Dog Parks – Pros, Cons and Food for Thought
From the Desk of Dr. Dennis Voorheis
June 9, 2017
Many of our local cities, Whittier included, have developed dog parks as a place to take our four legged friends for some appropriate off leash play and socialization. It takes a great deal of time, effort and planning to develop these dog parks and bring them to fruition. The dedicated individuals who make it happen deserve a rousing round of applause for their dedication to their community. Dog parks can be a terrific place to take your dog, offering both physical and mental benefits. Dogs are social creatures who require mental stimulation to be balanced and fulfilled. But dogs are not the only social creatures at the dog park, we are too! The human interaction with fellow dog owners creates a sense of community for us as well. You might say it’s a win-win.
You all know me by now and you realize there’s a “but” coming, right? Of course! My cautionary statement is this; be aware and informed and take some reasonable precautions to keep your dog safe.
There are some basics to consider before going to a dog park. First, realize you are taking your dog into a group of dogs that neither of you know. This means they have unknown vaccination histories and unknown behavioral traits. As a veterinarian with 30+ years of experience, I will first discuss the unknown vaccination history and the corresponding medical risks.
The potential for dogs to be exposed to common viral diseases at a dog park is moderate. To guard against any possible exposure, make sure your dog is current on his or her vaccinations. This would include DA2PP, Bordetella and Rabies vaccinations. I will address H3N2, the latest influenza virus, later in this blog.
For those who have adopted a new puppy and can’t wait to show off the “cute factor” at the dog park, I caution you – don’t do it! Never bring your unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated puppy to a dog park. It’s up to you to protect this young life from the dangers they face in the presence of the unknown. Your puppy’s vaccination series must be completed before taking your puppy to the dog park. This is something I believe in very strongly. The puppy vaccination series is made up of a total of 3 DA2PP, given roughly 8,12, and 16 weeks, two Bordetella vaccinations given at 8 and 12 weeks or 12 and 16 weeks and a Rabies shot, given at 12 weeks of age or 16 weeks of age.
In our area the most common infectious, transmissible, non-parasitic diseases are Parvo viral enteritis, the upper respiratory diseases and Distemper. We don’t see as much Leptospirosis here as in other parts of the country but it is reported every year. You may ask “what about the new influenza disease I’ve heard about on the news?” At this point, we are not recommending the vaccination of every dog against this new flu strain. It is not a part of our core vaccination protocol at this point. We are, however, recommending it for at risk dogs. An at-risk dog is a dog that is exposed to “social situations” such as dog shows, agility trials, doggy day care, dog parks, grooming facilities and boarding situations. An entire blog is being devoted to influenza which is next in line to be published.
Another part of the “unknown” at dog parks and other social situations is parasites. Parasites can be lumped into two categories, external and internal. First, let’s address the external category. You’ll want to make sure the dog you take to the dog park has flea and tick control in place before you go. There are a host of good products that are used to prevent fleas and tick infestation. Oral products such as Simparica, Bravecto, Comfortis and Trifexus are excellent at killing adult fleas. Simparica and Bravecto are also excellent at killing ticks. Topical products such as Revolution also work very well. In my experience, products such as Advantage and Frontline are not quite as effective as they once were, however still offer some pretty good flea control.
Internal parasites are things like worms which would include roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and tapeworms. They are all potentially present in greater numbers in dog parks than they may be in other areas. Single cell parasites such as giardia and coccidia can also be present in higher numbers at a dog park. Roundworms, hookworms and whipworms eggs are shed in the feces of infected dogs. Within a day or two, the eggs in those feces become infective larva. If other dogs come along and, as gross as it sounds, eat poop or eat the grass that the poop was on, they can easily become infected with worms. To cut down on this, dog parks have rules in place that say to pick up your dog’s poop and dispose of it immediately. This is a good rule that makes a lot of sense. I encourage you to be responsible and pick up your dog’s waste and dispose of it as soon as you see it. Now, having said this, we all know that not everyone follows the rules and the chance of your dog encountering feces in a dog park is reasonably high. For that reason, dogs who are regular attendees at dog parks should have their stools examined for parasites 4 times each year. Better safe than sorry. Parasites can do some damage if left to their own devices, so it’s important to catch it early and address the issue.
