Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Dog Parks
The expected, and unexpected, dangers of dog parks (+ what you can do instead!)
The lure of dog parks is understandable. There are fewer things more enjoyable than seeing dogs run free, full of joy, tiring themselves out. Dog parks can be ok…until they aren’t…and then they can do immeasurable damage to your dog that you may spend a lifetime trying to repair. In fact, what you see as joy may actually be nervousness and unhappiness.
Illness & Infectious Disease
The most obvious danger of a dog park is the rampant spread of illness and infectious disease. Even if your dog is vaccinated, it is still at risk for a variety of life-threatening illnesses like Leptospirosis, Parvo, and Canine Influenza. Dog parks are also a common place for a dog to pick up contagious warts, kennel cough, intestinal parasites, fleas, ticks, and much more.
Injury, Death & Dog Bites
Also common at dog parks is injury to both you and your dog. Be it from a dog that bites you, a large pup that bowls you over and tears your ACL, or a dog fight that causes injuries for you or your dog, many physical threats are present when you walk into a large open space with dogs that you do not always know and certainly cannot always control.
Beyond the physical damage and thousands of dollars this can result in, a dog attack can do irreparable damage to your dog’s behavior and temperament (especially if it is young). From birth to social maturity (which can be any time up to 4 years), a dog goes through periods of time in which incidents like these can imprint on them and forever change their temperament. This may result in you having to spend the rest of the dog’s life dealing with aggression, fear, or other behavioral issues.
When you get a group of strangers together, and add those strangers’ off-leash dogs into the mix, this is a recipe for arguments, gossip, and overall drama. Accounts of physical altercations run rampant, and if you Google “gun at dog park” you can see the violence that can escalate when emotions rise.
Socialization & Training Damage
This one is the most important and long-lasting dangers of dog parks, and often the most unexpected. A professional dog trainer will beg you: please do not go to dog parks! At dog parks, your canine is allowed to run into a large area, with no leash, and no accountability to you. The socialization they experience and behavior they learn can harm your dog-human bond, and can result in behavioral problems immediately or down the road. The majority of dogs do not have the temperament to handle this situation. That jumping, leash biting, or barking may seem like excitement to you, but it really is stress. There are 100 small things going on between the dogs that are hard for even the trained eye to see, so even the best intending owners are set up for failure. Some issues include:
- Learned defensive aggression which results from improper greetings. At dog parks, it is possible for exuberant or forward dogs to rush your dog head on for an overwhelming greeting. Over time, this can develop into your dog becoming defensively aggressive to other dogs.
- Improper play styles can also be learned at the dog park. When many unknown dogs play, without strong management, dogs can begin to learn the wrong way to properly play with another dog. Later in life, it can be hard for them to properly inhibit their exuberant play or socialize politely in public.
- At the dog park, you have much less control over your dog and you are teaching it to socialize without looking to you for guidance. This can damage the work you have put into obedience training and create a less obedient dog.
Time at the off-leash park with other dogs can also create on-leash aggression in your dog. According to the APDT “Leash frustration also occurs because dogs that frequent parks mistakenly believe that they can meet any other dog they see. Once again, when thwarted, they tend to pull on the leash, and the owner yanks back. As the frustration builds, the dog appears to be aggressive, thus causing other owners to pull their dogs back in fear. Eventually, leash frustration can lead to real aggression.”
Don’t Stop Working & Exercising Your Doberman!
It may be daunting to think about how you can continue to exercise, train, and socialize your Doberman without the convenience of a dog park. Great news! There are many ways you can do this, and all are much healthier for you and your dog than the dog park.
- Join a local group or collaborate with friends to create a private playgroup that you can better manage.
- Consider testing out different dog sports – they are so much fun!
- Take your dog to visit dog-friendly places like Home Depot, Ace Hardware, PetCo, etc. While there, do different obedience commands to keep your dogs mind working. Meet new people, and provide positive affirmation for your dog when it does well. This will tire them out more than you know.
- Consider swimming lessons.
- Play hide and seek with yourself or objects in your home.
- Freeze a toy or high value treat inside an ice block during the summer for your dog to enjoy in the yard.
- Purchase a Flirt Pole to play with in the yard.
- Feed meals out of a food dispensing toy like the Kong Wobbler.
- Create a list of obedience and tricks you want to teach or reinforce. Pick a couple each day, and hold short sessions at home or on-leash in public.
- Purchase a treadmill for your dog – it is easier than you’d think. You can purchase a used human treadmill, purchase one specifically made for dogs (DogPACER, PetZen, GoPet, etc) or hire companies like RunBuddyMobile.
- And last, the dependable classic: go for a walk, hike, or run.