Author: Bernadette Emery Co-Author: Mark Siebel

Cosmo Dog Park in Gilbert, AZ was rated the #1 dog park in 2007. It’s a four-acre park that includes many amenities that dogs love: a lake with a dock that dogs can jump off, obstacles that the dogs can use, and even a fountain that is shaped as a fire hydrant. Comso Park is not the only dog park in the valley. Other parks may not boost the water-features that Comso does but they are still packed with fun and activities for all dogs. However, an off-leash dog park may not be the best environment to bring every dog. There are many pros and cons associated with going to a dog park. Knowing what to expect when you go to a dog park can be the key to a good experience for you and your dog.

One of the best advantages of taking a dog to a dog park is the socialization they will experience from being around many different people and different dogs. Have you ever seen a dog that acts fearful or aggressive towards other people or animals? The dog may be acting out because the dog has never been exposed to a certain type of person (i.e. children, or men). Proper socialization starting at a young age can help create a social and friendly dog. Dog parks are great for this because there are many different people and dogs at the parks. There are also different smells and sounds that a dog will be exposed to. All of these things will help to create a well balanced dog.

Another advantage to dog parks is the physical and mental stimulation. The off-leash environment is a great source of exercise for a dog. Because the entire dog park is fenced in, there is little worry that a dog will escape. Even if there are no dogs at the park just allowing a dog to sniff around is a great way to mentally stimulate a dog. Playing and running with other dogs will also help prevent your dog from destructive and annoying behaviors at home. A dog that is tired from even a half an hour at the park is more likely to sleep then to get into your closet. When your dog plays with other dogs it can also curb mouthing tendencies. A dog will whine or whimper when your dog mouths too hard; inadvertently teaching your dog how hard is too hard.

Dog parks can be an advantage for owners because they are able to learn more about their dogs through observation. You may notice that your dog is aggressive or fearful around smaller dogs, or you may learn that your dog would rather interact with the other people then the other dogs. With this kind of knowledge you will be able to give your dog the proper attention and guidance in areas that he or she might need improvement. Also, dog parks give owners a chance to interact. Some owners are very experienced and have friendly social dogs; it can give new owners a chance to learn from these owners.

So far dog parks are looking like great places, but there are disadvantages. There is always the potential that an owner may bring in an aggressive dog. These dogs can create fear and aggression instead of helping to prevent it. Plus aggressive dogs can cause injury and even death to other dogs. Be careful not to assume that a dog is okay because of their breed. Keep an eye on your dog to be sure that he or she is not being bullied by another. An aggressive a dog can get over-excited at a dog park, and lose control over impulses. If you have a good handle on your dog you will be able to calm him or her down easily, but if you do not it could be dangerous to your dog, other dogs, or people.

Dog parks also can be a way for your dog to pick up parasites or diseases. You can even pick up parasites without knowing it. Never bring a dog that has not been vaccinated to a dog park, it is very dangerous to the dog’s health. Wait until your vet says that your dog is ready. Remember Parvo can last longer then 9 months in the environment and adult dogs can be carries without showing any signs.

Finally, you want to be cautious when it comes to small and large dogs. Not all large dogs are going to be friendly to small dogs, and even if they are, a large dog is sometimes four times bigger then a small dog. There are timid areas at the dog parks for smaller or shy dogs. If you know that your dog is shy or if you know that a certain dog is aggressive towards your dog, you may want to bring your dog to the timid area of the park. This way you will prevent injury and prevent your dog from learning fear or aggression from the other dog.

Remember some people may abuse their right to be at the park. They will not pick up after their dog, they may not watch their dog, and they may allow them to act inappropriately. People who behave this way ruin the dog park experience for everyone. A few ways to make sure that you do not become a park-abuser is to make sure that you read and follow the rules. The dog park rules are posted up outside of the park, and are sometimes posted on the park’s website.

A key to not becoming a park-abuser is to make sure that you are able to control your dog. A dog that will not listen to a LEAVE-IT command, or a COME command could cause a problem if he or she begins to act too aggressively towards another dog. Another important rule is children. Some dog parks do not allow children under a certain age in the park. If you are at a park that allows children, be aware that they could cause danger for your dogs. Dogs are predatory animals, and some breeds have strong PREY drives, and when they get into ‘chase-mode’ it can be dangerous. When children are running around they can trigger this ‘chase-mode’ which could result in injury to the child. So be aware of the children at the dog parks even if they are not your own.

There are many pros and cons to going to a dog park. The park may or may not be right for your dog. However, if you think that your dog can benefit from going to a dog park there are things that you may want to do to get your dog ready to go. Make sure that your dog is vaccinated before even thinking about bringing your dog to a park. Make sure your dog is at older than four months. Puppies tend to get picked on the most by the other dogs and the behavior can even turn into aggression. Socializing your puppy is always a good thing, but instead of a dog park try to enroll him in a puppy-class, or introduce him or her to a neighbor dog that you know is friendly.

When you first go to a dog park make sure that your dog has some basic commands down. The better your dog has the commands down at home the better they will be at listening to you at a dog park. Dog parks are full of energy. They can be loud and they can be distracting to dogs. Basic training can help you control your dog, and it may even help save your dog from injury. A good come, sit, stay, and maybe even a settle, or calm command will help your dog’s experience at a dog park.

Another trick for first timers is to bring your dog to the park when it’s less crowded. The parks are busiest during the mornings, evenings, and weekends. Try bringing your dog to the park before three in the afternoon, or after eight at night. Even if there are no dogs there your dog will be able to smell the other dogs that have been there. It will make it easier to transition once your dog meets the other dogs. If there are other dogs at the park at that time there will not be as many. It will make the trip less stressful for your dog. Many first timers bring their dogs at peak times and they see their dog cowering between their legs, or acting aggressive towards the other dogs. They decide that their dog just does not like other dogs and they never try to socialize their dog again. This can all be prevented if you ease your dog into the experience. When he or she is finally ready for the peak hours bring some of his or her favorite treats, and reward your dog for good social behaviors, but do not be surprised if you get hounded for treats by other dogs.

Whether you go to Cosmo, Shawnee, or any of the other dog parks in the AZ Valley remember the experience should be a good one for you and your dog. Exercise, socialization, and mental stimulations will help make your dog a friendly, social dog, but a bad experience at the dog park may not only be dangerous to your dog’s well-being but it could bring anxiety to your dog. Be a knowledgeable and watchful owner to help your dog benefit from their time at the dog park.