The California Veterinary Medical Association has published recommendations for dog park safety. The document, entitled "Dog parks harbor risks as well as fun" emphasizes the benefits of park visitation but points out some risks and recommended precautions. Some of the risks associated with park visits include bites, scratches, and exposure to various infectious diseases.
Some basic and practical precautions that are recommended include:
- Ensure your dog’s vaccination status is current.
- Make sure your dog is socialized and behaves well around people and other animals.
- Monitor your dog closely.
- Avoid mixing small dogs and big dogs.
- Bring water for your dog to drink.
- Clean your dog’s paws when you leave the park (I’m not sure that one’s very useful).
- Have your veterinarian check your dog regularly for parasites (and other infectious diseases or risk factors).
- Talk to your veterinarian about any (other) precautions you should take.
Overall, the document provides some useful and very practical information. A few things I would add:
- Keep your pet away from the park when it’s sick.
- Make sure you promptly pick up dog poop and dispose of it properly.
- If it’s an off-leash park, spend a few minutes watching the other dogs that are there before deciding whether to let your dog off its own leash.
- Make sure your veterinarian knows that your dog goes to the park if it becomes sick. There are some diseases that are more likely in dogs that visit parks, and outbreaks can also be associated with parks. Knowing that your dog has access to a dog park might be an important part of the diagnostic process. As well, knowing that you visit the park regularly might change your veterinarian’s recommendations for vaccination and deworming.