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Dog Park Safety: Concerns and Tips

Updated: 01/09/2024 – When I think of a dog park I see images of dogs running free, having fun with their canine friends. All while their owners sip coffee and talk with their fellow dog parents.  In my mind the dog park is perfectly maintained with plenty of shade and all the dogs are getting along.   Nice image right?   This is the image we most often see in the movies or commercials but rarely are dog parks truly that perfect.  The reality is there are a lot of dangers lurking in dog parks.   Join us as we discuss dog park safety concerns and provide safety tips to help you protect your pup.

Dog Park Safety

I was surprised when our Puppy Kindergarten Class trainer said she would never bring her dogs to a dog park.  I personally had a bad experience at a dog park the one and only time we took our adult English Springer Spaniel, but I brushed it off as a onetime event.   After listening to the trainer’s dog park safety concerns, I realized that my bad experience was more common than I thought.

Are Dog Parks Safe?

Some of the dog park safety concerns you need to be aware of are:  

  • Aggressive dogs
  • Inattentive owners or owners who do not have control over their dog
  • Physical dangers at the park
    • Inadequate fencing that allows a dog to escape
    • Broken or worn fencing
    • Trash, glass or other debris
  • Disease – Sickness and disease can be passed through shared water bowls, fecal matter, ticks and fleas
Dog Park Safety: Concerns and Tips

To learn more about the risk of disease at dog parks, visit the American Veterinary Medical Association’s page on Dogs’ Social Lives and Disease Risks – Tips for Canine and Human Safety

Dog Park Safety Tips

Before you go:

Know your dog

Make sure you know how your dog will behave at the park. Things to think about:

  • Only well-socialized, friendly dogs should go to a dog park. If your dog shows signs of aggression or has issues that could make him hostile toward another dog, a dog park is not the right place to go. This includes any aggression they may have involving sharing toys or food.
  • Make sure you understand your dog’s prey drive. Many dogs can have a high prey drive and look at anything that is smaller than them as something to hunt. Do not bring your dog to a dog park if there is a chance they will hurt another dog.
  • You should not bring a shy or nervous dog to the park. A frighten dog may strike out at another dog due to fear. Plus it would not be much fun for the dog if they were afraid to be there.
  • Do not bring your dog if they are in heat. Along with the risk of an unplanned litter, nothing starts a fight quicker than a group of male dogs vying for the attention of a female in heat.

Protect your dog

Make sure your dog has the proper protections in place:

  • Stay up to date on vaccines. Your dog can encounter viruses and parasites at the park. Check with your veterinarian to confirm he’s current on vaccines like rabies and distemper/parvo.   Also ask your veterinarian what other vaccines they might need.
  • Protect against fleas and ticks. Ticks can lurk in the grass and bushes.  Dogs and wildlife that come to the park can spread fleas and ticks. The best protection for your pet is to keep them up to date on flea and tick control.  Ask your veterinarian for recommendations.
  • Total recall – Make sure you have total control over your dog. Practice calling your dog to make sure he will listen to you at all times.   This will be important if he gets into a scuffle.  
  • Don’t bring your puppy to the park until they are fully vaccinated.
Dog Park Safety: Concerns and Tips

Check out the park before you take your dog 

Look for the following:

  • General maintenance – Does the park appear to be maintained.
  • Double gate entry – A double gate entry will prevent dogs from escaping when the dogs are entering or leaving.
  • Walk the perimeter of the park. Look for any faults in the fencing that would allow a dog to escape such as fencing that is too low, too high off the ground or has holes.
  • Separation – Look for a dog park that separates dogs by size. Small and large dogs should never be in an enclosure together. Even the friendliest large dog can hurt a smaller dog just because of the size difference. Also a large dog’s hunting instinct may kick in and look at the smaller dogs as prey.  
  • Size of park– It is important to have enough space in a dog park for the dogs to run around and get away from one another if need be.
  • Rules – Are there Rules of Conduct posted on or near the gate so everyone knows how they should behave?
  • Shade – Is there enough shade available for both dogs and humans?
  • Visit the park – Visit at the time(s) you would go with your dog. Often people have set schedules that they go by, so you will get a feel for the type of people and dogs that will be there when you are.  Visit more than once. Are you comfortable with what you see? A park filled with aggressive dogs and inattentive owners is not the right place to take your pet.
  • Cleanliness – A park with trash and dog waste lying around is a breeding ground for disease and injuries.

