Veterinarians should consider talking to their clients about dog parks, according to Dr. Melissa J. Bain, a lecturer in the Clinical Animal Behavior Program at the University of California-Davis.
Dr. Bain spoke July 16, during the AVMA Annual Convention in Hawaii, about "The Role of Dog Parks in Society and the Impact of Behavior." She said veterinarians can educate clients about how to handle off-leash dogs at parks, and about whether particular dogs should visit dog parks at all.
"Dog parks are not for everyone," Dr. Bain said.
She suggested that veterinarians advise against taking aggressive or fearful dogs to dog parks, and puppies without a full set of vaccinations. She added that dog parks are not the place for dogs to learn how to socialize.
"This is not puppy kindergarten," Dr. Bain said.
But other dogs can benefit from visiting dog parks. The positive effects include exercise, less pent-up energy, social contact, and mental stimulation. Dog owners also socialize and exercise at these parks.
Dr. Bain said veterinarians should teach clients who visit dog parks about the basics of canine interaction, including body postures and appropriate play.
"You need to educate the owner on the signals that the dogs give," Dr. Bain said. "The owners need to watch and control the play, if necessary."
A study of California dog parks found that aggression was not a major problem. The study did reveal negative issues with jumping up and pushy behavior, as well as with fearful dogs. Another issue was dog walkers not being able to watch or clean up after multiple animals. Noise and sanitation were not major problems, however.
Dr. Bain said dog parks have become popular across the country. She said veterinarians can extend educational efforts on the subject beyond clients to park groups, local municipalities, and the general public.
"Your clients are going to go to the dog park," Dr. Bain said. "Dog parks are not going to go away."