Border collie dog in a park

Private Dog Parks: Can Be The Safe Choice

With an increasing number of serious incidents being reported at dog parks, I want to introduce the safe alternative that a well-run private dog park can provide. You will find that a properly designed and managed private dog park is a dramatically different experience than what you have read about or have witnessed in public parks. A privately run dog park can properly screen, staff and enforce park regulations. We do caution you that even with the information you will gain from this article, please know that any dog park is not regulated, so we encourage everyone to do their homework before visiting any dog park to ensure it is right for you and your dog.

The current trend is that community and homeowner associations are responding to community demand by setting aside a small plot of their land for a public dog park. Unfortunately these unmanaged and unregulated fenced areas often turn to that of neighbor confrontation, injury and horror, even with the best of intending groups and dog owners. Let’s face it, without any oversight or enforcement, incidents are going to occur. Because I recognized the dangers in dog parks to the point that I would not take my dogs to one, I was motivated to devise the complex recipe for a safe off-leash dog park. Therefore; I conducted an in-depth investigation of many existing dog parks to establish the precise formula needed to create an off-leash haven.

I visited many, talked with visiting dog owners and observed many dog parks, both private and public. From my investigative travels and with my inherent understanding of dogs, I developed the complex operating matrix for a safe, off-leash dog park. Since that design work, we have successfully opened the first of our many private dog parks that thousands of qualifying dogs and their owners have already enjoyed. Our safety performance at the Royal Paws Dog Park & Doggie Day Camp facility speaks for itself with an impeccable safety performance and industry leading staffing ratio.

Benefits to your Dog with Off-Leash Exercise

The benefits to a dog at an off-leash dog park or any open area of land are immense. Unleashed running elevates heart rate, increases metabolism, improves gastrointestinal efficiency, and extends muscles and joints, all of which contributes to general overall fitness. It is known that maintaining such a healthy lifestyle for your loved dog will increase longevity and reduce risk of all associated conditions and diseases that obesity can cause. The experience for your dog in open field run is like no leashed exercise we can otherwise provide and the benefits will last a lifetime. When letting your dog run in an open field for exercise value, please consider that there are many risks to both you and your dog. You may be violating leash laws, the dog can track a scent or get lost, run into traffic or unwelcome neighborhood area, confront aggressive dogs or dangerous wildlife or foliage; which are all of the reasons as why I do not take my dogs to any open land without fences despite their excellent obedience.

In fenced area designated as a dog park, in addition to fitness improvement, your dog can enjoy benefits from the social interaction with the other dogs IF experienced without incident. The advantage for a dog that is well exercised and socialized benefit the dog, the owner and the community only if they have somehow avoided traumatic incident. Well exercised and socialized dogs are much less likely to contribute to neighborhood nuisances like chronic barking or showing aggression to other dogs.

If public parks could operate as well-run private dog park do, these benefits would be maintained. Unfortunately, many dog parks are not continuously regulated nor do they have the resources or knowledge to accurately screen the dogs; therefore, odds are that incidents will occur. Incidents like your dog being attacked by another dog or even being bullied by another dog can cause regression in social skills, cause behavioral issues, invoke fear aggression or cause physical injury or death. Following any incident at a public park, without a safe and regulated choice of private dog park that can best create positive experiences to overcome the impact of the incident, your dog may never physically or emotionally recover from the past trauma. The likelihood of good experiences for your dog in a well-managed private dog park is the reason that many loved dog owners everywhere chose private over non-regulated public parks.

Premise of a Safe Dog Park: It’s Private

The advantages a private dog park has over any public dog park is the ability to secure more favorable, larger parcels of land, improved grounds maintenance, set dog health requirements, enforceable park rules, screening of appropriate tempered dogs and third party intervention. Beware though and do your homework about any private dog park you intend to visit. Just because they can do all of the above does not mean that they do! While it is integral that the private dog park has the ability to control all of the above to make visits to a well-managed private dog park enjoyable, the most important to me are the health and temperament screening and ability of park staff to intervene.

If you have read the actual details in the recent headline grabbing horror stories of incidents in dog parks, they almost always are a result from a dog being in the park that should not be or from uneducated/erroneous decisions made by visiting dog owners. Both of these should not occur if your private dog park is consistent in managing and operating the facility for the safety and enjoyment of all. With private dog parks operating as a business, financial success is always a consideration. So turning away visiting dogs equates to lost revenue, so unless the park is focused exclusively on maintaining a safe environment for all, a private park that is short-term financially driven can pose the same risks that a public park does.

The third party oversight ability of park staff to intervene is required to eliminate personality clashes and biased evaluation of situations and/or dog’s behavior. So when the experienced screener determines the dog lacks the temperament so he/she can play with others, it is the park staff’s responsibility to deal with the disappointed dog owner. Same intervention by park staff goes in the event a visiting dog owner does not abide by park rules or a dog plays too rough or violations of any other park code of behavior. You can imagine these discussions are difficult; however, by park staff entertaining such discussions it eliminates any personal intervention by visiting dog owners.

Telling a dog owner that their dog is not allowed or can no longer come to the park until troublesome behavior is removed is always difficult. However, it is critical that the staff of the private dog park you are intending to visit has the proper screening system, the diligence to comply and financial ability to effectively turn away the revenue for dogs that do not appear to be capable of socially interacting at such level to keep the park safe for all.

