Are Dog Parks a Good Idea for Service Dogs?

March 12, 2010 · Posted in Public Interaction, Service Dogs, Training 
socializing with other dogs

It seems like every time I turn around these days, some one is suggesting that I take my service dog, Whistle, to a dog park. As a person who uses a wheelchair, this is a little intimidating to me. I am nervous about letting Whistle off lead around strange dogs that neither he nor I know.

I am curious; do you take your dog on a regular basis to a dog park? How has that worked for you? We have a new dog park in my community and I have been interested in visiting it but again, I am nervous about letting Whistle off leash on terrain that can be difficult for me to navigate in my wheelchair. I am concerned about Whistle’s safety.

How safe are dog parks? I know there are great socialization benefits of going to a dog park but there are definitely risks also. A dog park is not your yard or a controlled training environment.

The jury is still out for me. I’m not sure if I feel comfortable taking Whistle to a dog park although I do think he would really enjoy it. Are dog parks a good idea for service dogs? Would you recommend them or avoid them? And if you don’t go to a dog park, how do you make sure your service dog gets enough exercise?

I guess I’m just really an over protective human partner but when I think about all the training and care that has gone into Whistle to support him as a service dog, I just don’t know if I can take the risk against the benefits.


17 Responses to “Are Dog Parks a Good Idea for Service Dogs?”

  1. vernon Branch on March 12th, 2010 12:04 pm

    I have allowd my SD to play with other dogs at a Dog park without any problems. It is his reward for taking such good care of me.

  2. Marcie on March 12th, 2010 12:38 pm

    Thanks for your comment Vernon. Can you tell me more about your dog park experiences? Do you let your SD off leash, how long does your day play at the park, etc.? Have you ever had a negative experience with another dog at the park and how did you handle it?

  3. Ally on March 14th, 2010 2:42 pm

    I’m not a service dog handler but I was a volunteer puppy raiser up until recently when I accepted one of my pups back as a career change. Honestly, I think it would depend on the dog park in regards to your mobility and ability to get around in. I know one in our area would be easier to get into in a wheelchair than another and it would certainly be easier in dry weather versus the mud of course. I have three dogs, all of them are special in one way or another. I have a sheltie that likes to herd other dogs so I have to be careful that the dogs that are there aren’t opposed to being herded. My American Eskimo just likes to walk around sniffing and doesn’t care for being bugged by other dogs if she’s “in the zone” and my Golden Retriever had a very serious fear of other dogs as a pup so we have to be careful about the other dogs with him as well as the fear’s turned into a tough guy act when first encountering another dog. We take our dogs, on average, for 30-45 minutes of play at a time. You would probably want your SD to be off leash as a leash would cause more potential problems with the other dogs than you want to deal with. I’ve never had a negative experience with other dogs at the dog park other than dogs picking on my sister’s female golden retriever who is in kidney failure (not that you would know by looking at her!). If your dog is healthy and easy going you should be fine, I would just be ready to leave if a dog you’re not comfortable with is there and be sure to have amazing treats handy for any time he checks in with you! If you do decide to go I’m eager to hear about how it goes for you! 😀

  4. vernon Branch on March 27th, 2010 2:04 pm

    I try to take keeoe to the dog park often as I see it as a reward for all he does for me. We usually stay around 2hrs or so and I have never had any negative experiences. Keetoe is also vacinated for the dog influenca which is advisable when your partner is around other dogs. I allow him to rip and run with the other dogs free from his harness

  5. Noddy Brothers on April 7th, 2010 10:32 am

    I don’t take my dog to the local dog park because it smells bad (lots of people don’t scoop their dog’s poop), but I’ve taken him to other dog parks in other states that are better maintained. We travel a lot. I don’t take him alone when we are out of town and going to other dog parks. We always go with a co-worker or friend (or sometimes, hire someone to accompany us) so if something happens, I’ve got someone who can help. So far, nothing has happened..

    I also work where they let me let him run free during lunch and breaks, and he has 30 acres of land pretty much to himself so he doesn’t need a dog park for runs as much as other service dogs would.

  6. becca on April 16th, 2010 10:19 am

    My son has a service dog. When he was very young, we took our dog to a dog park.
    The other dogs intimidated our dog and our dog was scared.

    I used to have a phone number that was nearly the same as a veterinarians phone number.
    One guy called me and said, “my dog was at a dog park and a dog bit my dog in the face”.
    He said his dogs face was bleeding all over the place.

    I told him I was not a vet and that he had a wrong number.
    Quite a few people called me with problems. After hearing these things, I no longer took my dog to a dog park.

