Some trainers say outright that dog parks are just bad, period. They can be doggone awful. But the right dogs in the right park with the right people in the right situation can be dog heaven.
I recently visited a dog park with a client again for the first time in several months, and for me it's bliss to see all these amazing dogs of all breeds running around. This park is one of the largest dog parks around, so we see LOTS of dogs there. There's also a small-dog area, which is crucial. I was reminded again of the pros and cons of bringing a dog to a dog park.
1. Dogs are really meant to play in groups of two or even three at a time. Dog parks almost always surpass this number by far. Best is bringing your dog to visit dogs he's friends with or becomes friends with. No unknowns, if possible.
2. Small dogs are often in the large-dog area--often because there aren't enough dogs for socializing in the lil-dog area. A LARGE DOG RECENTLY MAULED A TINY DOG in this same park. She should have been in the lil-dog area ALWAYS.
3. Exercise with another dog is some of the most rigorous a dog can have. People must moderate the level their dog can handle.
4. Germs. My client's dog now has conjunctivitis--from the park? Almost definitely.
5. Everyone says his/her dog is "fine" with other dogs. Who is fine with every other dog? Or every other person?
6. Children sometimes walk around with sandwiches in dog parks! Really!
7. Dogs need BREAKS! I watched several small skirmishes that could have quickly escalated to fights. The dog guardians rarely seemed to intervene until things were getting VERY out of hand. You need to have time-outs before the dogs are too aroused.
8. After entering the park, people let the dog run off, and the people socialize until it's time to go home. They keep a vague eye on the dog sometimes (mostly not), but they need to be there FOR the dog the entire time. You need to keep your eye on the dog.
9. Call your dog! Don't stand in the same spot for the entire visit. Why should your pup pay attention to you when you stand and chat in the same place every day? Make her look for you once in a while. When she does, call her and exclaim over her brilliance when she comes! Call her at least six times during your dog park visit--and when it's time to go home, she'll come then, too. Who would come when called if it only happened when it was time for the fun to end??
10. Be sure your dog also gets regular walks, too. Dog parks are completely different exercise; walks bond you with your pup.
11. Know what to do if a dog fight happens. Don't grab dogs by collars but by their hindquarters.
12. Take a pet first-aid course.
This young dog client needed to be around other dogs; the dog park has worked out very well for her. It's not for everyone. It's not even for me. Just be careful out there, okay? You're in charge of very precious cargo!