Parents, please stop bringing your kids to the dog park

At full speed, my 10-month Dalmatian Scholar, all spots and twiggy legs, looks more like a wild thing than a dog. He looks kind of like the kid who got stretched out in the Laffy Taffy machine in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Ears flying flag-like behind him (tongue, too), he’s happiest when he’s antelope-leaping over mud puddles, wooden benches, and the backs of other dogs at the fenced-in dog park.

Which is why my heart sunk to my toes when, on our most recent visit, a boy of about seven or eight years old, big ears, bigger smile, flung open the gate to the park before his parents and their German Shepherd were even out of the car. I called Scholar, and he did a long loping lap and flopped mouth-open at my feet. I grabbed his collar, weighing my options.

He was restless in the car, jumping from front to backseat in an eternal loop

The parents came in, and they had more than just a jubilant seven-year-old; the mother also had an infant - a newborn baby - pressed to her collarbone. Easy-decision. Without letting go of his collar, I led Scholar to the gate and leashed him. Within minutes, we were gone. He was restless in the car, jumping from front to backseat in an eternal loop, when usually after the park he’d collapse, exhausted from his run. But this time, what should have been an hour-and-a-half trip to the dog park ended less than thirty minutes in.

Parents, this needs to be said: you have got to stop bringing your kids to the dog park.

I understand why you would. Maybe your child loves dogs, or you’ve never had an issue with your dog and your child, toddler, or infant together at home - but in deciding that it’s safe to take your children to the park to play with other people’s dogs, you’re making that decision for everyone else at the park, too. This is an unfair thing to do. For one, some dogs are frightened of kids - especially running, jumping, screaming kids (just like some children fear dogs). To be accosted by children at the dog park could be traumatising.

At restaurants, on street corners, in playgrounds made for people, when a kid asks to pet him, Scholar sits politely

The other side of this issue is, of course, the danger imposed for the children themselves. I’m not one of those people that think dogs can’t be trusted with kids (most can). But the dog park is not meant as a place for socialization between dogs and humans. It’s meant as a place for dogs to be with other dogs. And for large dogs unaccustomed to being around kids, to introduce a child in such a rumpus can be potentially dangerous, for both the child and the dog.

Mind you, I’m not making excuses for aggressive dogs. Dogs with known aggression issues shouldn’t be at the dog park in the first place. I’m talking about dogs that are friendly, but large and excitable; dogs that, for example, seem to have springs for legs - like Scholar. My dog is non-aggressive, reasonably well-trained for his age, and responds to my commands a solid 70% of the time. He is leash-trained and good with children in controlled environments (which, by the way, the dog park is not one). At restaurants, on street corners, in playgrounds made for people, when a kid asks to pet him, Scholar sits politely, and I hold his collar to make sure he stays.

Scholar the Dalmatian runs around the dog park

At the dog park, however, he is not always by my side. His movements are less restricted. It’s not that he’s out of control—it’s only that he is in the one place where he is not supposed to have to control his movements like he does in the house or on the leash. Where he can just be a dog. And he can’t do that when there are kids at the park. He’s taller than most children under the age of ten when he jumps, and at the dog park he jumps a lot. What is only an inconvenience for adults when he gets too rambunctious can cause potential bodily harm to children. The worst he can do to an adult is get muddy pawprints on a white shirt (which he has done); but if he knocked over a child - well.

Another point I’d like to make abundantly clear is this: I would never, ever argue that any dog’s exercise-time is more important than your child’s safety. It isn’t. That’s why, if I see a kid coming into the park, even if I’ve been there only nineteen seconds, I’ll leave. The issue is that I shouldn’t be put in the position to have to leave, because I’ve intentionally taken him to the one place where he is supposed to be able to run free, rather than to an environment -like a people park - where he might impose on others’ enjoyment. That courtesy should extend both ways.

But for kids, the whole world is, literally, their playground

I know there are reasons this may be unavoidable: your dog, after all, has just as much right to come to the park as mine, and it isn’t always possible to arrange for childcare. But nearly all fenced-in dog parks are situated within a larger for-humans park, so there’s plenty of space for kids that are old enough to play on the other side of the fence. This is especially true for parents who arrive at the dog park in couples, because one could be with the dog and the other with the kids.

When I told my friend I was arguing this issue, she said to be careful. You’re taking the anti-kid stance, and that’s never a good place to be. But the thing is, I’m not anti-kid. I love seeing kids having the time of their lives at Walt Disney World, amusement parks, swimming pools, street corners, restaurants, movie theaters. They deserve to scream and run in circles as often as they want. That’s all dog owners want for their dogs, too. But for kids, the whole world is, literally, their playground. Dogs only have one space set aside for them - let it be theirs.


This is a guest essay by Samantha Edmonds. Samantha holds an MA from the University of Cincinnati, and has 14 pets and counting! Want to write for us? Visit www.dogstodaymagazine.co.uk/essay-submission or email editorial@dogstodaymagazine.co.uk

2 comments

  1. Doreen Crean 3 July, 2017 at 20:09 Reply

    I agree with what this person says. Its nice that the USA has dog parks, we should have them in UK as well.I took my friends Westie who is very friendly to a place where lots of people walk dogs and there was a couple coming down the hill, the woman started screaming and the Westie went to see what was wrong and the man kicked him saying his wife was frightened of dogs. I said stop that and don’t bring her where people walk their dogs. He said the dog was out of control which he wasn’t and I said its your wife who is out of control.

  2. Sarah 4 July, 2017 at 00:12 Reply

    I whole heartedly agree with you! I’ve got two beagle boys who are extremely polite, friendly, well mannered and adore kiddos (and adults) but my boys play rough with the big dogs at the dog park. They have, as have other dogs knocked down toddlers and ran into small children with teeth baring while rough housing. One of their doggy friends is a horse of a dog (Dane) and she is clumsy, plays rough too and jumps about in the park as she should. She has been screamed at by parents who decided it’s a good idea to bring toddlers into a packed dog park ‍♀️ poor girl was just being her clumsy happy doggie self. A dog park is not for children. It’s just not. Let’s also remind about the dog fights that sometimes break out, a child could most def be in the middle of a dog fight. Even nice dogs will fight another. Most of the time it’s nice male dogs fighting because some moron has brought in a female in heat. This does occur and unfortunately in my local parks it occurs often in the spring. I would hate to see a small child hurt in a dog park and none of us should have to leave a dog park because parents bring in small children. As I mentioned I have beagles. So they are noisy at times. My youngest can get very vocal when trying to entice a dog to play with him. If it goes on for a few min I correct him because I don’t want him howling at a dog for long periods and it’s obvious at that point the dog isn’t interested in playing with him. There is a family that comes in often and the young girl will purposely get my little guy howling. I’ve asked her not to do this but she ignores me and continues which means I then have to take my boys and leave because I can’t get my boy to stop when someone is purposely getting him to howl. There are signs on dog parks about the park rules and I feel “no children under ten” and “no females in heat” needs to be added to those rules.

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