Ask the RV Vet
With Dr. Deanna Tolliver, M.S., DVM
Have you taken your dog(s) to a dog park? Please answer in the poll below.
Before I hit the road with my dogs, I rarely took them to dog parks. They had a large fenced yard to play in. After I started full-timing in my RV, I purposely looked for campgrounds that had dog parks. But I’ve changed the way I look at them now. Here are a couple of reasons:
“Teen and dog attacked at County dog park.”
“Small dog attacked and killed by two large dogs at Lodi dog park.”
Yes, the stories behind those headlines are worth thinking about, but there are other considerations, as well.
Maybe you’ve seen those wonderful owners with their Labs at the dog park, throwing a Frisbee or a ball over and over again for their dogs, who are loving it. There’s no doubt that the exercise is great for them. If the dogs, like their owners, have been cooped up in an RV or truck for several hours while traveling, a walk around the campground may not be enough to get all those kinks out.
Pets in the news. Cat impaled on wrought iron fence! How many nine lives is that? Not for the squeamish, but a happy ending. Click here.
Or maybe you have a small dog and she likes to be off-leash sometimes. My dogs don’t really run around in a dog park. They just want to sniff to see what other dogs have been there. I think they like to be off-leash sometimes for a change. Dogs who don’t chase after balls sometimes just want to run up and down the park a few times.
Another plus is that doggy parents often end up talking with each other, and this can lead to all kinds of positive interactions (especially with locals), such as good places to eat, interesting places to visit in the area, and the best campgrounds down the road, as well as new friends.
There are no reliable statistics as to how many dog injuries occur every year in dog parks. But I believe it’s safe to say that the number is in the thousands.
As if that prospect isn’t bad enough, dogs can also pick up infectious diseases at dog parks such as kennel cough, parvovirus, canine distemper or canine influenza. These are all preventable diseases. Your dog may be vaccinated but his new best friend in the dog park may not be.
Sharing a water bowl at a dog park is a very, very bad idea for all the same reasons.
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Picking up parasites is another concern. We may find it disgusting when our dogs sniff at each other’s rear ends … hey, it’s a dog thing. Apparently, they learn a lot about each other that way. But a dog with fleas may share them with your dog. Besides causing skin issues, fleas are the intermediary host for tapeworms. Yuk!
There may also be forgotten dog treats lying on the ground. You don’t want your furry friend to eat these. They may have previously been in another dog’s mouth, or they might be moldy.
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The Very Ugly
Taking your dog to a dog park could end up being one of the worst days of both your lives. Dogs have died at dog parks from injuries sustained in either dog fights or from being shaken to death. In the vet world, we call that the LDBD: little dog, big dog syndrome. A dog can die within seconds if it is picked up by the neck and shaken. The “big dog” doesn’t have to be a Pit Bull; it only has to be bigger than the little dog.
What To Do?
Most of the time though, DOGS are not the problem at dog parks – it’s PEOPLE! People who take dogs to the park that aren’t entirely socialized, people who don’t watch their dogs (they’re busy catching up on Facebook), people who don’t understand dog body language (and that is a topic for another column).
If everyone played by the same rules, problems at dog parks would be significantly diminished. But they don’t. So to keep your dog happy AND safe, here are some suggestions:
• Ask yourself: Does your dog really need to go to the dog park? Does he/she get plenty of exercise walking? Then don’t go. Or go when there aren’t other dogs there. See if your campground will allow you to put up a small enclosure for your dog at your campsite.
• If you think your dog doesn’t care for other dogs or is fearful or timid, don’t go. Not all dogs enjoy dog-to-dog interaction.
• Walk through the dog park WITHOUT your dog the first time you visit and make a note of these things:
- Look for holes in the fence and pieces of fence wire sticking out that could poke an eye.
- Is the area clean or are there lots of feces?
- Are there receptacles for poop bags?
- Look for old dog treats left to rot on the ground.
• Take your own water bowl. Leave it outside of the fence and don’t allow other dogs to use it.
• Take your dog only to parks where dogs are separated by size: an area for small dogs and an area for larger dogs.
• If there are other dogs inside the fence, don’t take your dog in immediately. Take a few moments to watch the other dogs to get an idea if they may be suitable playmates for yours.
I don’t necessarily think you should avoid dog parks. They can be a wonderful outlet for RVing dogs. Just be careful!
Dr. Deanna welcomes your questions. Email her at YourRVvet@gmail.com
Dr. Deanna Tolliver has been a full-time RVer for over 3 years, although she has been an RVer for several more. She travels with a fifth wheel and a 1-ton dually truck. Her travel companions include 4 small dogs (Tootie, Chiquita, BooBoo, and Janie), and a 36-year-old Yellow-Naped Amazon Parrot named Toby. She has a BS and MS in biology and zoology, respectively, and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Missouri, Columbia. She owned a veterinary hospital for many years and recently handed over the reins to a new owner.