You think the dog park is a great place to take your dog for some fun and socialization. But what you might not know is that dog parks can be dangerous.
Most of the dog fight injuries I treated as an emergency veterinarian occurred at dog parks. Sometimes these injuries are fatal. They're always expensive, and they're always horrific to watch. Imagine seeing your dog viciously attacked by one or more dogs and having to rush your pup to the emergency hospital.
Below are some often-overlooked rules and tips to keep from having to experience the trauma of a dog fight.
What is the biggest danger at the dog park?
You're at work all day and your dog is excited to see you when you get home. A walk doesn't seem like enough exercise. Instead, you head to the local dog park. Your dog can run free. You probably aren't concerned about how safe it is. All the other dogs there are probably just happy to be out too, right?
Some dogs might be happy to be there, and some might not. Every dog is not friendly and might not like the energy at the dog park. The truth is that owners are the biggest danger at the dog park. Owner negligence is the cause of most fights at dog parks. It is not intentional; it's due to a lack of knowledge.
Do This. Don't Do That
It only takes seconds for what seems like friendly dog play to turn into a fight. If you take your dog to a dog park, you need to know how to keep it safe.
The responsibility falls on you to keep your dog out of harm's way and to make your visit an enjoyable one. There are some basic do's and don'ts you can follow that will keep your dog out of danger. You might even save someone else's dog from being injured.
• DO check out the entrance to the dog park. If a pack of dogs is congregating there, wait until they have dispersed and then bring your dog in. This way your dog won't feel overwhelmed or "ganged up" on.
• DO NOT keep your dog's leash on when you enter the dog park. This makes your dog feel unsafe when approached by an unleashed dog. Take off the leash as soon as you enter the inner double gate.
• DO NOT be on your cell phone. Just put it away. You are there to spend time with your dog. Unplug. Your job is to watch your dog and other dogs' behavior.
• DO keep your dog within eyesight. Move around the park with your dog. If you can't see your dog, then you need to GO find your dog. You can't avert danger if you can't see it.
• DO NOT bring frisbees, tennis balls, treats or your dog's favorite toy into the dog park. This can lead to resource guarding. Your dog may want to protect what is his/hers. If another dog playfully tries to take the item a "tiff" can turn into a fight.
• DO Watch your dog's body language. If your dog is cowering and running from other dogs, tucking his/her tail or running to you and hiding under your legs, then your dog is not having fun. It is time to take your dog out of the park.
• DO NOT ignore other dogs' body language. Watch for dogs that are growling, have their hackles up or are standing stiffly and making direct eye contact with your dog, or any dog.
• DO NOT bring your small dog into the big dog area. If there is not a separate fenced in small dog area then take your dog somewhere else to exercise. But your chihuahua loves big dogs! You don't know if that other big dog loves small dogs. An otherwise friendly 60-pound dog that grabs your 10-pound dog in frustration can cause a lethal injury.
• DO carry an air horn. A quick pull on that horn can stop a fight that's brewing. The noise can startle the dogs and allow the owners to get them away from each other.
• DO respect what your dog is telling you. Some dogs just aren't a good fit for dog parks. They may be too shy, or play too rough, or just don't like being in a large group of strange dogs.
It's OK to stay away
Dog parks are NOT the best place to socialize your dogs. There are too many variables and too many distractions. Instead, try forming doggie play dates with friends and neighbors.
If dog parks are your thing, then use the guidelines from this article to make your outing a safe one. And if you can do just one thing mentioned in this article, then be aware. Put away that cell phone. You can't follow any of the other guidelines if you are not present and paying attention. Remember, an (unaware) owner is the most dangerous part of the dog park.
Lisa Campbell is a veterinarian with over 22 years experience in most all aspects of veterinary medicine. She currently works as a relief veterinarian in Central Oregon.