    Some dog parks are dirty and some have water dishes for dogs. You should never allow your dog to drink from these dishes. They can carry disease.

    I have had people tell me that there dog is friendly; then a minute later, their dog is growling, etc.
    I wouldn’t risk the danger of a service dog getting injured from other dogs.

  7. Birgit & Milo on April 17th, 2010 8:41 pm

    I’m what you call a seasoned service dog user, Milo is my fifth dog. We have traveled all over America. I understand the reluctance some service dog users express about taking service dogs to off leash dog parks. Believe me, it’s worth every effort you make! It is so much easier to work with your service dog when he had some time to romp around and socialize, remember, when they were puppies they were being socialized around other strange dogs without any problem. I see so many older service dogs that look so sad and lonely, some even develop a mild case of dog aggression because they have not been socialized around other dogs. There are many parks that are now accessible for wheelchair users, some have walkways all around and we even have one where you can “walk” around for’s all fenced in. It’s great for recall training or teaching your dog to go only a certain distance before coming back. Look guys, take it from a seasoned user, I have done it both ways and I would never do without again. Take a human friend for the first few times, you’ll have a lot of fun and make some great friends in the process.

  8. Alice Lee on April 27th, 2010 4:09 pm

    Marcie, It depends on the dog park and your dog. Morgan has visited many dog parks in Washington state and Portland, OR and here in New Mexico. My new service dog, Austin is from Support Dogs of St. Louis . This organization retains ownership of the dog , and advises you to NOT take your service dog to a dog park. Austin is not Morgan. I exercise them by taking them both to the dog “court” in Park Plazas. It’s an old enclosed tennis court, where they can socialize with other dogs and chase tennis balls and each other, though Austin is a teenager and Morgan the old gramps. I also take them one at a time on the big loop in Park Plazas in my power chair. I call this my daily power walk. I think you are wise in asking this question. One dog park in Santa Fe is not accessible, and dirty . The newer one out by the Humane Society is accessible as long as there is no mud. I have taken Morgan there to meet with a friend. If you do decide to take Whistle take a friend along just to be safe. Myy long winded thoughts…

  9. Bruce on May 19th, 2010 2:09 pm

    Thanks for your comment Vernon. Can you tell me more about your dog park experiences? Do you let your SD off leash, how long does your day play at the park, etc.? Have you ever had a negative experience with another dog at the park and how did you handle it?

  10. rusureuwant2know on April 18th, 2012 6:51 pm

    I’m not sure it’s a good idea to have them running around with dogs you don’t know. When you rely on the dog for assistance, it’s taking a big chance…

  11. Dr.Thornton on July 28th, 2012 2:25 pm

    I have a service dog in training and I do not like to take my dog to the park. The reason for my dislike of parks stems from several bad experiences. Basically, when you are in the park you do not know what type of dog you are going to run into. Do they have their shots? Are their shot records updated? And most important, and often overlooked: Where is the owner??? Is the owner close? Or, is he/she drinking coffee and talking to other people while their dogs are creating havoc?
    I got tired of stressing out whenever I wanted to take my dog to the park. I live on a large piece of property and I have fenced off part of it for my dog and other service dogs in the area.

  12. Willow on August 5th, 2012 10:18 pm

    My cousin’s dog was killed at a dog park. She did not take the dog one of her kids did. No her dog was not a service dog but was one of my mobility dog’s best friends. She is now without her gentile giant of a mut and her oldest son is terrified of dogs.

    in his words

    ” one of them came running up snarling. I went to get mom’s dog and some one pulled me back. He rolled onto his back and peed himself. That is when the one bit his neck and he started screaming. Other dogs came over and it looked like they were eating him”

    My dog is to much a part of my life. Both medically and emotionally. I refuse to go to a dog park.

  13. Jenn on August 14th, 2012 1:38 pm

    I used to take my spayed Kuvasz S.D. to dog parks–very few–because of the aggressiveness of other dogs toward “incoming” dog visitors. After a few get-to-know -you rounds, the others generally let her alone. She rarely wanted to “play” but to just do the perimeters off-lead and sniff. However, one very aggressive, large male Samoyed (I assumed intact) tried to mount her. She immediately took umbrage to the activity and tried to fight him off. However, he was larger, very experienced, and extremely intent on the mounting. He then knocked her over, whereupon she emerged with incisors flashing! The owner of the male–a man–was getting extreme delight from the fracus. not only he did not get control of his dog, he was laughing. I knew it was a fight that my poor girl could not win, because the male was half again her size. I grabbed her out from under the male dog, prepared to fight BOTH him and his owner, and we got the he– out of there. We have never gone to any since. Most of the dog parks in our area are really filthy, and I cannot afford to let the most important thing in my life become ill from that stuff, let alone be intimidated by a dog out of control because the owner is a “macho man.”

