Dog parks can be a wonderful thing. They come in all shapes and sizes depending on locale. In my area in Monmouth County, New Jersey alone we have two wonderful off leash dog areas. Wolf Hill Dog Park which is beautifully open with 4 acres, and provides an immense area to run and play. We also have Thomson Park, which is smaller at 1.5 acres and extremely popular as it is situated near wooded trails great for walking with your dog.
Unfortunately, Danelle and I see a lot of our canine clients because of dog parks. It is not unusual for dogs of all ages to be injured with pulled muscles, herniated disks, or even torn ACLs. So how do we keep our fur friends safe from injury at the dog park? 5 simple rules will get you there and ensure you all enjoy your time spent off leash.
1. Warm Up BEFORE You Go To The Dog Park
Many dog owners view dog parks as somewhere they can achieve all the exercise their dogs need. NOT TRUE. Would you go to the gym and not stretch and warm your muscles before a workout? If you have, I'm sure you paid for it later. The same is true for your dog. The second they get there they are introducing themselves and off and running. Muscles that are cold are now stretched too far too fast.
If you have time to take your dog to the dog park, take some time beforehand to walk your dog. Not a sniff and explore, but an energetic walk for at least 10-15 minutes. Not only will you and your dog enjoy it, but it will limit the probability for muscle pulls.
2. Limit Your Time
If you have the time to spend an hour or two at the dog park- good for you. I’m frankly a little jealous. But it’s best to build up to that amount of time. A few years ago my husband ran a half marathon. He didn’t show up that day and run all 13 miles. He trained for months, building his aerobic capacity, stretching his muscles, and even then he was exhausted albeit elated when he completed it successfully. The same goes for your dog. Build time slowly. Why rush? Dogs have no real sense of time and 30 minutes is the same as an hour to our furry friends mentally, but not physically. So if your dog has never been to the dog park, start with 15 minutes. It’s best not to over stress your dog or his muscles. Build incrementally to an hour at most. Tired dogs are more likely to hurt themselves.
3. Provide Water
I know this seems like a no-brainer but you would be surprised. I keep a few bottles of water or a gallon jug in my car for hotter days and bring a bowl with me. I would rather err on the side of caution and have extra water, because let’s face it- if the weather is gorgeous your dog will not be the only one there. Some of the other dog owners may forget or not have enough for their dogs.
When exercising it is so important to stay hydrated. The primary cause of pulled muscles is dehydration. Even if it hopefully doesn’t go so far as a muscle pull or tear, then at the very least dehydration can result in muscle cramps or muscle aches.
4. Take Climate Into Account
In colder climates muscles are naturally tighter, needing more time to warm up or stretch before exercise. According to an article in CNN Health:
While that article was written for humans, a muscle is a muscle and the same rules apply for our canine companions. But what about the warmer seasons? Warm up and cool down is still extremely important. Hydration is a big factor when the weather warms. Our dogs are covered in 1 or 2 layers of fur and some breeds must be clipped or groomed short. While they do not sweat, their bodies must be kept hydrated because they deplete resources quickly.
5. Give Your Dog a Massage
We have a lot of clients that can attest to the benefits of regular massage. One of our clients is a gorgeous brindle American Staffordshire Terrier. He’s a year and a half and pulled his left hind leg at- can you guess? The dog park. He’s a machine and will run for two hours if his owner lets him. He’s so social and polite and energetic. The vet is reasonably sure that he has a ligament tear and recommends surgery, but since he is only a year old the owners are wary. He may ultimately need the surgery but in the interim our goal for him is to aid healing and prevent re-injury by reducing swelling, stimulating healing, and preventing spasms in other muscles while he’s favoring his leg. Because he is a heavily muscled breed, and injured himself so young, he is a prime candidate for monthly massage to help prevent future problems.
Keeping these 5 rules in mind puts your pet in the best possible position to have fun and keep safe at the dog park, which is ultimately the goal. However, sometimes injuries do occur and it is best to consult your veterinarian. A certified canine massage therapist can supplement veterinary care whether helping to draw away inflammation, keep anxious animals calm, or keep the body balanced and prevent further injury during recovery.
Heather Wallace is a Certified Equine Sports Massage Therapist (ESMT), Certified Canine Massage Therapist (CCMT), and Aromatherapist. The best thing that she can imagine is having a career improving the quality of life for horses and dogs alike. She and her business partner, Danelle Stukas, are the co-owners of Bridle & Bone Wellness LLC based in Monmouth County, New Jersey.