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09.25.13

Dog Parks

Whether you have fond memories of playing tag with your classmates, or sharing secrets with your best friend on the swing set, most would agree that parks can be an integral part of their childhoods. This can also be true for your pooch.  But just as our parents took precautions when letting us run wild around our neighborhood park, pet owners must also be aware of the risks that accompany dog parks.

For most, dog parks are a great opportunity for exercise and socialization. Letting your dog run around unleashed helps maintain a healthy lifestyle by increasing longevity, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, and extending muscles and joints. In addition to getting exercise, they gain valuable social experience with dogs and other people.

If your dog is friendly and loves interacting with others, taking them to a dog park can be a wonderful experience. However, if your dog is indifferent when it comes to interacting with other canines, dog parks aren't always the best idea. "Any dog that does not get along with other dogs should not be brought to a dog park, out of respect for the others there," said Dr. James Barr, Assistant Professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. "Also, if your dog is debilitated, immunosuppressed, or unvaccinated, then they should not go either."

Even if you have an extremely well-behaved and healthy dog, there are still risks to keep in mind before letting them off leash at a dog park. The most common and obvious are dog fights. "This happens daily at dog parks and owners all need to look for signs that dogs are posturing for a fight before it occurs, as most fights or injuries can be prevented." said Barr. The most important thing to remember is that you must always keep a close eye on your dog.  If your dog does engage in a fight, remember that your safety is paramount. "Your dog is only concentrating on fighting and will bite whatever comes close to their mouth," said Barr. "Do not place your hands near their mouth; the use of verbal commands by both owners should be done first." If that does not work, attempts to pull the two fighting dogs apart should only be done very, very carefully.

In addition to fights, another risk to consider is the exposure to diseases carried and transmitted by other dogs. "While this is an uncommon occurrence, the transmission of respiratory diseases (like kennel cough) and GI viral diseases (like parvo) can occur at dog parks," Barr said. If these risks concern you, alternatives, such as doggy day care facilities that have vaccination records of all the dogs, or supervised doggy play dates with a familiar dog, are options to consider.

If you do decide that your dog is a viable candidate for the dog park, choose a park best suited for both you and Rover. "An area with access to running water to fill up your dogs' bowl is ideal, and a fence is a must," said Barr. It is smart to consider the location of the park, as it should be positioned away from any major roads and easily accessible to you, and to be aware of the rules and regulations specific to that park.

Just as you would do with your child, never let Rover out of your sight and always be cautious of your surroundings. A dog park can be a great experience for the right dog, and it is up to you to decide if the benefits outweigh the risks.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pettalk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.



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