I have a three-year old dog and no yard so I take her to the dog park every day. Yesterday was our anniversary. We met three years ago and have been together ever since. I bought her a new anniversary toy, but she didn’t reciprocate. She didn’t even wish me a happy anniversary. I try not to take things like that personally. She’s not good with numbers or time. Plus, being unemployed, she has no resources to get me a gift, unless you count the gift of poop. She constantly gives the gift of poop.
When I first met my dog, I did a lot of research. I’d had dogs before, but not for a long time. My last experience with dogs didn’t end well. It left a wound in my heart and I was unable to have dogs for a while until I met that fuzzy puppy belly pictured above. Anyway, my dog skills were a little rusty.
One subject that came up repeatedly was dog parks. To dog park or not to dog park? That was the question. It seems that people have very strong opinions on the matter. Some people are adamantly against them, while others are for them.
When my dog was a puppy, I read warning after warning about how dog parks are a bad idea. People said things like, “The first time I went, my dog was attacked and I never went back,” etc. There is plenty of advice on the web telling you to avoid dog parks no matter what.
In the end, once my dog was old enough and had all of her shots, I decided to chance it and take her to the dog park. The first time we went, she got swarmed and attacked by a pit bull. It wasn’t a real attack; it was mostly a warning, but she was terrified. She tried to climb in my lap and tucked her tail between her legs.
That could have been the end of her dog park experience right there–and for many people, it would have been–but I was determined not to have a fearful dog. I wanted her to be comfortable in most situations. I wanted a well-socialized dog, because selfishly, I wanted a therapy dog. I wanted a dog that I could take to hospitals and hospices to provide comfort to people in need. I still want that, but she’s not quite well-behaved enough yet. At three years old, she’s still got too much puppy in her. The only way to have a well-socialized dog was to expose her to everything until she was unafraid.
Two days after she was attacked at the dog park, we went back. The dog who had attacked her was not there. She was still terrified and I felt terrible for making her go there when she was clearly afraid, but there was another puppy there and they played. They played hard. She had fun.
We went back and she met another puppy. I kept taking her, and every time, she was less afraid, until now, she can’t wait to go.
So, without further ado, here are the pros and cons of the dog park:
1. Dog owners.
Some dog owners are irresponsible. I’ve seen people dump their dogs in the park and go wait in their cars. Some dog owners spend the whole time fiddling on their phones and not paying attention to their dogs. Some dog owners are unable to control their dogs, so that when there is a problem, they can’t do anything. Some don’t do anything even if they can control them. I’ve seen as many arguments between dog owners as I have between dogs.
Some dog owners just suck. If you’re going to bring your dog to the dog park, be responsible. Keep an eye on them. Your dog is your responsibility. Period.
2. Real danger.
I’m not going to sugar coat it and tell you that it’s all daisies and clowns at the dog park. There are squabbles between dogs. Sometimes, dogs fight. It’s what they do. Most of the time, it’s not serious, but sometimes, there is blood.
Sometimes, they fight over toys, which is why it’s best not to bring your own toys with you since your dog could get territorial over them.
Sometimes, they fight because dogs aren’t fixed. There’s a big sign on the gate of my dog park that says dogs must be fixed to enter, but not everyone abides by that rule. Unaltered dogs can cause problems.
Sometimes, dogs just fight. It’s natural. Even dogs who know each other and are fine the rest of the time just rub each other the wrong way and fight. The next time they see each other, it’s as if nothing happened. This is why it’s so important that you keep an eye on your dog at all times. Eventually, you notice the warning signs and can stop trouble before it begins.
3. Communicable diseases.
My dog is licensed. In order to get a dog license, you have to prove that they’ve been fixed and provide a current rabies vaccination certificate. That’s the bare minimum required to license a dog in Los Angeles. The city doesn’t require heartworm, distemper, parvovirus or hepatitis vaccinations, though they really should. Not everyone provides the same level of health care for their pets. Some people, even if their dogs are licensed, don’t get booster shots.
When you set foot in a dog park, you’re taking a risk. In three years, my dog has gotten one skin infection. She was medicated for a month to cure it. During that month, I didn’t take her to the dog park because it was communicable. Not everyone is as considerate as me. In fact, she probably caught the infection at the dog park in the first place.
That said, unless your dog never leaves your house (please tell me your dog leaves your house–that’s just cruel otherwise), they’re at risk. They’re at no greater risk at the dog park than they are just walking down the sidewalk. I bring it up here to show how important it is to get your dog vaccinated.
4. Once you take your dog, you have to keep doing it.
Even if your dog is attacked, you need to take them back so that it doesn’t scar them for life. I can guarantee you that my dog doesn’t remember that first time anymore. If she does, she doesn’t care, because now the positives far outweigh that initial fear.
I go to the dog park nearly every day. That’s about seven hours a week that I spend there, or about 15 days a year. I spend a lot of time at the dog park just to have a socialized and tired dog.
1. You get a well-adjusted dog.
Most socialization problems like shyness or fear aggression can be solved with social interaction, repetition and time. I’ve seen dogs who were afraid of everything eventually blossom at the dog park. Just last night, I finally was able to pet a shy dog I’ve been trying to greet for a long time. She’s finally coming out of her shell.
Another dog has fear aggression. She’s good with people, but whenever another dog comes too close, she reacts with blustery barking. Her owner keeps bringing her anyway and the dog is showing improvement. In another few months, I bet she’ll be playing with other dogs like it’s no big deal.
I have a neighbor with two little dogs, both under ten pounds. Neither one of them has ever been socialized. One has fear aggression and lashes out at anyone. He bit a stranger and broke skin, but nothing was done about it because he weighs eight pounds. The other dog is so desperate for attention that whenever she meets me or my dog, she starts jumping and howling. The only social interactions those dogs get are with each other and the occasional meeting on the street. That’s what you get with an unsocialized dog.
Dogs are pack animals. They need to be social to be healthy.
2. Dog owners.
For every dog park wacko or irresponsible dog owner, there are at least three decent, responsible dog owners. They are a great resource, especially if you’re having problems with your dog. Most of the people who go to the dog park genuinely love dogs. They form a sort of inadvertent community. They really care.
At my dog park, a woman found a blind dog on the street and was fostering him, but couldn’t keep him. He needed a home. People at the dog park posted his information all over social media, until eventually, they found him a good home out in the country where he can run and play.
3. You get to pet a thousand different dogs.
There’s a reason that dogs are used to comfort victims of trauma. There’s a reason there are leader dogs and companion dogs and rescue dogs. They are loyal and empathetic. Just petting a dog makes you feel a little better, no matter what’s going on in your world.
I once said I feel like Snow White whenever I go to the dog park. Dogs are excellent therapy and getting to pet all of them can do nothing but improve your mood.
4. Eventually, your dog will love it.
They get so much from the dog park–exercise, socialization, the ability to run free, chase birds and sniff butts. My dog has friends.
She will pace in the house until we leave. She will pace in the car from the front seat to the back until we get there. She will pull on her leash like a Clydesdale horse until we get inside. And then she’s free. The sheer joy that she gets from the dog park makes me happy, too. It is her absolute favorite part of the day, and to be honest, it’s my favorite part of the day, too. She is a better dog and I’m a better person because of the dog park.
If you’re fearful of the dog park, don’t be. A judicious amount of caution is never a bad thing, but please, don’t avoid the dog park just because some stranger on the internet with one bad experience told you to. I almost did and I’m ever so thankful that I didn’t take that advice. Give it a chance or lots of chances, as many chances as it takes, because your dog will thank you for it even if they can’t put it into words.