Dog Park Kerfuffle

Cali holds her tennis ball at Jacob's Island dog park, early on a cold morning. A light dusting of snow covers the grass.
Cali at Jacob’s Island, a Missoula dog park

Are dog parks wonderful places to let your city dog off leash to safely run and play or are they the potential source of serious problems and likely places to pick up infections, get hurt, or worse?

Yes to both.

It’s been a couple of years since I last wrote about dog parks on The Thinking Dog, and an online exchange about dog parks, brought to my attention by a friend, got me thinking about the topic.

First this New York Times piece came out: The Dog Park Is Bad, Actually. Not much ambiguity there. It’s pretty clear where this writer stands.

A response was quickly forthcoming from Marc Bekoff, a person I have studied with and admire greatly: Let Your Dog Tell You If They Want to Go to a Dog Park.

The NYT piece raises valid concerns, including the risk of disease or injury. I know dogs who’ve been seriously injured by dog-aggressive dogs at dog parks, and a local dog park was recently closed for a week or so for disinfecting after some dogs picked up an infection there.

The author also talks about the idea that dog parks are for “dog socialization” and explains that that’s not where or how to socialize your puppy. True, and also obvious.

Finally, she delves into the issue of dogs who find dog parks stressful or otherwise unpleasant. She closes with this: “There is no shame in not surrendering your dog to what has become the quintessential urban dog experience: running with dozens of strangers in a small, smelly pen as people stand by, looking at their phones or gossiping,” and encourages owners to spend quality time with their dogs instead.

I have been at urban dog parks that are indeed small, smelly pens where the humans ignore the dogs.

But that is not typical of my dog park experience. And I would never go into a park like that with my dog!

Bekoff effectively addresses the sweeping generalizations in the NYT piece while stating what should be obvious: All dog parks are different.

Many are large, open, wonderful spaces, maybe with woods or walking paths.

Dog park culture varies greatly too. In many, there are regular gatherings of people and dogs who are friends. Many dog park people are conscientious dog owners who are actually paying attention to their dogs. Some even play with their dogs! You can and should spend “quality time” with your dog at the dog park!

Many dog parks have quieter times when dogs like Cali, who wants to play with her tennis ball undisturbed by other dogs, can run and roll in the grass and be free. Now that Cali has her own back yard, she doesn’t need the dog park as much … but when we lived in apartments, she really needed the off-leash time and the exercise.

Not all dogs want to play with other dogs, and not all dog parks are wonderful. But they’re certainly not all bad, either. Wherever you stand on dog parks, and whether or not your local options are appealing to you and to your dog, my bottom line is that over-generalizing doesn’t make sense.

You and your dog need to figure out what works for both of you. If you’re lucky enough to have enjoyable dog parks nearby, go ahead — enjoy some outdoor, off-leash quality time with your dog at the dog park!




3 thoughts on “Dog Park Kerfuffle

  1. I have been using a local dog park (on the other side of town, actually) for many years. I note the following:

    1. Always take a minute or two to gauge the “atmosphere” inside the park before you enter. If you sense potential trouble, your dog will too.
    2. Some dogs will steal your dog’s favorite tennis ball, and not give it up. My dogs have done this too, but I can usually get them to give it up to me. Or, you can keep all those toys in your trunk and return them to their owners on your next trip.
    3. Our park has a “small dog” hour daily. During this time, the dog owners sit together in the shade with the dogs on their laps. How do dogs socialize when they are lap dogs?
    4. My Service Dog has been attacked twice at dog parks. Get the license number of the attacking dog’s owner before they drive off.
    5. My Service Dog loves the dog park and can’t wait to get in. However, once inside, he has to make a complete circle of the fence line, sniffing along the entire route, before he engages in any play.
    6. Some grown-ups bring their small children into the dog park to let their children play with the dogs. Not all children have learned how to approach a strange dog.
    7. I have even seen parent “dump” a child or two in the dog park while the parents went off to watch another child play socccer. I will call the park ranger if I see this behavior.
    8. Make sure that you dog has received it’s Kennel Cough inoculation.


  2. Like with everything, people want to make it a black and white issue when in reality, it just depends on the park and the dog. Some people have decided that all dog parks are evil and anyone who takes their dog there is an animal abuser “subjecting” their dog to a “stressful” experience…. what can I say…. you can’t reason with people with their minds made up. 😉


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.