Safety at the Dog Park
Canine Chronicle,  Holistic Wellness

Top 5 Ways to Prevent Dog Park Injury

My business partner and I see a lot of our canine clients due to injury at dog parks. Dogs of all ages pull muscles, herniate disks, and tear CCLs. 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.


Dog parks can be a wonderful thing.  In Monmouth County, New Jersey alone we have two wonderful off-leash dog parks. Wolf Hill Dog Park is a beautifully open 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.


How Do You Prevent a Dog Park Injury?

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 and are prone to injury.


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 and injury.

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.


If your dog has never been to the dog park, start with 15 minutes. It’s best not to overstress your dog or his muscles. Build incrementally to an hour at most. Tired dogs are more likely to hurt themselves.


3. Provide Water


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.

Store a few bottles of water or a gallon jug in your car for hot days and bring a travel bowl. It is better to err on the side of caution and have extra water. 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.


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:

“Cold weather causes muscles to lose more heat and contract, causing tightness throughout the body. Joints get tighter, muscles can lose their range of motion and nerves can more easily be pinched.”

— Vivian Eisenstadt, Los Angeles-based Orthopedic Physical Therapist


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. Schedule Canine Massage

I have a lot of clients that can attest to the benefits of regular canine 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 the dog park. Beau is social, polite, and energetic. This pup will run for two hours if left to his own devices. 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.


Our goal as canine sports massage therapists is to aid healing and prevent re-injury. Share on X


While ultimately he may need surgery, in the interim our goal for him as canine sports massage therapists is to aid healing and prevent re-injury. In order to do so, we use massage to reduce swelling, stimulate healing, and prevent spasms in other muscles while he’s favoring his leg. Breeds that are heavily muscled are prime candidates for monthly massage because they are prone to injury.

For more information about my animal massage therapy services, click here.


Finally, keep these five rules in mind. They put your pet in the best possible position to have fun and prevent injury at the dog park. However, sometimes injuries do occur and it is best to consult your veterinarian. A certified canine massage therapist can supplement veterinary care by helping to draw away inflammation, keep anxious animals calm, or keep the body balanced and prevent further injury during recovery.

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  • Cathy Armato

    I never thought much about warming my dog up before going to the dog park, but that’s a really good idea. Fall is just beginning her and the colder weather will definitely make muscles tighter. I love this Info-graphic!
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    • Heather Wallace

      Yes, Cathy we’ve had an influx of clients recently because of the weather changing and the animals getting stiffer. That and the ticks are really bad right now, so those that have Lyme are more susceptible to arthritis. Warming up the muscles and stretching before physical exercise is so important.

  • Kamira G.

    Wow. I didn’t know that many dogs suffer from injuries (non bite/fight related) when spending time at dog parks. You make some great points. Makes sense to me. I had no idea. I learned something new.

  • The Contemporary Pet

    I never thought about warming up before a trip to the dog park or any kind of physical activity/play for my dog, but I’ll be taking him on short walks from now on before doing any kind of physical activity, particularly since he has arthritis. Pet massage would also help my Soldier, as he is getting stiff and sometimes gets inflamed muscles in his old age. Excellent article!

  • thebrokedog

    Great tips! Ou dog park is about a 7-10 minute walk away, so we get a little bit of a built-in warmup. Once we’re there, Henry mostly sniffs and watches the other dogs, anyway 😉

  • Sonja Lishchynski

    At 3.5 pounds and not even a little rumbuctious we just skip the dog parks. At first I was worried – for socialization reasons – about not going. But now them we found a great Tiny Dogs only daycare and he gets loads there. I think the one thing I spot the most as an issue (there is a dog park I can see from my window) is that people use it to replace the walk versus at the end of the walk.

  • Dear Mishu

    This is great advice. Playing in the dog park is so much fun it is easy to overdo it. Having good pet parents to keep you from overdoing it or take care of you if you do is important!

  • hbethp

    Excellent tips I’m sure will help prevent some injuries. I had no idea not being properly hydrated can cause pulled muscles. Unfortunately there are no “official” dog parks where we are but lots of wonderful areas for Jack to run off leash. I will definitely keep your advice handy to better prepare him, especially because he was paralysed last year and I have to be extra careful.

  • Debi @ RescueDogs101

    These are great tips, I didn’t think about warming up our dogs before heading to the dog park. We try to go every weekend, and our dogs will run hard for the first 20-30 minutes, then you can tell they start to get tired and slow down. I’m always worried with our lab that he is going to pull a muscle or something because he runs full force for his tennis ball and doesn’t know when to stop.

  • Beth

    These are really great suggestions. I can see why dogs might be injured at the dog park, and hope this post will prevent some injuries. I also think it would be so nice to have a person who specializes in canine massage in this area. I’ll have to see if I can find one.

  • mtmburgess

    Great suggestions for dogs and keeping them healthy when playing with other dogs. A warm up is a good idea and not something most owners would think of but it makes total sense.

  • Enviro_Dog

    Good suggestions. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a dog park, since my springer had an autoimmune disease and the vet told me to stay away. I never really thought of warming up – good call. I usually don’t spend much time there since I’m always nervous about dog fights. But I might be getting a new dog in the next few months, so then I’m sure I will be visiting the local dog park.

  • The Daily PIp

    Ruby is kind of nervous around other dogs so we don’t go to dog parks. Your tips are really great and could be applied to other activities as well. But yes, I’m a little jealous of anyone who has several hours to spend at the dog park or anywhere else with their dog.

  • sara lafountain

    I have to be honest, I am scared to take our dog to the dog park! I am always afraid that she will get hurt. We do sometimes invite other neighborhood dogs into our backyard!

    • Heather Wallace

      I do too! My dogs go to a day care facility once or twice a month if I have a long day at work, or just to have fun. Dog parks aren’t my favorite but mostly because of other owners. I find a lot of times (not always) they don’t pay enough attention to what their dogs are doing and more time on their phones. Dog parks are great when there is a moderator involved to stop any bad behavior in its tracks.

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