Dog Park Benefits, Risks, and Tips

Let your dog run free, but know before you go.

With so many benefits dog parks provide to our canine companions, it is no surprise that more and more communities are establishing these designated areas within their boundaries. The number of off-leash dog parks grew 6% last year and is up 20% in the past five years, according to the 2017 City Parks Facts report.

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In addition to the fresh air, socializing with other dogs, and taking a break from your regular route, dog parks allow you to watch your pet having fun. The parks cover a wide range of size and amenities, but even the smallest park allows your pet to run leash-free, getting much needed physical and mental exercise, while enjoying their natural tendencies to operate as part of a canine “pack.”

Letting your dog run without the worry of skateboards, roller blades, or frightened pedestrians can also provide you great interaction with other dog lovers. If you are just beginning the search for a perfect fit for your needs, or if you want to ensure your park of choice is the best experience for everyone, here are some basic things to consider.

  • Fencing needs to be free from sharp points without any gaps big enough for dogs to squeeze through. It should also be high enough not to scale.
  • Grass and gravel are the preferred surfaces for pet parks. The grass or artificial turf should be free of burrs that can get stuck in animal fur. Gravel should be pea type to keep pads from getting torn.
  • Overall cleanliness is important. All dog parks require owners to clean up and provide receptacles, and usually plastic bags, to encourage the clean up. Playing around fecal piles left by those who don’t follow the rules is not good for your dog's health.
  • Make sure the level of play is compatible with your dog. If you are ever in doubt about a situation, remove your dog immediately.
  • Most parks make accommodations for large dog play areas to be separated from small dog play areas. Large dogs and small dogs should not play together for safety reasons. However, not all people will heed this division. Be careful of situations where large dogs are allowed to play with small dogs.

Of course, there are potential risks for your pet in any social setting. When choosing the right place for your pet to run off-leash, it’s wise to be cautious of the following:

  • Many parks require registration with proof of vaccinations before your pet can be admitted. But there’s no easy way for you to know which other animals are good for your dog to mingle with. Protect your dog from possible health risks by keeping all vaccinations up to date. Deworm your dog on a regular basis and ensure that he receives shots that prevent kennel cough and canine flu.
  • Often, dogs are so preoccupied with the sights, scents, wide open space to run, and playtime, they are too excited to stop and take a drink. It doesn’t need to be hot outside for a dog to become dehydrated. Make sure there is always fresh, clean water available, and that it is easy to find. Be aware of his activity level and call him to rest and take frequent short water breaks. Watch closely for excessive panting, signs of slowing down or suddenly becoming less animated than usual.
  • Not every dog owner is thoughtful and responsible. If you suspect another dog at the park is aggressive, it may be in your best interest to leave and try again later, after they have left. If your own dog doesn’t always play well with others, bring him when the park is empty. Keep in mind that many perfectly gentle, friendly dogs can become toy or leash aggressive, so leave the toys at home, and unleash your dog once inside the park to avoid an unnecessary issue.
  • Dogs and small children are commonly a good combination, but there are times when children are a hazard at dog parks. A child running up to an unfamiliar animal to play can make your dog feel threatened and provoke a defensive response. 

Remember, dogs in a pack situation can act unpredictably, and any attack by one dog on another can quickly escalate into a serious confrontation. Owner control and awareness is very important. As you visit with other owners always be aware of your pet’s actions. Avoiding problems and using situations for training when possible will help keep you and your well-mannered dog welcome guests at the park.

Here are some dog parks within a 10 mile radius of Back On Track:

St. Charles County:

West St. Louis County: