Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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With a "Ruff" Here and a "Woof" There, Dog Parks Sweep the Nation

Pet Column for the week of April 6, 2009

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ashley Mitek
Information Specialist

The bark on the street is that the dog park is the place to be. Utter the words, "wanna go to the park?" to your pooch and you are sure to get a howl of approval. But to keep that tail wagging from start to finish, there are a few precautions owners can take to ensure their dog enjoys the first visit.

"I don't worry much about the spread of disease," says Dr. James Zachary, a professor in the Department of Pathobiology at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. He and his rottweiler Lucy, adopted from the local humane society, are frequent patrons of the ten-acre dog park in nearby Urbana. He explains that as long as your pet is up to date on vaccines, it should be protected from the major infectious diseases that could cause serious harm.

Because different parks may have slightly varying policies on vaccination, be sure to check the requirements before you head out the door. Like most dog parks, the one in Urbana requires each dog be vaccinated for certain diseases before the animal is allowed into the park. So don't forget to get a copy of your pet's vaccination status from your veterinarian to show to the park manager.

While Dr. Zachary is not that troubled by the thought of his dog catching a cold after a brief nose-to-nose dog hello, like any owner, he does have concerns about Lucy getting picked on. "I'm more worried about a dog being attacked," he says, "but for the most part, the dogs are well behaved." Thankfully, dogfights at his park are rare, and if there is an aggressive dog there one day, they usually do not return.

Although the thought of your furry family member getting bullied at the park by a bigger dog might break your heart, Dr. Zachary has noticed an interesting phenomenon. He says, "the small dogs tend to be more dominant, and the bigger dogs seem more laid back." Hence, if you think your three-foot-tall Great Dane is going to rule the roost, that five-pound Pomeranian with two pink ribbons in its hair just might show your dog who's boss.

What's great about the Urbana dog park is that it is large enough to hold many dogs without quickly getting overcrowded. "On a weekend afternoon there could be 40 to 50 dogs there," notes Dr. Zachary. And when there are that many dogs, there are just as many owners. While the dogs are stalking squirrels in the woods, their owners are having just as much fun socializing with a diverse group of animal lovers.

Dr. Zachary does mention that the first time a dog comes to the park, it is almost always a bit timid. There are usually a few dogs that greet the new animal right away, which sometimes takes the newcomer off guard. But with time, it almost always end up finding a group of dog friends it trusts. With any luck, itll find more than a friend. Perhaps your beautiful Bichon Frisť will fall head over tail for that dreamy French Bulldog, which makes it important to remember the importance of spaying and neutering.

As always, contact your local veterinarian if you have any questions. You can read more about the Urbana dog park at