Why I find it challenging to visit dog parks
For most people going to the dog park is fun. Most of the time it is torture for me.
It didn’t use to be like that, but as I learned more about dogs, I also learned how much our behavior affects their health. Dog parks are a location where this becomes very apparent. They are the place where most dogs get injured and those injuries often lead to serious chronic problems and premature loss of mobility.
Why human parks and dog parks are similar
In many ways, dog parks are equivalent to children’s playgrounds, where one witnesses a different level of 'parent awareness' and understanding. Most dog lovers care about their dogs very much. However, love comes in different forms and sometimes people hurt their dogs, despite their best intentions.
In the case of kids, harm can come in the form of permissive parents without boundaries. In the case of dogs, the harm most commonly comes in the form of injuries. These injuries happen because of a lack of awareness of what is harmful and what is not.
Most people understand that dogs need to be active to be healthy. In nature, they would roam the forests and the plains. They would hunt and chase prey on occasion, play and socialize and sometimes just hang out, observing the world going by. It would be a pretty simple, active and healthy life.
"Hiking and walking on trails is the best form of activity for your dog"
In the civilized world, many dogs do not move the whole day. They just wait at home for their people to come home from work. Then they are taken to a park by their humans, who are equipped with a ball thrower or a frisbee and they chase their toys over and over until they are exhausted. They love the endorphin rush and look happy.
At first, one would think that this is great! In fact, I did the same thing with my dog Skai when he was young, but then I started to see him slip and slide, injuring his back repeatedly. I also saw a greater number of injuries in other dogs from chasing balls and frisbees. Older dogs that were ball and frisbee chasers had severe back pain, muscle tightness and hind end weakness from slipping.
This tightness and injuries over time led to nerve impingement and overall weakness. Most dogs end up on pain medication of some sort, which can lead to liver and kidney damage and the inability of the body to heal properly.
Whenever unsure see what nature does
When I mention the above to other dog lovers, they often object that dogs love to run and that it is natural for them to chase things. I agree, except that dogs in nature never chase 50 or 100 rabbits in the span of 30 minutes! Chasing is a very small portion of their day and they spend most of their day roaming or resting.
A simple solution that can add years to your dog’s mobile and healthy life
If you worry about no longer having a ball with your dog, do not worry. There are other ways of exercising and connecting with your dog without the risks. Here are a few healthy ways of exercising your dog safely while still having fun:
- Do your best to get your dog out twice a day. Take him or her out rain or shine to ensure regular exercise.
- Hiking and walking on trails is the best form of activity for your dog because it is similar to what they would do in nature.
- Even senior dogs should walk uphill to keep strong.
- Moving on rocks and terrain and obstacles is an important way to maintain strength and balance.
- If you love to go to the park, hide the toys for your dog and ask him/her to look for them.
- Play hide and seek and chase your dog. Dogs love to be chased, especially when carrying a safe toy.
- Teach your dog to walk on logs, go through tunnels, weave through your legs.
- If your dog loves other dogs, let them play and interact. However, beware of rowdy and rough dogs that may overwhelm a shy, injured or weaker dog.
- Most of all, if you remember one thing from this whole article, it should be to leave your ball chucker at home and hike, walk and move with your dog as much as you can.
If you see that your dog is getting stiffer, please read our blog on how to treat arthritis and stiffness naturally.
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM