A day at the dog park is like a dozen walks on a leash in terms of physical and mental benefits for your pet.
"They get the chance to get off-leash and run around and play with other dogs," says Rebecca Ruch-Gallie, DVM, of Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Fort Collins. "It keeps their weight down, their muscle tone up. It keeps them social. It's huge."
Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious viral disease that can produce a life-threatening illness. The virus attacks rapidly dividing cells in a dog’s body, most severely affecting the intestinal tract. Parvovirus also attacks the white blood cells, and when young animals are infected, the virus can damage the heart muscle and cause lifelong cardiac problem
The downsides? Your pet mistakes another person's leg for a tree or gets hurt and needs to go to the vet. Take these steps to avoid an embarrassing scene or an injury.
1. Take charge. Your dog needs to know that you're the alpha animal all the time. That’s key when other canines are around. Teach your pal to come to you when called. Use a word or phrase he’s not likely to hear at the park. Reward him with extra-special treats during training.
2. Pause before you enter. A well-designed park will have a double entrance with two gates. Don't whirl through both gates at once. Enter the first gate with your dog on a leash, then pause to look around. If there are 20 dogs swarming the gates or if there’s a scuffle going on, this isn't the time to barge in. A pause will also allow other pooches to get used to yours and not go hyper when he does come in.
3. Pay attention. Once inside, it's your job to pay attention -- to the dogs, not other humans.
“Dog parks are really awesome, but they're not about human socialization," Ruch-Gallie says.
Always know where your four-legged friend is and what he’s doing. If you see trouble brewing, call him back right away. Know when your dog has pooped so you can scoop, too. Many parks provide plastic bags, but it can’t hurt to take your own.
4. Read the signals. Not only should your dog play well with others if you plan to take him to the park -- you need to be able to read canine behavior as well.