Are Dog Parks Safe Enough?

I read an absolutely horrifying story today, raising concern about the safety of our dogs at dog parks. I’ve been to 16 different dog parks so far this year with my girl, Abbey, but have not witnessed any major incidents. A dog park should be a safe place where dogs can socialize, exercise, and get some time off from that pesky leash. Asking the question, “are dog parks safe?” shouldn’t be necessary.

Dog parks are safe to enter when they have transition areas.
Southside Lions Dog Park

A Dog Park Tragedy

Dog’s have been man’s best friend for a long time. They work alongside us and help us complete tasks. Many dogs are cute and cuddly. They may also make us feel good, but at the end of the day they are still animals. Yes, we consider them family members, but they still have basic animal instincts. We should be more responsible with them.

Today I read about a tragic incident that took place at a dog park. The information was shared over social media, but the whereabouts of the dog park were not mentioned. Several dogs were playing with each other at the dog park without concern. A woman entered the dog park with a small dog, and the large dogs ran over to say hello. In no time at all, one of the previously playful German Shepherds grabbed the small dog with its mouth. It ran away with the small dog and killed it as people screamed in horror, and threw up in the park.

Keep in mind, this is hearsay, but it’s unlikely that someone would make up the story simply for attention. Truly, it is a tragic lesson to be learned in such an awful way. I have no idea why the small dog was brought into the large dog area. However, this is one really good reason why there are separate areas for large and small dogs. Are dog parks safe? This story would lead us to believe they are not.

Dog parks are safe when the rules are respected.
The Whiskey Bark Park Rules

What can we do to keep our pups safe at the dog park?

There will always be some degree of risk involved in the things we do. Driving to work is risky. Attending school is a risk. Crossing the street can be unsafe. Whether or not dog parks are safe will depend on the interactions between random dogs and yours. If you are concerned about the safety of dog parks, there are a few ways you can decrease the risk involved.

Dog park safety

Stay away

Make sure the scene is safe

Be in control at all times

Stay Away

Avoiding the dog park is the only way to completely eliminate the risks involved. If you do not take your dog to the dog park, he cannot get hurt at the dog park. It’s a very simple plan. There are other ways to encourage socialization and activity. You could join a meet up, or schedule play time with neighbors and friends. Dog parks should be fun places to play, but they aren’t a requirement.

To get her the exercise that she needs you can play with her at a community park, or take her hiking. I’m not sure how many parks you have near you, but in San Antonio we have hundreds. Dog friendly cities will have no shortage of opportunities. You can find each of them in our Ultimate Guide to hiking in San Antonio.

Indy and Abbey make it appear that dog parks are safe in Alamo Heights.
The Bark Park of Alamo Heights

Make Sure the Scene is Safe

This is a phrase used in CPR training, but it works well for dog parks too. Always make sure the scene is safe before allowing your dog to enter any dog park. Quickly scan the park for dogs which are aggressive or out of control. Those types of dogs are not typically allowed at the dog park, but people sometimes bring them in nonetheless.

Most dog parks have a transition area, and separate areas for different sized dogs. If you have a small dog and you visit a park without a small dog area, you may want to reconsider releasing your dog into the mix. Even if the scene is safe, there is no rush to enter. Consider pausing at the gate to see how the other dogs interact while the fence provides protection.

Happy face at dog friendly McAllister Park in San Antonio
McAllister Dog Park

Be in Control at All Times

You are in charge of the situation. Enter the dog park with your dog on leash. Don’t remove the leash until you are satisfied with the safety of the dog park. If you cannot control your dog at home, do not think the situation will be any better at the park. Aggressive dogs should not be allowed to roam free at the park. All dogs should be trained and well behaved.

Do not wait for a fight to break out. If there is an aggressive dog present, remove your dog from the park. A hard stare is also an indicator that you should get out. If a fight does happen you should not get between the dogs. Vets suggest that fighting dogs be pulled away from each other by the hind legs. Lastly, make sure your dog is up to date on vaccinations, and medications for heartworm, flea and tick prevention.

Dog parks are safe when your dog is the only one there!
Fredericksburg Dog Park

Are Dog Parks Safe?

Sometimes dog parks are safe, and other times they are not. The dog park is just a place. Its safety depends on the dogs within and the parents they are with. Most of us want our pups to be healthy and happy. Dog parks are safe(r) places when we are in control of our well trained dogs.

However, if we refuse to respect the rules and fail to maintain control, dogs can get injured at the dog park. Preventable injuries from aggressive dogs have been known to happen. Witnessing the death of a dog in the jaws of another is a terrible thing. It’s not something that anyone should experience. Large dogs do not always mix well with small dogs. Well behaved and friendly large dogs may still view small dogs as prey.

Abbey uses the agility platform to relax.
Looks safe from here

Hopefully this information will lead to safer dog parks, and safer dogs. Their safety is our responsibility. There will always be some risk in a place where animals roam free. Make sure the scene is safe, and be in control at all times. Your pups safety may depend on it. We must make sure dog parks are safe.

If you are uncomfortable with your dog being at a dog park, just stay away. However, if you want your dog to play at the dog park, learn the details and be responsible. Dog friendly cities have many places for well behaved dogs to play. As I mentioned before, Abbey and I have been to many of the dog parks here in San Antonio. You can read about our experiences in the Best Dog Parks in San Antonio.

New friends at this dog friendly place in San Antonio.
Tom Slick Dog Park

Important Numbers for Dog Safety

If you witness dog abuse or neglect you can report the incident to Animal Control by dialing 311 here in San Antonio.

When you have a pet emergency you will need to contact an emergency veterinarian. In San Antonio we have several located throughout the city which are available 24/7. Call 210 571-7990 to reach the Emergency Pet Clinic on Broadway. They handle bites, toxins, CPR, wounds, bloating, breathing problems, and surgery.

No matter where you live you can use Vet Locator to find a veterinarian near you. Please share this information with other pet owners you know because it’s always good to be prepared in case of an emergency.

I’m a certified personal trainer in San Antonio. After adopting Abbey, I created Places for Pups to help you get outside, exercise with your dog and have fun doing it.

We have mastered hiking in Texas Hill Country. Though we emerge from the woods unharmed, we are not responsible for you or your pets. You are solely responsible for trying exercises, or places discussed on this site.

Grab the best hiking gear and go dog friendly.  I wish you good fortune on the trails to come.


David Earley


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Tyson Coolidge
December 31, 2019 8:55 am

I like what you said about making sure that the park is safe before using it. My brother would like to take his dog to the park. I’ll share this information with him so that he can ensure that the dog park is safe.