Dog Park Safety

By Susan McCullough

Dog Park Safety

I never saw them coming. I was chatting in a park with a friend while his two boxers played with my golden retriever, Allie. The next minute, I felt myself being hit from behind by all three dogs, catapulting me backwards and causing me to hit my head on the ground where I landed. Still, I felt alright. After a minute or two of lying on the ground and checking to make sure I hadn’t broken any bones, I stood up without assistance and drove Allie and myself home. 

But six weeks later, I no longer felt OK.

A Dangerous Situation
I began to have excruciating headaches, and frighteningly, started to lose the use of my right leg. I consulted my doctor, who ordered me to visit the emergency room of my local hospital. A CT scan revealed that I had two subdural hematomas -- masses of blood on the surface of my brain that apparently had developed after my tumble in the park -- and required immediate surgery. 

As my experience shows, romps in dog parks or other places where dogs congregate can be great fun, but they may also spell danger to both dogs and their owners.

Preventing Disasters
In light of what happened to me, I asked dog trainer Robin Bennett, author of Off-Leash Dog Play (Dreamdog Productions 2008) and a nationally known dog day care expert, how people can keep themselves out of harm’s way in dog parks and other popular dog play areas. Here’s what she suggested:

Stay aware “Owners should be aware of what’s going on when dogs are racing around,” says Bennett, who works from Woodbridge, Va. Clearly, I messed up big-time here. My back was to the dogs while they were playing, so I didn’t see them running toward me. I later realized that I had inadvertently stepped out in front of Allie without giving her enough time to swerve and avoid me as the other two dogs followed close behind. The results were my collision with all three dogs, my backward swan dive to the ground and the events that followed.

Maintain loose knees “When the dogs are running around, keep your knees loose,” says Bennett. Loose knees lessen the likelihood that one or more dogs can knock you off your feet, whether from the front or from behind. At the time, I was standing with knees locked.

Move from the entrance “Owners should not stand too close to the main gate of the dog park where all the action is happening,” says Bennett. “I actually recommend that dogs have a good recall command and that they be called to the owner when there is a lot going on at the gate.”  

Head toward the perimeter The middle of the park is also a popular place of activity, which is exactly where I was standing. To avoid being knocked over, owners should stand near the perimeter. However, they should not stand right against the fence enclosing the park. It’s important to give your furry pal some space to come and lie down or sit behind you if it wants.

I unintentionally broke nearly all of Bennett’s rules the day I took my doggie-induced tumble. But I was lucky: My surgery was successful and my recuperation was steady. I’ve also started taking Allie back to the park, but I’m a lot more careful there than I used to be.

Susan McCullough is an award-winning pet writer and the author of Housetraining for Dummies, Senior Dogs for Dummies and Beagles for Dummies. She was also honored by The Cat Writers Association as a finalist for the Muse Medallion, which recognizes excellence in writing about cats.

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Posted on May 1, 2010

Katie says: You need to be careful with your sweet dog(s) as my son just has had to have another go around at the Vets with his two dogs because they got a hookworm and the Vet believes it was from them eating feces at the dog park!!!

Posted on September 11, 2010

linda brink says: i believe that dog parks are dangerous places and will not be visiting one anytime soon. i have been only once in the heat of the day hoping to have the park to myself and i did. but on the "small dog dise" of the park i witmessed two separate dog fights, both being pit bulls. i don't know much about the breed except that they have a reputation for not being good with other dogs. my dog is a rescue and i cannot let him off leash or he will bolt. so think long and hard before going to one, as most people do not have the control over their dogs that is necessary in a dog fight situation!

Posted on August 25, 2009

Sally says: Indeed, you do need to keep your eyes open in public dogs parks. I have been to parks where people "sic" their dogs on others on purpose. Please people, don't be afraid to call your local animal control if you see or experince this behavior. If the person responds in a negative fashion, call the police and get the person's license plate. You will quickly find that as soon as one person steps forward about negative behavior, others will follow.

Posted on July 14, 2009

Jen says: Thanks for the info. My pup Daisy Mae and I are new to the Dog Park scene. After reading your article I realize the two times we have been to the park I have broken nearly all the safety rules also. These are good things to know for future visits. Glad to hear you are alright. Take care.

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