People often don’t think about what their dog wears to the park, but did you know some options are safer than others? The short and simple answer is that your dog should be wearing absolutely nothing except for a flat collar with a quick release buckle on it. This is the best way to keep your dog, and all of the other dogs, safe at the park while still keeping something on them to grab onto if you need to regain control.
While there are a few reasons why I believe your dog should be “naked” at the dog park, the most important one is keeping two dogs from entangling themselves and getting stuck together.
Collars: Yes, your dog should wear a collar in the dog park. This doesn’t mean they are completely free from entanglement danger, as I’ve unfortunately had a terrifying firsthand experience with this. If your dog is wearing a collar with a quick release buckle that can be unclipped under any amount of pressure, this could end up saving your dog’s life. It is also a good idea to keep a seat belt cutting device in your car. In case of emergency these can safely cut through nylon collars without cutting your dog.
When my dog Sherlock was playing with another dog, the dog’s lower jaw got wrapped in his collar. It was choking Sherlock and hurting the dog’s jaw. Luckily they were able to untangle themselves after a few terrifying moments and they both were ok. Sherlock was wearing a quick release collar and we could have unclipped it, releasing the collar and the dogs from each other.
Now, imagine this type of scenario with a collar that has a “belt buckle style” closure. The collar is already pulled taught, there is not enough slack to undo the collar. You will have to find scissors and cut the collar or risk your dog being strangled.
Choker, prong, or any other metal collar: These are the most dangerous item your dog could possibly wear in the dog park.
The minimal problem you could run into is another dog grabbing the collar and applying the corrective/punitive technique it’s designed to do on your dog at a very inappropriate time.
Worse, there is the maximum, much more deadly scenario that could arise.
If your dog gets entangled and is being strangled in a metal collar, you cannot unclip it; you cannot cut it with scissors or a knife. You would need bolt cutters or an equally powerful tool to release your dog from the potentially deadly scenario.
Never, under any circumstances let your dog into a dog park with a metal collar on. It is not worth the risk. If you forget a regular flat collar, I would rather see a dog in the dog park with no collar at all than a metal collar.
The other dogs in the park can also be harmed by metal collars. Broken teeth from their mouths hitting the collar, teeth getting stuck in it, or potentially broken limbs if they were to get caught in an ill fitting collar.
Harnesses: While harnesses are wonderful tools for walking your dog so they don’t hurt their necks when they pull, they are not ideal to have on your pet at the dog park. During play dogs jump on each other, “box” with each other, and wrestle. There are straps in all the right places for another dog’s leg to slide right through.
Clothing and Costumes: While dogs may look super cute in their clothes and costumes, the dog park may not be the best place for them. Getting caught up in clothes may not be deadly, it could make for a scary situation for the dogs involved. Anytime dogs get stuck together there is potential for one or both of them to panic and think one or the other “got them”. It can turn into fear which can turn on their fight or flight response. These situations can escalate to a fight or a dog being dragged, so it’s best to avoid if possible.
Clothes can also inhibit or camouflage body language. Your dog may be trying to convey one emotion and another dog interprets it as something else because of the outfit. Not to mention, dog clothes are expensive and dogs nip while they play. Whatever they wear to the park has a good chance of getting a tear or hole in it.
Always try to set your dog up for success.
When in doubt, less is more.
Most dog parks do have rules about what your dog should be wearing and they generally follow all of the above mentioned, but the rules are often not read or enforced.
Have you ever had a close call with a piece of equipment? Have you ever really thought about these potential scenarios? What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
My number 1 tip is to never be afraid to leave the dog park. Being totally honest, we probably leave the dog park earlier than anticipated 25% of the time. This is for a lot of reasons. Rarely, it’s because of telltale signs that a dog just isn’t acting right and has the potential to “snap” at any minute. Although, more often than not, the people are the reason we leave. They’re usually doing something that’s going to create a situation or escalate a situation I don’t want my dogs to be a part of, whether for their physical safety or mental well being. I’d rather sacrifice some “fun time” than even have a chance of putting my dog in harm’s way. You can always add a short walk or home play session instead.