Keeping Your Dog Safe at the Park

Dog Park Essentials

  • Bring a water bowl and plenty of fresh water Don’t let your dog use a communal bowl. Parasites can be spread through feces and shared water bowls.
  • Dog Waste Bags Although many dog parks supply waste bags and a trash can, bring your own in case there are none.  Always pick up after your dog.
  • An animal deterrent spray or an air-horn to help break up a fight between dogs.
  • A breakaway collar to prevent accidental strangulation.
  • Identification tags along with their rabies tags and a dog license.
  • Bring your cell phone to call the police or local animal control if needed.
  • Know where the closest veterinary hospital is, in case of an emergency.

For tips and ideas of what to bring to the Dog Park go to Dog Park Essentials Checklist

Once you get there

  • Don’t let your dog inside the gate if there are other dogs gathered there. Wait until they wander off before opening the gate and removing your dog’s leash.
  • Be vigilant – Keep an eye on your dog and the dogs around him. At the first sign of a trouble, like growling, mounting, or other aggressive behavior that could turn into a scuffle, call your dog over for a break. If the behavior continues, leave the park.
  • In the event of a dogfight, be careful. Do not get between dogs that are fighting. Instead use an air horn to distract them or throw water on the fighting dogs to separate them.
  • If it is a hot day, take plenty of water breaks and watch out for heat stroke.

Alternatives to the dog park:

  • Set up play-dates with dogs you know in private fenced in yards
  • For puppies 6 months and under consider bringing them to a puppy social. Puppy socials are safe places usually run by dog trainers.   

For more like this read:

Britt Kascjak

Monday 29th of June 2020

Personally, I refuse to bring my dogs to a dog park. There are just too many things that could go wrong and too many irresponsible dog owners out there. I wish that it was as nice and carefree as the image that you had painted at the start of this article, but that's just not reality. We have a nice fenced in back yard, so it's far safer to just allow our dogs to play here and invite over friends with dogs for playdates. At least then I can control the maintenance of the area as well as who is coming into that 'safe space'.


Monday 29th of June 2020

I agree that back yard playdates are the best option if you have a back yard.

Thanks for stopping by


Monday 29th of June 2020

It sounds like going to the dog park can be as difficult as taking a young human child to the park. It has to be even more difficult now with all of the COVID-19 restrictions for humans. I'm glad that dog parks exist though, they seem to be a very happy place for many dogs and their humans.


Monday 29th of June 2020

Right now I am sure the dog parks are rather empty will everyone trying to social distance. But if you can find a safe dog park it's always nice to have a place to let your dog run.

Cathy Armato

Monday 29th of June 2020

This is so spot on Bonnie! These are all important things to watch out for at dog parks. I stopped going to our local dog park because of a few bad dog owners. I find bad dog owners (they think their aggressive dogs just like to "play rough" and that dogs will just "work it out themselves" if fights break out) and owners who don't pay attention to what's going on with their dogs to be the biggest issue for me. We moved to another state and happen to hear about a really good, beautiful dog park. Skeptically, we started going there and it's been good so far, but I'm always on the alert. Love & Biscuits, Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them


Monday 29th of June 2020

It's great that you found a safe dog park. It really is just a few people that make it bad for everyone else.

Angela Schneider

Sunday 28th of June 2020

These are all great tips for using dog parks! We never worry too much about Bella. She keeps her distance from people and most of the other dogs. We hightail it out of there at the first sign of drama, though. Her breed's natural instinct is to protect the vulnerable but I don't want her getting in the middle of anything.


Monday 29th of June 2020

Since Bella is fairly large I bet not to many dogs will bother her.

I recently heard a story about a German Shepard that protected a small puppy at the dog park from a pack of aggressive dogs. Since Bella is also a guarding breed she will probably do the same.

Ruth Epstein

Saturday 27th of June 2020

I go to the most amazing dog park, have been going there for about 10 years, we all know each others dogs and keep an eye out for them, I have yet to see a dog fight and in a way am tired of listening to people bad mouth them. The humans are the danger not the dogs, they are so busy on the phone or chatting and not watching their dogs. When you live in a city that is the only place you can take your dog for a run without a leash.


Monday 29th of June 2020

It's wonderful that you have been able to find a safe dog park. Having a place where dogs can run free is so important.

I wouldn't necessarily say people are bad mouthing dog parks. They are simply warning others to be careful based on their own experiences. Prior to taking my English Springer Spaniel to the dog park I thought they were wonderful. I never expected that she would be bitten by another dog as soon as she entered the gate. That was my first time at a dog park. I am hoping that this article will help others so that they have a better experience then me.

Even if you have already found a great dog park you need to always be vigilant. It only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch.