Question:
I hear a lot of good things and bad things about dog parks. I very much enjoy taking my dogs to an off leash park because they get far more exercise than they would on a leash, and it’s very social for me and for them. My two dogs like people and other dogs. But I’ve seen some fights, some injuries, and lots of people yelling at each other over the behavior of their respective dogs. I was bit once breaking up a bad fight the wrong way. What do you think about off-leash dog parks?

Answer:
Dog parks need to be a personal choice for each person with a dog. It’s a choice that needs to be made for each of their individual dogs, because some will function well in dog parks and some will not.

Here are some points to consider in making your decisions:

  1. Dogs can become ill from the contaminated soil of dog parks, and dogs without strong immunity should be protected from this exposure.
  2. Dogs can become injured or even killed in dog parks, and this is a risk each person must seriously consider. If you know your dog is likely to injure or terrorize other dogs, that is a dog who doesn’t belong in an off-leash dog park.
  3. Dogs have had their temperaments ruined through dog park experiences. If your dog’s working ability is important to you, there’s a good chance that after a few dog-park experiences, you’ll decide to keep your dog out of such places. Sadly, some dogs’ temperaments are too far gone to rehabilitate, by the time their people understand what is happening.
  4. Dog parks need to be responsibly run. People should be able to walk by the dog park with their dogs on leash or their young children without being accosted by loose dogs. Dog parks should be fenced, and the off-leash activity kept inside the fence. Dog parks need to be cleaned frequently. There need to be rules that are enforced, to prevent malicious people from bringing fighting dogs to the park just to watch them maim and kill other people’s dogs.
  5. After a perfect day at the dog park, realize your dog is probably going to need a bath! Churning dog feet and dog waste that isn’t promptly cleaned will leave the ground both dirty and contaminated. Be prepared, too, for injuries even when dogs have not been engaged in fighting. Hard running with dogs of widely differing weights can cause orthopedic injuries–especially in the lighter dogs, but also in any dog with an orthopedic weakness you might not have known was there.
  6. Keeping your dog out of off-leash dog parks doesn’t mean the dog can’t enjoy exercise and dog-to-dog social time. A playdate with a compatible canine pal in a clean fenced area, such as someone’s well-kept lawn, is a safe alternative to the dog park.
  7. Dog parks should be a choice. I’m not in favor of taking this option away from people, but it needs to be an option that isn’t forced on anyone or any dog. A great many mature dogs with temperaments perfectly normal for their breeds can either be dangerous to other dogs in dog parks, or can be irreparably mentally damaged by these experiences. Dog parks are not for everyone.