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Health Topics

Dog Park Etiquette

(This article was originally published in the September/October 2011 Issue of Pets Magazine and is reproduced here with the permission of the publisher.)

College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University

The concept behind public dog parks is an exciting one for dogs and owners alike, where fresh air and playfulness are plentiful. Because public dog parks are accessible by anyone, each trip proves to be a different experience, hosting a range of different interactions for a pet.

Visiting a dog park is a social activity, and unlike their owners, dogs do not always know how to behave accordingly. While this should be a fun and exciting experience for the dogs, owners should try to enforce proper behaviour skills in their furry friends, while maintaining proper park etiquette themselves.

Always remember to pick up after your dog when they use the restroom; most parks supply waste bags and designated trash cans for this purpose. One health risk that comes along with visiting a dog park is the amount of waste from different dogs that your pet is exposed to.

“One disease that animals can catch from drinking standing water that has be exposed to animal waste is leptospirosis,” says Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M University, College for Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Stickney explains that dogs can be vaccinated for this disease, and recommends that any dogs visiting a dog park on regular basis stay current with this vaccine. Gastrointestinal parasites, such as hookworms, round worms and whipworms, also pose a threat to any dog that is exposed to another dog’s feces.

“Dogs like to sniff each others’ noses and rear-ends, so if a dog has any type of respiratory disease, signs of coughing, eye discharge or nasal discharge, then that is not the time to bring them to the park,” says Stickney.

Another common problem that is transmitted dog-to-dog is fleas. So, having a dog on a flea and heartworm preventative is another good step to take.

Socializing dogs with other dogs and other people is one perk that dog parks have. However, if a dog is not accustomed to being around other dogs and people, it might be a good idea to try socializing them with another dog that the owner is familiar with. It is possible for a dog to do well around a couple of other dogs but then feel very overwhelmed in a dog park setting with 20 other dogs.

“The most critical period for socializing a dog occurs within the first 8-12 weeks of their life; this is a good time to expose them to different people and types of animals in order to help avoid any anxiety or behaviour problems in the future,” said Stickney.

Stickney explains that this is almost a double-edged sword because it is good to socialize the dog at a young age; however, this is also when their immune systems are not the strongest and the owners want to be careful to whom they expose them.

“I like to take my puppy everywhere with me, and to go visit my neighbors friendly dog often, but I am not going to turn him loose at a park with many different dogs I don’t know,” adds Stickney.

Also some dogs simply are not social creatures and are not comfortable around a lot of attention. If a dog appears skittish or afraid in unfamiliar settings or frequently rolls over in a submissive position when other dogs approach it, then chances are it will not enjoy a trip to the dog park.

When dogs interact with each other for the first time in a park, it can be a stressful moment if one is unsure of the response that will occur. It is important not to bring a female dog that is in heat to a dog park; this will result in having to deal with the constant bother of male dogs and, even worse, an unexpected litter or puppies!

When fights break out in public areas between dogs, usually it involves male dogs that like to display their dominance. Even if a dog is well trained and able to run off of the leash, it is always good to have a leash handy. Getting exercise is key to a dogs health, so running around with them on a leash or playing fetch with them off of a leash are both rewarding forms of play.

Visiting a dog park can be an exciting and interactive practice for a dog as well as the owner. As long as owners are courteous and aware of their surroundings and the potential problems that can arise, more time spent with a pet is always a positive thing.