Are Dog Parks Safe?

Dog parks are one of the most dangerous places you can bring your puppy or adult dog. We regularly deal with dog aggression, dog fear, and dog anxiety at our Providence, Rhode Island location, and many of these clients have the same thing in common: they regularly brought their dog to a dog park. How is it that a common area where dogs can run, play, and frolic could be so negative?

First, I want to clarify how we define a dog park-it’s a fenced-in area where dogs are allowed to run off-leash and play with each other. If you bring your dog to a local park to hike through the woods or play in an open field, this is not what we’re referring to. These are considered human parks where dogs are allowed, and there’s nothing wrong with these environments. In fact, they’re great because you can expose your dog to a new environment, desensitize him to new people, smells, and dogs, and socialize him all while being in a controlled situation. However, dog parks aka dog runs are a different story.

One of the more common questions we come across while talking to people about obedience training in Providence, RI is:

“Is it safe to bring my dog to the dog park?”

Our answer is always the same: “Absolutely not!” So why are dog parks so dangerous? While many of our clients tell us they bring their dogs to the park to socialize them, what they don’t realize is that socialization doesn’t mean chaotic play. At a dog park, there is no structure, consistency, or boundaries. As soon as they walk through the gate (oftentimes before), dogs realize no one’s in charge. In that moment, even a semi-dominant dog thinks to himself, “I guess I’ll take charge!” He runs around and starts mounting other dogs. He paws them on the back and tackles them to the ground. Eventually, he comes across another dog that wants to be in charge and this is the recipe for a dog fight. For your puppy, it can be even more dangerous. Puppies are unsure of the world around them and are simply trying to find their way. In a dog park, surrounded by total chaos, they try to fit in as best as they can. They seem like they’re having fun because it looks like they’re playing, but oftentimes, they’re being bullied. They get jumped on, knocked down, and rolled over, so what’s actually happening is they’re developing a fear, aggression, or sometimes both toward other dogs.

If you go to any local dog park when the weather is decent and sit there all day, you’ll see at least one dog fight. Here’s the next piece of bad news: most owners are not equipped to break up a dog fight. They don’t know what to do, and this can have dire consequences. If you’re ever in a situation where your dog is in a fight, you have two options. Each owner can lift the hind legs of his dog like a wheelbarrow and pull backward. Many dogs will let go because of the awkward balance. The other option is what we call a “choke off” where each owner grabs a hold of their dog’s collar, squeezes together, and lifts up. Unfortunately, for some dogs, the only option is to cut off their air supply. However, the best way to avoid a dog fight is to make sure your dog doesn’t get into one in the first place, and this can be accomplished by avoiding places like dog parks where these situations are more likely.

Bam Bam eventually became one of our board and train clients. Before that, he was a resource guarder and got attacked in a dog park because he tried to guard the community water bowl. Click on his picture to see his full before & after video.

Dog parks should also be avoided because the majority of dog owners are not paying attention to their dogs. Moreover, many owners see the dog park as a break for them. They can let the dog loose and simply let him play. Many owners spend their time at the dog parks talking to other owners or on their phones. Obviously, this can be dangerous even if your dog isn’t prone to being a trouble maker because there’s no way to control what the other dogs act like. Furthermore, people tend to bring their untrained, aggressive dogs to the dog park. They do this for one of two reasons: either they don’t realize they’re aggressive or they think they can fix the aggression with more socialization and they believe the park is the best place to accomplish this. Either way, this is dangerous for you and your dog or young puppy.

Along the same lines, dog parks should be avoided because people regularly bring their sick dogs to the park. They don’t necessarily do this intentionally, as they probably don’t realize their dog is sick, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous for your dog. This can be especially problematic if you bring a puppy to the park. Between community water bowls, sharing toys, and some dog owners not picking up after their pups, dog parks can be filled with diseases. Puppies do not have a fully developed immune system and usually aren’t fully vaccinated until at least six months. Because they know how dangerous they can be, the town and state assume no responsibility for anyone in the park. You enter at your own risk.

If, after reading our opinion on dog parks, you still choose to go to them, please follow these guidelines:

  1. Try to go to the park at the same time each day. When you do this, you’re likely to see the regulars. From that group, you can determine which dogs to stay around and which dogs to avoid.
  2. Make sure your dog is vaccinated for parvovirus, distemper, rabies, and bordetella. While there are other vaccinations you can get, make sure your dog is protected from these. Also, keep in mind that even though a dog is vaccinated for bordetella (kennel cough), that doesn’t mean they can’t catch it. For the most part, kennel cough will only turn deadly (by leading to pneumonia) for puppies and senior dogs, but it should still be avoided.
  3. Pay attention to your dogs at all times. Dog fights can break out in a fraction of a second. Keeping an eye on your pup will help you to see the signs leading up to the fight and pull your dog out of that situation. This is where solid basic obedience is extremely important. In order to pull your dog out of a potential situation, he needs to have a reliable recall.
  4. Advocate for your dogs. When you see your dogs getting pushed around, mounted, or dominated in any way, step in and put a stop to it. The reality is that your dog’s method of conflict resolution is much more aggressive than yours. If you step in and “rescue” your dog, he doesn’t need to defend himself.

If you’re looking for a few places to bring your pup to get some exercise but you want to avoid the “dog run” type of dog park, check out a few of these places in the Providence, Rhode Island area. We will make sure to do another blog where we discuss both the positive and negative aspects of several of Rhode Island’s dog-friendly areas.

  1. Blackstone Park: Blackstone Blvd. Providence, RI 02906
    1. Blackstone has a beautiful open-spaced area with woods, meadows, and ponds. This is a great place to exercise your pup!
  2. Roger Williams Park: 1000 Elmwood Ave, Providence, RI 02905
    1. Aside from being able to enjoy the zoo with the family, there’s space for you to walk your pup or play fetch.
  3. Franciscan Park: Bell Street, Providence, RI 02909
    1. While they have a fenced-in area, there’s so much space that you could spend time here and not have to closely interact with any other dogs.

I hope this has been illuminating for you and will help you to keep your pup well-balanced. Don’t forget to read our blog on picking and raising the perfect puppy. This is the easiest way to guarantee your pup turns into a happy and healthy dog!

Warmest Wags and Woofs,


[email protected]

(401) 400-4437

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