The Good, The Bad and The Ugly on Dog Parks


Coming from the perspective of a dog trainer, dog parks are too risky. When people ask me about them, I suggest other ways to socialize and get quality dog playtime. If they really want to try one, I offer advice on ways to increase the odds for a safe experience for themselves and their dog.

No one is there to police a dog park. No one controls who comes and goes. No one is there asking for proof of vaccinations or doing temperament test to see if all the dogs are healthy good-play partners. You don’t know what dogs are going to be there when you are. You have to wonder, are the other dogs properly vaccinated? Are the other dogs healthy with no contagious diseases? Are the other dogs dog-dog friendly? Are the other dogs dog-people friendly? I hear too many stories when these questions are given bad answers.

Dog play can turn vicious quickly. It’s not uncommon for gang violence to erupt suddenly. Remember, dogs are pack animals and if two start something then others will most likely join. An innocent dog can be harmed especially if they are smaller than the others. Many parks don’t separate the small from large and the danger of a small dog being injured at some point is highly probable even if it is friendly play.

Another problem is the people. Owners usually stand around chatting together clueless of what the dogs are doing. It’s rare to find someone who actively pays attention to the dogs. Even rarer is the person who prevents or stops when he witnesses things going bad. It might be that most people don’t have the skills to recognize when dog play is unsafe until it’s too late. What may look like play to others, from the eyes of a professional like me, may be serious over-arousal, dangerous prey drive, bullying and all out aggression in action.

People get bit at dog parks. They get harassed by barking and lunging dogs. They may be the victim when trying to stop a fight. They may get knocked down by running dogs. Most certainly, I don’t recommend human kids go to a dog park; it’s too dangerous.

A perfectly well behaved dog can learn some awfully bad behaviors at a dog park. All that money spent on training may be wasted.

Here are some great ways to socialize and get your dog some good playtime.

  • Find a well-run, clean, affordable “doggie daycare” facility. Look for one that: 
    • Does temperament testing so they know the dogs will play nicely.
    • Requires proof of vaccinations so that you know the dogs are in good health.
    • Is well staffed with a trained employee who watches as the dogs play, can recognize and has the tools and skills to stop when play is gets rowdy.
    The cost of a visit is well worth it because you are paying for peace-of-mind and a good play experience for your dog.
  • Another idea is to do something that you and your dog do together! I know you’re tired when you get home from work or running the home, but nothing can relax you better than a good game of fetch, a run or a nice walk on a trail, or an agility run at a class or in your own backyard. Come join in one of our Super Dooper Dog Training classes. Find something fun and do it, together!
  • Have a dog party at your house. Meet up with friends who have dogs that you and your dog like. You can swap out visits at each others homes. Have a cookout. Have a swim party.

Now, if you absolutely have to try a dog park, here are ways to safeguard yourself and your dog:

  • Go and watch the park at the time when you are likely to take your dog. Do this several days so you can see who comes and goes. Watch the people as closely as you watch the dogs.
  • Look for a park that separates dogs by their size, offers a double-entrance so dogs can’t escape, is clean, offers shade and has water available though I advise you bring his water.

And, if you do decide to try a dog park, I suggest you do these things.

  • Watch your dog. Intervene quickly and safely if you see trouble-a-brewing. Protect yourself and protect your dog! It’s not being rude it’s being wise if you don’t stand around and chat with the other owners because your job is to watch your dog.
  • Leave if you feel the least bit worried. Play it safe!
  • If your dog isn’t having fun, seems worried and timid then leave. Don’t force him to play or be there.
  • Practice call-to-come drills at least five times with your dog when he’s in the park but most importantly send him off to play again if he’s having fun. If you do this, he’ll come to you more willingly when its time to leave.
  • Pick up after your dog goes poop.
  • Keep treats or toys at home as they can trigger problems.
  • Don’t stay too long as your dog may get overly tired and become grumpy and short-tempered around other dogs.
  • Remember, your number one priority is the safety of you and your dog.

In summary, I always recommend people to look for options besides dog parks. But, if you really want to try one, follow my advice and think of others yourself. Just remember, safety first!