Long-time readers know that a lot of my stories happen at the dog park. Janice and Leroy love their regular trips t the dog park, and the dogs we meet there are often the inspiration for many of the articles I share. For example, I wrote about dog birthday parties, helping nervous dogs relax, and building a dog cart all because of fun we had at our local dog park. It’s a great place to keep my furry pals in good shape, and it gets me out of the house, too. But you’d be surprised how many dog owners don’t take advantage of their local dog park.
First, if you aren’t near a dog park, I understand why you wouldn’t be taking advantage of one. But if you do live in a town, or even a county, with a dog park, do you realize that your tax dollars are usually paying for your access to that park? In most cases, the city or county uses tax dollars to keep the dog park in good shape and open to the public, just like a park for kids. So if there is one nearby, why not use it? You’re already paying for it!
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This may sound like I think dogs should have a special obstacle course, a spa, and a dog-friendly bistro right at the dog park. While those things sound like a lot of fun, that’s not what I mean when I say amenities. At a dog park, you need a few basic things.
First, access to water is important. Yes, you can bring your own bottled water and a bowl for your dog to drink from, like this handy Portable Mug for Dogs, and you should – you never know when you’ll need water for your dog during exercise. Dogs get dehydrated easily and they need water to keep them healthy. However, having water fountains or water spigots where you can refill your dog’s water is a very good thing for a dog park to offer.
Second, it’s a good idea to look for a dog park that has some shade. Not all do. Some towns are only able to offer a big open field to dog owners to let their dogs get some much-needed exercise. But if there are some trees or a pavilion to provide a little shade, bump that dog park up on your list of possibilities. Seating for you, such as a bench in the shade, is also a bonus.
Some kind of fencing to keep your dog in the dog park is a very good amenity. The main point of a dog park is so that your dog can get some off-leash exercise, and you’ll need to ensure that they’ll be in a safe, enclosed area to do that. Be sure that the fencing isn’t too flimsy to keep your boisterous dog inside, or that the slats aren’t so wide spread that your tiny dog could slip right through. You should also check that the tips don’t have sharp points, and that there are no areas on the fence where your dog could get hurt if they decide to test it out.
Finally, garbage cans are an amenity that I always look for in dog parks. Without them, owners aren’t as responsible about picking up dog waste or getting rid of their own trash, and that makes for a less enjoyable space for everyone.
The next thing that a dog park needs is plenty of space. Not all towns or cities can offer multiple acres for a dog park, of course. But this feature is less about how much physical space there is, and more about how crowded the dog park itself is. You want to find a dog park that has some hours of the day where you could take your dog and they’ll have room to play.
Being off the leash to run and jump and horse around is a big part of exercising your dog. Even if the dog park isn’t all that huge, as long as there are some times when your dog has room to race around without tripping over other dogs, they’ll be fine. Another important point here is that a dog park be big enough to separate certain dogs into different corners if need be. If your dog just decides that they can’t get along with that other dog, the dog park needs to be big enough that you and the other owner can both stick around and give your dogs exercise, without being in each other’s way.
Obviously, there’s going to be poop in a dog park. It’s just a fact of life, and if you own a dog, you should be pretty immune to dog poo by now. You’ll want to bring dog waste bags with you to the dog park to do your part in keeping it clean. There are usually rules in most dog parks that require owners to clean up dog waste, but sometimes there are city workers who take care of catching what was missed as well.
If you can take a quick walk around the park to see the level of cleanliness before you start visiting, that is a great idea. Dog waste contains a lot of bacteria that isn’t healthy for dogs, and your pet may try to roll around in it or even eat it if they are stressed by the new location at first. You should also be sure that your dog is up to date on all their vaccines (often a requirement of dog parks) so that any bacteria that lives on the grass from dog waste doesn’t impact their health.
Another important thing to look for in a dog park is a separate play area for smaller breeds and larger breeds, or possibly a separate area for dogs that need more space to run, versus those that just want to roll around with their owner. In most cases, dog parks will separate dogs by breed size, because energy levels for big breeds and small breeds tend to be very similar. This can help ensure that your dog stays safe, and that other dogs are safe as well.
I will say that of course I don’t believe that large breed dogs naturally pose a threat to small breed dogs. The reason for separating the two has other benefits, though. First, large breed dogs need more space, just because they are bigger dogs. Second, there’s a perceived feeling of safety that makes owners of small breed dogs feel safer taking their dogs to the dog park. Don’t forget that some dog owners may be wary around large dogs themselves, and people need to feel safe at the dog park as much as dogs do. Finally, the energy levels tend to be different. Many small breed dogs don’t need a long running space to get their exercise, while many large breed dogs are happier when they have a chance to run laps in a long field.
Be sure to take a look at what covers the ground at a dog park. Obviously, you’ll want to see a lot of grassy areas for your dog to run and play in. Graveled or flat dirt areas can work as well, as long as the gravel is pea gravel, or that very smooth type of gravel that is put in kids’ playgrounds. This protects your dog’s pads from tearing while they run around. The grass doesn’t necessarily have to be real grass, just so long as it’s soft enough that your dog feels comfortable walking on it.
Concrete dog parks aren’t all that great for your pup. They get hot in the summer, and can burn your dog’s paw pads very easily. If a concrete dog park is all you have available, consider giving your dog some breathable mesh booties that will keep them protected from the heat without making them suffer in thick winter dog boots.
This is a very important consideration for a dog park. It’s a good idea to go watch the dog park on more than one occasion, at different times and on different days, to gauge the level of activity. Here’s what you’re looking for: do the dogs at the dog park tend to all rough house in a very active way? Do they tend to leave each other alone for the most part? Is there some mild play but all friendly? Do you see any play that would scare or harm your dog if they got involved? All dogs have a different level of activity that they find “fun”, and if the dog park is filled with dogs that play on a much different level, it could be that your dog will never feel comfortable in this space.
It does not mean you have to avoid that dog park forever if the match isn’t just right. But you may need to visit the park only during quiet hours to avoid levels of activity that won’t work for your dog. Of course, on the other hand, you may be excited to find a dog park where the owners are willing to let the dogs get a little rowdy together. Base your decision on what you know is good for your dog.
The last thing that every good dog park needs is responsible owners. As a dog owner, you need to know that the other owners will be able to get their dogs under control should they start to misbehave. You also need to feel comfortable in the dog park yourself. Your own safety and comfort are just as important as your dogs! Even if everything else about the dog park is great, don’t feel like you have to stick with it if you just don’t feel comfortable around the other owners. If you aren’t enjoying your time spent at the dog park, your dog will come to associate the park with feelings of anxiety. So be sure that you and the other owners get along, and that you can trust them to keep their dogs in check, and you’ll be doing yourself and your dog a favor.
The easiest way to tell right off the bat if a park is filled with responsible owners, is to watch what happens at the dog park on a day when it is busy. Are the owners playing with their dogs, or keeping a close eye on them while they play? Or are they on their phones, distracted with talking to each other, or simply not paying attention?
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Anytime you take your dog to a place where other dogs are likely to be off leash, it’s important to understand that things may happen. Dogs are unpredictable because they are animals, just like people, and even the most well-trained dog can have an off day. That being said, if you find a dog park that suits your dog and yourself, and you are careful to keep your own dog in check, you will be able to have tons of fun! The dog park is a great way to keep your dog healthy and fit, and you’ll also get the benefits of being outdoors and moving around. I couldn’t imagine not having a dog park for Janice and Leroy, so I really encourage you to find your own near you.