Dangers of the dog park

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By Kim Gilliam

You love taking your pup to the dog park to let him run around and burn off energy, enjoy being outside and off the leash and socialize with others.

But did you know there are some real dangers lurking at the dog park? It is important to be aware of these so you know what to watch out for.

Spread of infectious diseases: With so many dogs congregated together, diseases like kennel cough and canine influenza can spread quickly.

While the kennel cough vaccine can offer some protection, your pup still can catch it since the strains may vary, although the symptoms may be less severe. It’s a good idea to bring your own water bowl, since disease can be transmitted through communal bowls.

Parasites: Intestinal parasites, like roundworms and hookworms, travel via feces — for example, if your dog steps in some then licks their paws.

Thankfully, heartworm preventative medications help protect against these, but it’s important to diligently clean up after your dog at the park and encourage others to follow your lead.

Fleas and ticks also can travel between dogs playing together. While topical and oral preventatives help, it’s good to do a tick check before you leave the park.

Puppies: Puppies are especially vulnerable to health risks at the dog park — do not bring them until they are fully vaccinated, and even then you may want to hold off until they are 6 to 9 months old so they aren’t overwhelmed or picked on by the older dogs.

Instead, consider taking them to puppy classes or play dates at facilities that are disinfected and where experienced staff can help watch for bad behavior.

Senior dogs: Think twice before bringing your senior dog, since they may have health issues that make them more susceptible to the spread of disease, and they can be injured running with the younger dogs. Consider taking them at quieter, off-peak times instead.

Behavior: While it is the responsibility of all owners to monitor and correct inappropriate behavior at the dog park, that does not always happen.

Some are too distracted looking at their phone, drinking their coffee or talking with others, and some just don’t know what to watch for. They might have a dog that is too exuberant or pushy with others or one that is nervous and uncomfortable.

Not every dog is right for the dog park. Rather than put other dogs at risk or subject your own dog to negative experiences, you may want to find other ways to meet your dog’s exercise needs. Bad experiences can have lasting effects.

Know your dog: Some dogs may be reluctant to play and interact, instead merely tolerating the experience, which can be frustrating for people who want their dogs to be social.

Others are fearful, over stimulated, or have unpredictable interactions that result in aggressive encounters. If your dog isn’t right for the dog park, it doesn’t mean they are a bad dog.

It simply means they would fare better in other situations, like playing with select playmates or one-on-one. Or maybe they just prefer activities with people instead.

Dogs need exercise, including play, but playtime needs to be a good experience for everyone. If you have any doubts about whether your dog or others are acting appropriately, the play is getting to rough, or your dog is not having fun, be prepared to leave.

And while dog parks can be great, don’t discount the importance of one-on-one playtime at home. You are your dog’s best friend and most sought-after companion and there are lots of other great ways to tire them out both physically and mentally.

The writer is the co-owner of Frolick Dogs, an indoor dog gym in the Eisenhower Valley.

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