In Praise of Dog Parks
Each day at 8 AM sharp, Benji, a two-year-old pug, can hardly sit still. His eyes fixate on the corner of a building adjacent to his local dog park. Benji goes into a wild frenzy when he sees Jesse, a six-year-old golden retriever outside. The two friends are as close as brothers, and they look forward to their morning meetings at the dog park. It's the highlight of their, and often their owners', day.
If you have a local dog park, it is likely filled with pups and people who are looking for kindred souls. Bark-parkers all over the world are discovering the simple pleasures of a community meeting place. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your visits.
Keep It Simple
Your dog needs to play, and dog parks provide an enclosed and welcoming environment for it. Even if you only have a set time each day to spend with your pet, a simple romp off-leash at a dog park will help your pooch to relieve stress, especially if your dog leads a relatively quiet life at home. Socializing with other friendly canines allows dogs to enjoy each other while developing manners and respect. A quick 15-20 minute visit is better than no visit at all. It's a chance for you to get some exercise and fresh air too.
Spay and Neuter
Benji and Jesse have been neutered, which helps them to safely enjoy the park. Sheila McCullough, DVM, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, says, "In addition to extending a dog's health, neutering reduces male territorial instinct." She reminds pet owners that a female dog in heat will inevitably cause confrontation between males who have not been fixed. Even the gentlest male dogs, if not neutered, can be uncontrollable when a female in heat is nearby.
Good parks plan for dogs as well as people. If your city cannot provide playground equipment, such as obstacle pits designed for dogs, consider getting together with other park visitors for a fundraiser to purchase such upgrades. Other improvements might include benches, water fountains and shade-promoting landscaping that both dogs and owners might appreciate.
Although dog parks often provide creature comforts, risks can loom within the gates. Public parks are open to all -- so any kind of canine can come in. Protect your pet from strangers, using a leash if necessary.
A major concern for those who visit dog parks is the issue of infectious diseases. Before even thinking of visiting a dog park, make sure your dog's vaccines are current. Avoid dogs that appear lethargic or ill. "Dogs that are very sick do not usually feel well enough to run and play at a dog park," says Dr. McCullough, "so serious infectious illnesses may not be a major concern. Common sense should tell a dog owner to keep a dog at home if it isn't well."
Veterinary hospitals regularly treat injuries from dogfights that happen at dog parks. Make sure your dog is well trained and socialized. Keep your dog away from canines that lack such social skills. Accidents can also occur at dog parks, especially when an excited dog runs full-speed through unknown territories. Small dogs are at risk of being "run over" by larger dogs, and older dogs can over-exert themselves, causing injuries and illness.
No Park, No Problem
If your community does not have a dog park, consider forming a committee with other interested pet owners who may support the idea. Your first line of business should be the park's desired location. Start with your local park and recreation board, since many dog parks lay within the jurisdiction of public parks. Failing that, consider private land, or land that may be available for lease or sale. The location of your park will then help to determine its required annual budget, who will have access to the facility and how it should be run.
Visit several dog parks to get ideas for design, features, and rules for usage. You will also need to plan for maintenance, such as trash removal, drainage, and grass mowing. Like any big project, you will need to write a business plan to cover the basics. Your time and effort will be worth it once the park opens. Just ask Benji and Jesse if they happen to come for a visit.