As important to the screening is the park’s development and maintenance of expertly developed park rules. To the novice dog owner, many of the park rules appear to be too cumbersome and detailed. The reality is that each rule of a well-run dog park is well thought through and derived from merit by an expert in dog behavior. Compliance to all of the rules is key to the safe enjoyment of the park by all. For example, the toy aggression of a dog or rough play can within seconds turn into a dog fight even with the best of mannered & socialized dogs. Without such detailed rules and the full oversight to insure they are all followed, the private dog park could turn into mayhem.

Dog Park Management of Sizes and Breeds

For the safety of all, we highly recommend separating small dogs from large, excluding entrance to a few breeds, requiring males be neutered unless under strict command and requiring that dogs be at least four months old to enjoy the park. What we hear the most from small dog owners is that they want their small dogs to be able to play in the designated big dog area because “they like to play with big dogs”. Although the small dogs may have enjoyed past experiences playing with a large dog of neighbor or friend, the risk remain of physical injury to the small dogs if they are allowed in the same area as big dogs. It is my opinion each size should have designated areas to create safe play for all. Thus, we recommend that when investigating which dog park is right for you, this should be part of consistent operations.

Let me first say I do not believe in stereotyping any particular breed for temperament. However, due to instinctual drive levels, size and bite capacity, there are some breeds that I believe should be prohibited from entry to an off-leash park and some that should have elevated entrance criteria. Pit bulls, not specifically because of temperament but rather from jaw force/releasability should be forbidden from the off-leash dog park. Although we have met some of the sweetest and well-socialized pit bulls, we do not allow them to visit our parks because the risk is so high of severe injury to another dog if they were to bite.

Chow Chows are another breed that unless have a lifetime of scalability or coming in as a young dog, do we rarely let into the park. Any of the other “working breed” dogs, including terriers, due to their breed characteristics, prey drive, protection dog status and/or sheer size should go through elevated entrance criteria. These types of dogs must meet entrance-required temperament, in addition must demonstrate clear owner command. Upon meeting entrance criteria, they undergo frequent evaluations for continued social ability and owner command. All other dogs must pass dog socialization evaluation and demonstrate basic obedience.

Many Responsibilities of the Dog Owner

Even with the best of run private dog parks, the dog owners retain a high level of responsibility upon park entrance while be willing to withstand the occasional park staff directive. They must carefully watch their dog, abide by all park rules, maintain the obedience skills of the dog and know their dog well enough to predict their dog’s behavior. Knowing your dog’s mood, watching it’s posture and identifying or correcting any potential troublesome behaviors is critical so all can enjoy the park. Every dog will encounter occasions where they will meet another dog that they do not like or are uncomfortable around.

It is the best of private dog parks where entry requires command of your dog so that incidents of escalated aggression can be avoided when each dog owner carefully watches their dog and can command their dogs away from each and every situation. Incidents occur only when the dog owners are not vigilant in watching their dogs or do not understand their dog’s behavior and the slightest of uncomfortable encounters prolongs to escalate into a dogfight. Again, each dog owner should understand their dog’s postures, expressions and movement to be able to differentiate in off-leash situations when they are comfortable and when they are not. If the dog owner does not intuitively understand their dog, we recommend seeking the assistance of a professional dog trainer.

Safely Socializing Dogs Early Benefits Everyone

We believe that all dogs, when in receipt of proper health vaccination should be socialized in a safe environment to improve their ability throughout their life of all of the benefits an off-leash park can provide. Any puppy, following final adult vaccination booster should be introduced socially to other dogs, people, children and other distractions and a well-managed private dog park creates the perfect place. Puppies visiting a safe off-leash park will easily learn good behavior in the dog social structure and provide the dog owner the ability to enhance obedience training with distractions. Just as the benefits of teaching good manners to a dog early in their life are immense, so are the risks that behavior issues or dog aggression will occur in the event the early experiences are traumatic.

With puppies, we strongly encourage you thorough investigation on the park you are considering to take them to best create the opportunity for good experiences. We recommend you confirm that the park is well maintained, strictly managed and rules enforced. Taking the puppy to a private off-leash dog park will provide your dog a life-long of comfort around other dogs, people and children. However; even with the best of private dog parks, there are other distractions that you should have your puppy comfortable with, which is why we also recommend taking a puppy (when fully vaccinated) to busy shopping malls with diverse people and sounds, nature walks with children & bicycles and on-leash dog walking trails to learn on-leash manners.

Picking the Private Dog Park for You

While private dog parks are gaining in popularity because they may be the only choice for safe and enjoyable off-leash fun, enter with caution. If a dog park is “Private”, it is operated as a business entity, but this does not guarantee it is safe for you and your dog. It is our recommendation that with any place you intend to take your dog, you first tour the facility. Inspect the wireless fence for dogs and the grounds, as well as talk with some of the dog owners visiting to learn about their safety record and staffing. After touring, talk with the park staff about what is required to visit. If you do not have to show paperwork confirming vaccinations or they do not meet your dog and determine social ability with other dogs, we would recommend that you know there may be risks. As with any place that you take your dog, insure you have great command of your dog and you are comfortable with the park layout and your dog’s social skills to lessen the chances of a possible incident with another dog.

Terri Malueg-Ray, President & Founder of many industry leading, innovative companies who is an international pet industry expert.