When my kids were younger, any trip to an amusement park started by making a beeline to the measuring station to find out which rides were safe for them. All theme parks I have visited have this sort of measuring station and it made me realize something dog parks can learn from amusement parks.
Amusement park rides have minimum height requirements established by the ride’s manufacturer to ensure guest safety at the park. A park employee will measure your child and then provide the child with some type of color-coded wristband to help identity which rides are safe for that child. Safety boils down to, “You don’t have the right wristband color.” Can you imagine any parent of a 36” tall child trying to convince the operator of Cedar Point’s Corkscrew Roller Coaster to let the child ride? Of course not! It’s a roller coaster with a minimum 48″ height restriction which is needed because it inverts riders in three different corkscrew turns!
Dog parks can learn from this commitment to size as a way to keep dogs safe. The best parks have separate small and large dog areas. But rarely have I gone to a dog park where these areas are being used exclusively for the right size dogs. It seems many owners view the different areas of the dog park as suggested recommendations on where the dogs should play. It would be better if the size restrictions at dog parks were viewed as non-negotiable, minimum requirements to ensure safety.
Here are just a few of the reasons I think big and little dogs should be separated at a dog park:
- Small dogs can get injured quickly by groups of large dogs playing. Not every large dog is aware enough or agile enough to leap over a small dog who may accidentally get in the path of a tennis ball. And not every small dog is fast enough to move away from two rambunctious large dog’s chasing one another. While we like to think a large dog will handicap her behavior to accommodate every small dog she meets, this simply doesn’t always happen.
- Small dogs can look like prey. No one likes to admit this, but it’s true. As a species, dogs are known for chasing squirrels, cats, birds, or other small animals. Let’s face it, from a distance a tiny brown dog running can look like a squirrel!
- Small dogs are more likely to be injured or killed in a fight with a large dog. This is not to say large dogs are more aggressive. It just means that in a fight between a large and a small dog, the large dog has the weight/size advantage.
Like an amusement park, a dog park can be a great way to have fun. But dog parks themselves are inherently risky in the same way amusement parks are risky. They are filled with people who mean well and are trying to have a good time, but don’t necessarily pay attention to all the details of the park. So it’s best to have some basic parameters to keep everyone safe. Like an amusement park, the risks in a dog park can be minimized if owners adhere to the proper size restrictions.
Next time you go to the dog park, think of your dog as wearing the appropriate colored wristband at an amusement park. And then do the safest thing and take your dog to the right area based on the dog’s size. If you find yourself wanting to take your small dog to play with the big dogs, or if your friends suggest your large dog would like the small dog area, just remember that your dog isn’t wearing the right wristband color. It’s not a an optional matter of convenience and it’s not just a recommendation on where your dog should play. View it as a non-negotiable matter of safety.
Have you seen issues with dogs in the wrong play areas at your dog park?
If you’d like to learn more about safe off-leash dog play, check out my book Off-Leash Dog Play: A Complete Guide to Safety and Fun.