Dog parks can be wonderful places for your dog to romp and socialize, but they can also pose a big risk. Even if a dog park is well designed and maintained to reduce the risk of escape and the spread of parasites and disease, there is still the risk of physical and behavioural injuries from dog fights.
If the dogs in the park are not screened for temperament and sociability, or if there are no park supervisors or at the very least cameras to hold park users accountable, then the risks of dog fights is even greater. For this reason, many dog behaviour professionals caution dog owners about using dog parks. Below we list some dog park alternatives for your furry friend.
Some dogs need more physical exercise than a regular leash walk can provide. If you’re looking for a large space where your dog can run off-leash safely, a private dog park is an option. If that is not an option, perhaps the use of a 50 to 100 ft leash (with some instruction for safety) could allow your dog to romp safely in an empty park area or field.
Even a walk on a 15 ft leash can help some dogs get a bit more exercise and mental benefits on their usual neighbourhood leash walk. Shorten the leash when you need your dog closer to you, and let it out to 15 ft when it’s safe and appropriate to do so.
Dog Park Alternatives: Try a ‘Sniff and Stroll’
Increasing your dog’s physical exercise beyond a certain point makes your dog more fit and could result in your dog needing more exercise to feel rested or to behave better at home. With puppies, too much exercise can be damaging to their bone growth plates and later physical development.
If you’re looking for a way to tire out your dog and provide health benefits as well, consider increasing “sniffing opportunities” on a regular walk. A “sniff and stroll” is mentally tiring and reduces stress, which will help a dog be more relaxed at home.
This means you may have to measure your walk for a certain amount of time rather than a particular distance or route, unless you have factored in the extra time for sniffing. An added bonus to “sniff and strolls’ is that your dog has time to acclimate to the environment, which can be very helpful in preventing over-the-top behaviours, including excessive pulling, lunging, barking and leash-biting.
More Dog Park Alternatives: Group Walks
Dog parks are not for every dog. Highly social dogs who enjoy meeting other dogs are more suited to a dog park than dogs that merely tolerate other dogs or are selective about which dogs they like. A dog park is not the place to take an unsocialized dog and doing so can easily cause a dog to become sensitized and more fearful or aggressive after even one visit. Imagine being locked in a room full of spiders as a way to get your fear of spiders!
If you’re looking for socialization opportunities for your pooch, consider joining a group of other dog owners for on-leash group walks in your neighbourhood or a park. Letting dogs meet on leash can be problematic, but there are ways to do it safely and with less stress for your dog.
There may be a dog trainer in your community who runs outdoor group dog walk classes and coaches owners whose dogs need a little help learning how walk on loose leashes and be relaxed around other dogs, wildlife, vehicles and bikes.
Dog Training Resources
We hope you find a dog park alternative that works for your canine companion. For more helpful resources on training your dog, read our tips on keeping dogs off couches, how you can prevent your dog’s counter-surfing and how to stop your dog’s window barking in three simple steps. And just for fun, here’s some dog-friendly ways to celebrate their birthday — or Gotcha Day!