Your water supply is another thing to consider while on a dog park outing. It’s a good idea to bring your own clean supply for your dog. Community water bowls can be walked through, urinated in or on and overrun with “doggy slobber” from unknown dogs in unknown states of health. You probably wouldn’t let your child drink from a community cup at school and this is the same premise. Keep it clean and sanitary.
It’s also important to mention overheating. Summer is coming and it’s going to be hot. If you own a brachycephalic breed which is any dog with a squished in face such as pugs, Boston terriers, Boxers, French or English bulldogs etc., the best advice might be “don’t go”. This also applies to walks and any other activity where a dog can become overheated. These types of dogs overheat EASILY. The second-best advice is to go early in the morning while it is still cool or later in evening so the danger of overheating is minimized. Early signs of overheating include splayed tongue; the tongue is used to try to cool the dog and an overheated dog’s tongue will look very broad at its tip. Overheating can be fatal and it comes on quickly. I recently saw a dog that died from overheating while being taken to our hospital. It was heartbreaking to see video of the dog at a park and less than an hour later the dog was dead. It is worth repeating that overheating can be fatal and it comes on quickly. Prevention is key.
Aside from unknown vaccination history and medical risk, I mentioned unknown behavioral traits. I do not profess to be a qualified dog trainer or behaviorist, but I do feel I’ve had quite a bit of dog experience in my 30+ years as a veterinarian that may prove helpful regarding this dog park topic.
You’ll see all types of dogs and dog owners at a dog park. Most are responsible owners who are there with their sociable, dog friendly canine friends. However, there may also be a few “higher risk” pairs to watch out for. For instance, a dog who is in heat may cause quite a stir at a dog park and this can often lead to scuffles. Logically, you wouldn’t think an owner would take a dog in that state into a setting like a dog park, but it does happen. There may also be aggressive, dog selective or ill-behaved dogs that you’ll need to watch out for as well as owners who aren’t paying attention to their own dogs. If your dog fits into one of these categories, a dog park is not an appropriate choice for them. Remember that not every dog owner has the same training regimen or disciplinary beliefs that you may have, so it can be a bit of a mixed bag when you walk through the gates of a dog park. As Forest Gump would say “you never know what you’re gonna get”. The vast majority of dogs do play nice and in true pack animal fashion, they usually work things out themselves and enjoy playing together. There is always some risk of injury with a play session such as one dog jumping on another resulting in a back or leg injury. It’s best to keep an eye on your dog at all times and monitor their activity. Be able to immediately redirect them if you see something escalating.
Most dog parks provide different fenced areas for small dogs and big dogs and it’s a good idea to keep your dog in the appropriate area with similar sized dogs. Most dog parks also have an entry area, where you take your dog off leash before letting them go into the park. Dogs on leash should never go into the park as it creates an unbalanced energy and can lead to fighting.
I will mention that a couple of times each month, we treat dogs with bite wounds obtained at a dog park. Dynamics in a pack setting can change rapidly so it’s best to keep a watchful eye on your dog to monitor their behavior and the behavior of dogs they are interacting with. Lastly, people can be seriously injured trying to break up a dog fight. The solution is prevention. Unless you have been professionally trained to separate fighting dogs, I do not suggest you attempt this maneuver.
So, am I an anti-dog park guy? Not at all. I took my own dog to a dog park on Sunday, but she is fully vaccinated, friendly with other dogs and on great flea and tick control (Simparica). Her stool is checked 4 times a year and I bring my own water supply and pick up her poop. Am I the only one that wonders which thing their dog likes more -visiting with other dogs or with the dog owners? I’ll never know the answer to that one!
Next up, INFLUENZA VACCINES.
Until next time,