Photo of dogs enjoying Marymoor Park, courtesy of SODA (Save Our Dog Areas)
Dog parks are designed to provide a place where dogs can run free off-leash and socialize with other dogs. We are fortunate to live in an area that has several off-leash parks for us to choose from. But are off-leash dog parks right for your dog? Our vets weigh in…
Although dog parks are not for everyone, they can benefit both dogs and their owners. You will need to determine if you think the dog park is right for you and your dog. Knowing what to expect and being prepared can make it a great way to get some exercise and meet new friends.
Off-leash areas provide both physical and mental exercise for dogs. They can run freely through new and exciting environments, explore new smells, swim at some parks and play to their heart’s content.
Dogs are very social animals and in general enjoy spending time with one another. Dog parks offer opportunities for building on, and maintaining social skills. Regular practice in meeting a variety of other dogs and learning to read other dogs’ body language are valuable experiences.
Experiencing a Variety of Different Environments
Depending on which park you choose to visit, your dog may be introduced to a whole new outdoor adventure than what they have at home. Tall grass to traipse though, trails through the forest, wide- open meadows or water to swim and play fetch in.
Dogs who are healthy and vaccinated are at low risk for becoming ill. There are always some risks when your dog is in an environment where they are interacting with a number of other dogs. Talk to your veterinarian before taking your dog to an off-leash park and make sure that they are current on all of their vaccines and protected from fleas. We would also recommend that your dog be vaccinated for Bordetella to minimize the chances of getting “kennel cough”, a contagious respiratory disease spread by dogs.
Just as some people are introverts, some dogs can be shy and easily overwhelmed. They may become stressed by a large number of dogs, or become protective if dogs are playing too roughly. Being bullied or scared could increase negative behaviors such as aggression or fear.
Unfortunately, not all owners may be well behaved. People do not always agree about what is acceptable dog behavior at an off-leash park. Perspectives may vary as to which behaviors are aggressive, obnoxious or down right irresponsible.
However even after taking all of the above downsides into consideration, many people feel that the benefits of an off-leash park still outweigh the risks.
Best Dog Park Candidates
- Well-socialized dogs. Dogs who love meeting and interacting with other dogs.
- Altered dogs. Your dog should be spayed or neutered before visiting an off-leash park.
- Younger dogs. They are more likely to enjoy multiple playmates and tolerate more rambunctious play. This is not to say that older dogs will not enjoy a visit to an off-leash park though.
- Healthy dogs. Your dog should be fully vaccinated, free from injury or chronic pain, and have flea protection to keep them parasite free. Talk to your veterinarian to make sure that your dog is an ideal candidate for off-leash play.
- Dogs who are under voice command at all times. Reliable recall is an essential skill.
Dogs Who Would NOT Benefit from the Dog Park
- Unaltered dogs. Intact males can experience social problems, and unspayed females can result in an unexpected litter.
- Unvaccinated puppies. Before puppies have been fully vaccinated they should avoid dog parks and off-leash areas. Most dog parks have rules that require dogs to be at least 4 months old. Until this time puppies are extremely vulnerable to potentially deadly contagious diseases.
- Under-socialized, aggressive or fearful dogs. Interacting with a large number of dogs can exacerbate their behavior. This can lead to putting other dogs, as well as your own dog at risk.
5 Ways to Prepare for a Visit to the Off-Leash Dog Park
- Consider visiting the park without your dog to check it out in advance. Make sure the park is the best fit for your dog and its personality.
- Know the rules of the park in advance. Most off-leash parks require that dogs be fully vaccinated, licensed and wearing collars and ID tags at all times. Many parks require that dogs be leashed while entering and exiting the park.
- Bring water and a bowl for your dog. Avoid bringing food for your dog into the park itself.
- Bring bags to clean up after your dog.
- Discuss any concerns about your dog’s health or behavior with your veterinarian prior to visiting an off-leash park.
Off-Leash Parks in Our Area
Here’s a handy list of Seattle-area off-leash parks, courtesy of Seattle Parks and Recreation:
Here is a list of off-leash parks further afield:
Beaver Lake Park Off-Leash area in Sammamish