While the last article touted the benefits of dog parks, and listed our local Baton Rouge area BREC-sponsored dog parks, this article will explain why one should not rush off into a dog park willy-nilly; perhaps, even, avoid them entirely. The parks themselves are not bad, but the patrons are the problem.
While yes, the rules of our BREC-sponsored dog parks deny entry to dogs who are in heat, young dogs, and dogs without shots or with diseases, it can be impossible to be positive that the other people are actually obeying the rules. Of course, their dogs might not be socialized to people or dogs, and have no obedience, and are immediately let into the off-leash section to romp around. If you or your dog get bitten, you may be at risk for many diseases, and of course serious injuries if the dog is large enough. Similarly, if your dog is very small, it can be outright killed by an aggressive dog, even one that is just playing.
Other people may not pick up their dogs’ waste, and if your dog eats it, he can become sick if the originator was sick, such as with worms. Physical contact with a dog with certain types of mange can infect both dogs and humans alike. Rabies is very unlikely, but kennel cough is extremely communicable between dogs.
Fights are going to be the worst problem in a dog park, though. In the on-leash sections, at least you can hope that an owner of a dog who just started attacking will haul back on their animal, while you take yours a distance away and check for damage. As mentioned in the previous article, play-fights are quite vicious looking at times, and it can take a lot of training to be able to spot trouble before it begins. One simple trick, both on- and off-leash, is a quick dominance check some dogs will do to each other. One dog will approach another’s side head-on, and put their muzzle on the second’s shoulder. If the first dog does this with his fur up, tail straight up in the air (possibly quivering slightly), and stiff-legged, watch out, because if the second dog does not agree with the former’s dominance, a fight can break out. In the off-leash areas, this can be deadly – it may do to carry a stick and hit the aggressor on the top of the head, between the ears. This will at least startle them for a moment so you can try to get your dog away. In a worst-case scenario, pepper spray does work on dogs. Try to make sure you get the name of the owner of the dog in case you need to press charges, and alert the park authorities to ban them from the park if possible.
There are only a few breeds that are generally difficult around other dogs, such as Chow Chows and Akita Inus, and other Spitz-type breeds, and if their owners have not socialized them properly they may, depending on the individual dog, demand dominance in all dog-on-dog encounters, leading to problems when another dog thinks she is hot to trot.
Clearly, it sounds much better to stay in the leash-only area of the park, especially when the leashed areas are fenced off from the off-leash areas, or some distance away. You need to be watchful for your dog’s sake, and if you think a dog is acting too aggressively, even in play, keep yours away. Definitely keep any smaller-breed dogs, like Miniature Poodles and Pekingese and the like, in special areas just for small breeds, or in the leashed areas, if not just carrying them until you spot someone with another small dog that yours can play with. Note that the Burbank Sports Complex Dog Park at 12400 Burbank Drive has a separate area for small and large dogs.
The author here personally recommends going to dog parks only to try to meet people you can have personal play-dates with at your respective homes, just like with young children. Dogs don’t need tons of other dogs around to be happy; just a few friends to visit or walk with occasionally is great. You can sometimes find these just by taking walks in your own neighborhood and seeing who else is walking dogs, or notice any lurkers behind fences that are curious.
Dog parks are not any guaranteed-death situation by any means, and can be fun for you to meet tons of other breeds of dogs, but you must be careful for everyone’s well-being. Don’t be the owner of the dog that suddenly bites a strange person or dog, and don’t be the person who gets chewed up or has their dog chewed up. Keep an eye out, no matter how many times you have gone, for any rogue dog bearing down from a distance toward you – it may mean trouble. Keep up-to-date with your veterinarian visits and anti-worm medication, and try to identify dogs that look sick or mangy so you can avoid the dog park for a while. But your dog, and your health, overall may be just as fine without the dog parks, and just lengthy walks around home.