When Shouldn't You Take Your Dog to the Dog Park?

A wet nose skimming the surface of the ground, a taut leash connecting the two of you, and finally, a wide-open smile and a spring-loaded tail to signify your arrival: for many dog owners, this may sound like a familiar scene leading up to your local dog park. Dog parks can offer great opportunities for dogs to socialize with other dogs and people, and exercise off-leash — which is especially handy for anyone living in a densely-populated city where roaming free isn't an option. While it can be a fun break in the day, the dog park isn't always the best idea for every dog, whether that be due to concerns regarding behavior, health, or timing.

Dogs!
credit: Tsvetelina Kostova / 500px/500px/GettyImages

Keeping your dog safe

Whatever the specific reason, the underlying concern for keeping your dog out of the dog park is to keep him and everyone around him safe. One group of canines particularly susceptible to danger are puppies, especially young ones under four months who are yet-to-be fully vaccinated. Diseases can possibly be contracted even if no sick dogs are present, like canine parvovirus, or parvo. Parvo is highly contagious, very hard to kill from surfaces, and can be passed to dogs through contaminated environments and cane lead to extreme illness and even death, says the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Another time to skip the dog park is if your unspayed female dog is pregnant or in heat, as this can obviously result in unwanted attention from male dogs, especially if they are unneutered. Additionally, injured dogs or dogs who tend to display fear around large groups of dogs will not have a good time at the dog park, no matter how good your intentions for her are. If your canine companion prefers more quiet leisure or playtime, follow her lead and don't push her too far out of her comfort zone, at least not without the help of a behaviorist or certified trainer.

I need a drink
credit: Denys Kumaran/iStock/GettyImages

Keeping other dogs safe

One obvious reason to stay out of the dog park is if your dog tends to be aggressive toward other dogs or people. This counts even if the park is fairly empty, even if your dog is small and you opt to hold him, even if your dog's aggressive behavior isn't apparent all the time, but rather, is unpredictable, and even if you have the best intentions to keep a very close eye on your dog. If your dog may injure or provoke another dog, keep him out of the park, period.

Of course, the occasional scuffle will happen from time to time, and the close and often highly-populated confines of a dog park can make the perfect conditions for two or more dogs to butt heads, but if aggressive tendencies are something you've witnessed and know your dog to display, it's best to be better safe than sorry, and opt for a less stressful setting instead.

Often, toys can make their way into the dog park, like rope bones, tennis balls, or even large sticks, so if your dog has been known to resource guard, bringing her into this environment may not only put other dogs are at risk of being hurt, but can also set him up to fail, according to VCA Hospitals. Fostering a dog's potential to succeed in tough situations is the best way to create new behaviors, and strengthen the bond between the two of you, so if he seems to snap over a toy, treat, or even a water dish, it's best to keep him out and find another enjoyable activity to engage in instead.

Awkward Pet Portraits
credit: Holly Hildreth/Moment Open/GettyImages

Less common reasons to stay out

Sometimes, it's not your dog or someone else's dog that makes going into the dog park a bad idea. This is something no one wants to admit, but sometimes… it's you. One way you may not realize you're interfering with a potentially positive park date is by bringing small children into the dog park with you, explains the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. If your dog and child get along well, that's fantastic, and even more encouraging if your kid tends to be great with other dogs outside of her own. It's important to understand, however, that not all dogs have been properly socialized around kids, which may lead an otherwise well-behaved dog to act out around this strange new thing.

Another reason to stay out of the park—and this may sound like common sense, but it's definitely been known to happen—is if you have food. Sometimes, your lunch break may be the only time your dog gets to go out in the middle of the day, and managing that time isn't always easy, but bringing your meal into the park while your dog plays can lead to an annoying eating experience at best, and a seriously out of control and possibly dangerous situation at worst. To avoid either of these scenarios, and to allow your canine friend to enjoy her play time, be sure to eat before you enter or after you exit the confines of the dog park.

Woman opens packed lunch, her dog is begging for food.
credit: Betsie Van Der Meer/DigitalVision/GettyImages

Finally, you shouldn't enter a dog park if you aren't willing to play by park rules, whatever the reason may be. A basic set of rules and courtesies involves picking up after your dog, leaving the park once it has closed, and locking the gate behind you. This also goes for anyone unwilling to keep an eye on their dog once they've entered the park, and anyone nervously helicoptering their dog while she meets a new dog for the first time, which can make an unfamiliar situation even more stressful.