Pet Patter: Off-leash fun

In England, America and Australia the number of homes with dogs has grown by several million since the 1990s. As such, off-leash dog parks are on the rise.

All over the world, from Israel to Japan, these restricted areas are springing up. The benefits are great and varied, both for dogs and their guardians. Dogs receive exercise, stimulation and socialization, and the same is true for the people accompanying them to these parks. It is often easier for us to strike up conversations with each other if something else provides a focal point, and dogs do just that. For seniors and the disabled, who find it difficult to walk their dogs, these parks are a big help. It is well documented that a happy dog minimizes the stress, anxiety and blood pressure of the parent. Everybody wins and wins big!

As Cesar Milan (the Dog Whisperer) says, these parks are not a substitute for an on-leash walk. He encourages us to walk briskly with our dog for at least 20 minutes before going to the dog park. This increases calm and minimizes aggression. It is also important to keep a close eye on our animals, and to know the warning signs of aggressive behaviour both in our and others’ dogs, so we can stop a fight before it begins.

Some parks segregate small and big dogs, as the little ones can be a bit overwhelmed by their large counterparts, and the big ones are free to rough house with dogs of their own size. Many parks do not do this however, and it is often wonderful to see so many of the bigger breeds adjust and gentle their play with the wee ones, who are often shy but eager to join in the fun.

If you wish to construct a dog park in your neighbourhood it is important to take many things into consideration. Work with the community to ensure the park is not within a few hundred meters of quiet residential streets. The best dog parks are often in industrial areas, or at one end of a larger open park, where the noise disturbance to residents is minimal. Some parks are government subsidized, while others are supported by the dog parents themselves, through innovative fund raising in the community.

When choosing a site keep the geography, flora and fauna in mind, taking care no poisonous plants are available to cause illness or death to your pet. Ensure there are no steep cliffs, or pot holes, as this can not only injure a dog, but also the human who may be running and playing alongside. Adequate drainage is also important. Valuable help is sought and found through consultation with local park designers, veterinarians, and zoo keepers.

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Dogs are highly sensitive and social creatures. They are happiest when well exercised, stimulated and loved. They need space to run free, and rely solely on us for all their needs. Let’s always remember our responsibility to these loyal, loving friends.

Samantha Bennett is the co-owner of the pet care business Soinsmillepattes. This column is a space for simple, useful directions, tips and information designed to keep animals safe and happy.

Samantha can be reached at