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How to keep your dog safe when going to the dog park?

Staffy dog and golden retriever at the dog park advice

Tips to keep your dog safe at the dog park

© Shutterstock

It may be tempting once we arrive at a public park to let our dog run free, but not all parks are safe for dogs, and many will by laws forbid a dog to be off its lead. Luckily, in many parts of the UK there are dog-only areas of land.

By Nick Whittle

Published on the 02/04/2020, 14:00

We learn about the pros and cons of a dog-only run, and the etiquette we must abide by when we use them. Generally speaking, a rough idea of what we can and can’t do will stand us in good stead for a happy and fulfilling trip to the park.

Can I take my dog’s lead off once we are inside the gates of a park? Does every park allow dogs? What should I be vigilant of when I use a dog park? Should I intervene if my dog gets bullied? Read on to find the answers to these and other questions.

What is a dog park?

Basically, a dog park or dog-only area is a piece of land that is dedicated to owners and their dogs. Because such an area is usually sealed off from the main park, a dog owner may allow their dog to run free without the worry of recalling the dog, or of the dog’s causing a nuisance.

A dog park can be of any size, separated from the rest of the public area by a fence. If the area is properly maintained it may even have bowls of water on hand and shaded areas beneath which dogs can rest and cool down. Some dog parks may even have a small pond just for dogs that enjoy splashing in water!

What is the purpose of dog parks?

The purpose of creating a separate green space for dogs is mainly to do with the safety of other park users. In an attempt to stop dog attacks the laws in many countries have in recent years been tightened, disallowing dogs to be off-lead.

But a dog park has other designs. For instance, it is an ideal place for dogs to socialise; especially for puppies that may not yet have had a chance to meet other dogs. This they can do in safety, and with their owner nearby.

Read our advice about how best to train your puppy for loose-lead walks

Some of the benefits of dog parks, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are as follows:

  • Dog parks provide people who do not own dogs – or are fearful of dogs – an element of security and protection.
  • Dogs and owners can mingle within a safe zone.
  • To roam free is considered by the ASPCA to be beneficial to a dog’s mental wellbeing.
  • Dog parks promote responsible pet ownership.
  • Dog parks are a way to enforce and reinforce the notion of external dog-control laws.
  • To socialise with other dogs is considered good for the animal, and lessens its antisocial behaviour.

Dog parks in the UK: for and against

Dog parks are popular in the United States because dog laws are exceptionally restrictive. In America, a dog is not allowed off its lead in any public place. The UK Kennel Club and RSPCA consider dog parks to be symptomatic of a hyper-restrictive covenant on dog ownership in the United States.

There are, according to various British associations, several reasons to avoid dog parks:

  • Dog faeces and urine is concentrated in a small area harbouring dangerous bacteria.
  • Dog parks are generally noisy places and can be a nuisance to people who live nearby.
  • A large number of parks would have to be developed in order to accommodate dog zones; this would cost vast sums of money.
  • People walk their dogs less when they head straight for a dog-only area of land.
  • Dog parks can become boiling pots of dog aggression, especially when there are lots of dogs in one small area.

The Kennel Club also believes the segregation of dogs in dog parks is in fact not healthy for the dog and that it would prefer to see, “dog owners and non-dog owners sharing public spaces responsibly, whilst ensuring that any restrictions being introduced are done on a proportionate and fair basis.”

Where is my nearest dog park?

If you do, nevertheless, wish to find an off-lead dog walking area, there are several sources on line to which you can turn. The website Dog Walking Fields lists private hire and public enclosed fields, and some indoor areas across the UK.

Despite the arguments against dog parks in the UK the zones are advantageous for dogs that are nervous, untrained or suffer behavioural issues.

What is the essential dog park etiquette?

If you decide to visit a dog park what regulations should you expect to follow? Here are some of the dos and don’ts of dog park usage:

Your dog should:

  • Wear a collar and be chipped (by law)
  • Be well behaved, and not on heat
  • Be wormed and vaccinated
  • Respect other dogs and passers by

You should:

  • Clean up your dog’s toilet mess
  • Keep your dog under control
  • Keep your dog reasonably close
  • Keep your dog within your line of sight
  • Respect other dog owners and dogs

How to protect your dog from dog park ‘bullies’?

Be vigilant of your dog at all times, and be vigilant of their interaction with other dogs. Some dogs will aggressively bully other dogs; especially bullying those considered ‘fair game’. It is arguably your duty to protect your dog from harm, but you must also allow it a certain leeway to deal with the situation itself.

If your dog appears to be bullied by more than one dog, and does not seem to be happy, you should intervene at once and leave the dog park.

Remember: if you decide not to intervene, in an effort, for instance, to ‘toughen him up’, you will put your dog and other dogs in harm’s way.

There are around 300 dog zones in the UK and most of them are well used, especially those in cities. There are also, however, hundreds of thousands of green spaces, the licensees of which will allow dogs off-lead. Your use of a dog park is ultimately determined by:

  1. How much time you have allowed for your walk
  2. How well your dog interacts with other dogs
  3. The convenience of a nearby green space

That being said the use of a dog park is not a worthwhile substitute for a stroll further afield (either for you or your dog). Be safe, be vigilant and be mindful of others.