What could be more fun than going to your neighborhood’s “Dog Park” if you have a dog? Clients ask me what I think about dog parks and want an honest answer, but I know they are really looking for me to validate the benefits and what a great idea I think going to the dog park is. In addition to going to dog parks with a few clients for training value, I decided to keep watch of the dog park in my own community.

After visiting other dog parks with clients and their dogs, my feelings about not bringing my dogs to our local dog park were confirmed. So, I went alone. Why? Because I needed to know a few things first. Is it safe? Is it clean? Are there separate areas for small dogs and large ones? Is anyone monitoring the park? Do you need a membership to show proof that your dog is vaccinated? Does anyone but me even think of these things, or am I overprotective of my canine family?

You be the judge. Here’s what I found.

Safety First-

Danger came unexpectedly from dogs that should not have been allowed to run free in a park with other dogs and their human families. Anyone can bring any dog of any breed, size, and temperament to most dog parks and take it off-leash. A dog will never bite another dog UNTIL THE MOMENT HE DOES!


Dogs in dog parks urinate wherever they want.  Plain and simple. That goes for defecating, too. Most female dogs that visit dog parks go home with a UTI, as your veterinarian would call it. That stands for Urinary Tract Infection. If your female dog is urinating more often than usual, licking herself more than usual, and showing other signs of discomfort, it’s a good idea to call your veterinarian. If your dog had a recent wellness visit, you may be able to bring a urine sample for testing without having to bring your dog to the veterinary office for an exam.

In addition, I found that most of the dog parks I visited had standing or stagnant water. Drinking water was either made available in old, donated bowls left by well-meaning visitors, or water had accumulated in puddles from rain. The latter most probably had been contaminated by urine from dogs and wildlife and harbored a toxic brew of bacteria and disease.

Small & Large-

Yes, I’m happy to say most parks have contained areas for small and large breed dogs. However, depending on the park’s layout, you may have to walk through the large dog play area to reach the small dog area. Carrying your small dog through the large dog section may seem like a quick fix, but being jumped on by multiple large dogs trying to get to the small, frightened dog in your arms may change your mind.


I have been to a members-only dog park. They do exist. Some offer swimming and other activities and are strict about cleaning up after your pet. Membership dog parks may restrict breeds, and health and vaccine records may be required.

I have been told by clients that there are private properties that rent time to dog parents and are well-maintained. Do some research in your neighborhood, and you may find a great alternative to a public dog park. Bring your friends and their dogs for a private dog park afternoon.


Here’s something interesting. People tell me they love to take their dogs to the dog park because it is nice to spend time with them. However, not many people were actually “with” their dogs. They were with other people talking in groups and ignoring their dogs, who were wandering around or in groups with other dogs jumping on each other. No one was playing ball, throwing a Frisbee, or supervising any activities. Is the dog park just another social place for people to meet?

Another Alternative-

If going to the dog park is not your best idea, then what can you do to socialize with your dog? Everyone knows someone who has a dog. Why not start your own playgroup with friends you know and dogs that are appropriate playmates?

Playdates for your dog would ensure your dog’s playmates have been recently vet-checked and vaccinated and have acceptable behavior and social skills. Even if no one in the group has a fenced-in yard, just walking with a group of friends and their dogs is a better alternative if you feel there are too many risks in the dog park. The walking will also benefit you physically and socially.

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