  14. Chris Garver on September 9th, 2012 12:02 pm

    I have a GSD service dog for mobility. Last year, when we were new to each other, I did allow him to go into a dog park once or twice. My gripe was that I had to provide all his medical records to the vet owners of the park, but they NEVER policed the people who just showed up and went in! I had him in a group class for some months, and he got plenty of supervised social time there. He was socialized as a puppy, and remains that way. We live on a farm, so he has lots of room to run. I personally would NOT recommend a dog park. Find a friend with a few acres, and let your dog run and play or just sniff off duty there, it is safer.

  15. Emily Frisbie on November 22nd, 2013 7:51 pm

    I regularly take my dog to the dog park. She loves to run free and socialize. I use mainly two different ones. The closest is in the city and is the smaller of the two. We usually stay for an hour or less. The other is farther away and is quite large and bordering the Mississippi River. My dog loves to go swimming and retrieving sticks I throw for her. She meets all sizes of dogs from little Boston terriers to Great Danes. Sometimes things get heated, but I have never seen a dog hurt. Chestnut was actually attacked by a dog just going on a walk around the block last week. It was a vicious attack, but my girlfriend kept it from being worse by grabbing the other dog and keeping it from tearing Chestnut’s flesh. She was only scratched and shaken up by the experience. The point is, our dogs can be attacked anywhere, at least give them the enjoyment of playing with other dogs also.

  16. Adam on November 22nd, 2013 8:57 pm

    Yes absolutely!

    My PSD has gone to dog parks since he was 3 months old. He is extremely well mannered and very attentive to my needs. He goes to the dog park ONLY when he exceeds my expectations.

    Remember, SD are supposed to be treated like HUMANS!

  17. Rachel on April 2nd, 2014 8:14 am

    I always swore I’d never take one of my dogs to a dog park. I was worried about the people out there who think that their dog is dog friendly when it truly isn’t & about those who don’t know how to read a dogs body language. I was also concerned about what could happen if two normally friendly dogs just don’t get along with one another & the other dozen or more dogs feel the need to get involved.

    Then I brought home a boxer puppy who absolutely adores playing with other dogs. Since there just isn’t always a play buddy around when you most need one I decided to give the dog parks a chance. I’m not going to say that I’ve never seen a dog fight (though, fortunately, I’ve never seen a dog get seriously injured in one!) or that I haven’t encountered less than brilliant owners who don’t pay attention to what their dog is doing, is clueless about dog behavior/body language, etc. But I’ve also met a lot of really great people with some really great dogs & my pup and I have made some really good friends. Are there risks? Yes, there are some very real risks. But there is also a lot of benefit. Your dog has the opportunity to socialize. They are able to run, play & wrestle with other dogs and most dogs absolutely love the experience (and they get good and tired, too!). You learn how to pick and choose who your dog plays with, what time other dog park regulars are generally there, what days/times are quietest & busiest, and some people will even exchange numbers and/or agree to meet at set times so that they ensure at least one good play buddy (and like minded dog owner) will be there when they arrive.

    I myself do not have a service dog, however 4-5 of the regulars at my local dog park do. Their dogs are all labs, they’re all dog friendly, and they all love coming to the park. I will say that while they all do play with the other dogs, they also spend a lot of time seeing how many of us humans they can talk into throwing a ball for them, lol, but that’s a lab for you!

    All of that said… I’m honestly not sure that going into a dog park in a wheelchair is a great idea. Those who bring their service dogs to the park near me are all ambulatory, so mobility within the dog park hasn’t (to the best of my knowledge) been a problem for them. Forgetting that the ground in a dog park is rarely even & that the gates to get in may not even be wide enough to allow a wheelchair to enter, there are bound to be more dogs who haven’t ever seen a wheelchair than not. Many will likely be fine, but others may be scared. Some of those who are scared could then act aggressively. Some of those who don’t mind the wheelchair may pick up in the fear from those who are scared and THEY may act aggressively. All of that aside, not knowing your disability, my question to you would be this: if your dog is either picking on another dog or being picked on himself would you be able to get to him quickly & pull him away safely?

    I think that if you have a friend or relative who is ambulatory & able to go with you & Whistle I think it could be a great experience for all of you.

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