By Karen Fazio CDBC, Director of Training & Behavior

Some dog parks are a place where highly socialized and well-behaved dogs gather; or they are the equivalent of entering a prison yard. The biggest challenge in that? Not knowing whether you are entering a good dog park, or one of the prison yard variety.

Beyond the overall quality of the dog park, however, are other reasons responsible dog owners should skip the dog park. Here are five dog park facts you may not have considered:

1. Age Is the Most Overlooked Factor

The biggest flaw of dog parks is that most of the focus is on separating dogs by size. However, we feel that age is the most overlooked and important factor in separating pets from one another.

Puppies, adolescent dogs, and adult dogs have much different play styles and energy levels. For example, a 5-month old Lab playing with a 4-year old dog of similar size is the equivalent of a toddler child engaging in tackle football with a 16-year old.

While dogs may be similar in size, it’s not a reliable indication that they’re in any way mentally or physically well-matched.

2. Unwanted Habits Develop at Dog Parks

Just like we can pick up habits from our friends, our dogs tend to do the same. Some unwanted behaviors a dog can learn at a dog park include:

  • Over-the top play habits
  • Poor greeting rituals
  • Hyperactivity
  • Fence running
  • Deficits in coping with stimulating situations
  • Squabbling with other dogs
  • Breakdowns in training

3. Gathering Place for Stressed-Out Owners

Dog owners often lament that the only way they can gain peace and quiet at home is by taking their dogs to the dog park, and that their dog is so exhausted when returning home, that they will  sleep the remainder of the day and night.

It’s important to realize these pets are physically – not mentally – fatigued. Exercise is important, but if the goal is to achieve a relaxed or focused dog, a best bet is to provide them with mental enrichment in the form of training, or teaching him or her new tricks and skills.

4. High Risk for Disease and Injury

Dog parks are a breeding ground for a host of diseases such as intestinal parasites, fungal and bacterial infections, as well as water borne diseases. The latter is especially true if the park has poor drainage or is frequented by wild animals. Rough play is implicated in injuries to the head, teeth, eyes, knees, ankles, hips, cervical and lumbar discs, toes, nails, and pads, as well as wounds sustained from squabbles with other dogs.

5. Dog Parks Are Not the Best Place to Seek Advice

First-time dog owners, or those who haven’t had a dog in a while, might be tempted to seek advice from park-goers. You might wish to reconsider that strategy since well-educated owners and seasoned behavior professionals don’t frequent dog parks. Likely, the quality of advice you’ll receive at a dog park is questionable at best.

Training and Daycare a Much Smarter Choice

When considering outlets for mental stimulation, exercise, and socialization, the smartest choice is to contact a positive-based certified behavior consultant for private instruction or enroll the pet in a highly reputable and supervised pet day care center or group training class.