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.

by Susan McCullough