • Find people you trust that have dogs you trust and set up play dates. You may even be lucky enough to set these dates up at the dog park at off-peak times.
  • Find a trustworthy day camp run by skilled people that do behavior testing and are willing to let you watch.
  • Find a dog training school (like St. Hubert's) that has an off leash exercise program that is run by dog trainers.

Or, gasp, skip playing with other dogs and just play with him yourself. (Assuming you only have one dog.) It is truly a pleasure watching two (or more) well-matched dogs play, but does your dog really need to play with other dogs to have a completely fulfilled life?

I don't think so.