Author

Stephen J. Birchard DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVS

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Dog Parks: Outdoor fun, or disaster waiting to happen?


Dangers at the Dog Park: Help your client avoid dangerous conditions and snarling dog fights with these tips
Heather Biele, DVM. Veterinary Economics 55(9): September, 2014, pg. 15

Summary

In this article Dr. Biele offers veterinarians guidelines for advising clients on the “do’s and don’ts” of dog parks. Dog parks, fenced in areas where many dogs can run free together, offer many mental and physical benefits for dogs. But they also can be sites of disease transmission and fighting resulting in serious injury. The following are key points of advice the author suggests to dog owners:
  • Be sure the dog is the right temperament for a dog park (not overly fearful or aggressive)
  • Keep the dog current on vaccines and flea and tick preventatives
  • Perform regular fecal examinations if a frequent visitor to dog parks
  • Educate owners to recognize signs of aggression in their dog
  • Train the dog to obey simple commands.

A client handout on dog park safety tips is included in the article which can be downloaded from the journal's website.

Commentary

The internet is awash with articles promoting both the benefits and dangers of dog parks. Strong opinions can be found from veterinarians, dog trainers, and owners. The ASPCA has a very detailed and informative piece on the subject on their website. (http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-behavior/dog-parks)

I am a firm believer in outdoor exercise for dogs. All dogs, especially working breeds that are high energy and high strung, need regular activity and play. Exercise keeps dogs physically and mentally fit and can prevent behavioral issues so common in dogs not given the opportunity to get outside.

However, I also see the down side of uncontrolled multiple dog interaction. 

Dogs are pack animals, but they are also territorial and can become aggressive with little warning. The “big dog:little dog” syndrome that veterinarians see so often is an example of what can go wrong in a dog park. Bite wounds range in severity but are frequently complicated by infection that can become serious and even life threatening.

I am not sure the general public is sufficiently aware of dog behavior to recognize when aggressiveness is imminent in their own dog and others. Even if they were, will they be close enough to their dog at a dog park to intervene and prevent an attack? Education of dog owners about these issues is certainly beneficial, but will it make dog parks safer?

What is your opinion about dog parks? Sometimes I think our profession is not vocal enough about important issues affecting our patients and their owners. We have a unique perspective. Our knowledge and experience are an important resource to local communities about issues relating to animals. Do the benefits of dog parks outweigh the risks? Can anything be done to make dog parks safer (separate areas for large and small dogs, for example)?

Post comments either on the blog or on facebook (Dr. Stephen Birchard, Veterinary Continuing Education). Also, take the poll on dog parks in the upper right corner of the blog site. (view web version to see the poll)