Photo Credit: © Kathie Meier
Dog parks can be a fabulous venue for dogs to socialize, exercise, and get out their “ya ya’s”. Many dogs have a blast there, as do their humans who enjoy the opportunity to socialize with other dog lovers and are grateful that, after an excursion to the dog park, their little energizer bunnies will be content to go home and take naps.
Dog parks are certainly not the “bee’s knees” for every canine, including my two little mutts. While Nellie and Quinn love playing with each other and the neighbor dogs, when at the dog park they become seriously introverted and downright snobby. They have no intention of whooping it up with a bunch of ruffians they hardly know!
If you and your four legged best friend enjoy frequenting the dog park, keep in mind that special vigilance on your part is required to avoid the medical maladies that are an integral part of the dog park scene. For example, this week at work, our surgeons were tending to an adorable one-year-old Beagle who sustained some nasty bite wounds at the dog park. Unfortunately, Mom was also bitten as she attempted to disrupt the melee.
Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) recently provided a list of the most common dog park-related medical conditions gleaned from their 2011 database. Topping the list were soft tissue injuries, lacerations (cuts), and bite wounds. Kennel cough, insect bites, head trauma, heat stroke, parasite infection, and parvovirus infection were also frequently documented.
While some of the problems found on this list may not be readily avoidable, others certainly are. Here are some recommendations for keeping your dog as safe as possible at the dog park:
- Simply pay close attention! I realize how easy it is to pull up a chair in the shade and get caught up in conversation with friends at the “human park,” but far safer for your dog if your eyes are on him. Issues such as bullying behavior or play that is too rough can be detected early and nipped in the bud before a casualty results.
- Do not take your pup anywhere near the dog park until seven to ten days after he receives his last set of puppy vaccinations (administered at four months of age). Before that time, it is fine for him to socialize with other dogs, but only those that you know have been well vaccinated. Parvovirus, in particular, is a hearty little bugger that can survive and remain infectious within the dog park environment for days.
- Allow your dog the opportunity to practice socializing with one or two doggie friends before turning him loose with ten to twenty hooligans at once.
- Work with your veterinarian to create a customized parasite prevention protocol for your dog.
- Plan your trips to the dog park so as to avoid the heat of the day, particularly if you have a smoosh-faced breed such as a Pug, Bulldog, or Boston Terrier. If your dog does not know his own limits in terms of running and playing (think Labrador Retriever here!), be sure you bring play to a halt when appropriate so as to avoid hyperthermia (overheating). Early signs of heatstroke can include any of the following: bright red tongue, incoordination, heavy drooling, and heavy, rapid, noisy breathing. If you observe such symptoms, use water at the park to cool your dog off before heading to the closest veterinary hospital.
- Talk with your veterinarian about the potential risks and benefits of vaccines that may help prevent kennel cough.
- If your dog is a bully or tends to get bullied, accept the possibility that the dog park just isn’t a good environment for him. If spending time at the dog park is important to you, enlist a reputable trainer or behaviorist to help you help your dog acclimate to this venue.
I encourage you to check out what my friend and dog trainer extraordinaire Jill Breitner recommends to ensure safe and positive dog park visits.
How do you and your dog feel about visits to the dog park?
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.