Dog Park Safety (part 1) – Tips for staying safe

This past weekend, a woman was stabbed while her dog on-leash dog attacked another dog inside the dog park at Mockingbird Point. Our friend Courtney Keyes (owned by three dachshunds, including the amazingly adorable Thor) wrote an article about dog park safety for the Dallas Morning news that I think everyone should read – it’s located here. (Clicking on that link will open a new window, so read it and come back, because I’ve got more to add to what she’s already said so well.)

Dog parks can be the most wonderful thing in the world, or a real disaster waiting to happen. We’ve enjoyed the Dallas dog park since it opened in 2001 (My first Cardi, Bou, was featured in a Dallas Morning News article about it, even!), and I maintain the (not very busy) Dallas Dog Parks Flickr pool.  Mal got most of his running exercise there as a puppy, and I can count on one hand the number of scary experiences any of my dogs have had.

All that said, I no longer take my dogs- any of them- to the dog park. Part of this can be attributed to my move and the new Dallas animal ordinances that make Mal a contraband doggy (packing unlicensed balls- Rittie and Lizzie are not spayed, but they’re not so obvoius as Mr. Hairless!), but that’s not entirely it. Right now, the risks just aren’t worth it (I’ll talk about those and how we can fix them in a future post.)

For now though? My top tips for dog park safety.

  1. If your dog isn’t having fun, why are you there?
    It’s not complicated. If your dog is the shy sort, doesn’t play well with strangers, or otherwise needs socialization, the dog park is not the place for him. Resolve those issues, and THEN give it a try.
  2. The dog park is not a singles bar.
    You are there to have fun with your dog, not to socialize. If you can’t see your dog and carry on a conversation, quit talking.
  3. Know where your dog is and what he’s doing at all times.
    Even nice dogs can be obnoxious from time to time. Keep an eye on your dog and call him back if you see him annoying another dog, even if it’s normal doggy behavior.
  4. Just because your dog is neutered (or spayed) doesn’t mean that he or she is automatically blameless when tangling with an intact dog. (And a dog that has aggression issues with intact dogs doesn’t belong at the dog park, regardless of whether or not his balls are attached.) Be honest about your dog’s behavior.  (Conversely, if your dog is not neutered or spayed? You have an extra duty to be vigilant, because you’re an ambassador for all responsible pet owners with intact dogs.)
  5. Scuffles happen- be prepared. The closest vets to the dog park are East Lake Animal Hospital (on Northwest Highway, during business hours), Hillside Veterinary Hospital (on Mockingbird, west of the park, also during business hours) or, outside of regular business hours, the emergency clinic at Forest and Greenville. If your dog was involved, get everyone’s info (including witnesses) and be aware that Dallas Animal Control won’t get involved unless a person was injured. If dogs were the only ones damaged, it’ll be a real battle proving liability, so get photos, license plates, names and license numbers.
  6. Situational awareness is your friend.
    If there’s a scuffle, keep an eye on the general mood of the park. When dogs are on edge, especially when it’s crowded, fights are more likely to happen.  This holds true for people, too.
  7. The dog park is a confined space, and there’s a finite number of dogs who can be in there without feeling crowded. Avoiding peak times (weekend afternoons) is common sense. If the weather is so nice you HAVE to be outside, why not go play in the field (on a long-line, thank you!) up at Flagpole Hill, or the wildflower meadow, or at Stone Tables? All these are 10 minutes or less (by car) from the dog park, and typically MUCH less crowded. Keeping a long-line in your trunk is a great safety precaution, anyway.
  8. The dog park is great for blowing off steam, but be sensible. If your dog is a dervish who can’t listen to a recall for the first 10 minutes off leash? Take him for an on-leash walk first and jog some of the zoomies out.
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2 Responses to Dog Park Safety (part 1) – Tips for staying safe

  1. Mickey S says:

    I totally agree, Cait! Even if you have a dog that “plays nicely with others”, it doesn’t mean that everyone else there does. I have taken one of my dogs to a dog park in Denton, just to work him on leash around distractions (like 50 other dogs). We never go inside the fenced doggie area, but just work close by. And yes, every time we’re there, there is a scuffle or two. I’ve worked emergency medicine for too many years, and have seen the results of too many dog fights. I guess I’m pretty conservative with what I’ll let my guys do, so for now at least, we’ll pass on the dog park.

    • mittelspitz says:

      I think SUCH a big part of it is what dog you have (and my next post will be about that). The margin for error is a LOT better for a 60 pound dog like Mal who actively avoids conflict than a scrappy little dog the same size as Micah or Lizzie.

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