Safety Tips for Dog Parks in the Roanoke Valley


In recent years, dog parks have sky-rocketed in popularity. They can provide fun, exercise, and playtime for dogs with high energy needs or those without a yard at home to run and play in. But they don’t come without risks and ultimately, it’s up to every pet owner to determine if the dog park is the right place for their pet. If you do decide to visit the dog park with your dog, then follow these tips to ensure your dog is safe and protected at the dog park.

  1. Make sure your dog is protected from disease and up to date on vaccines.

You can never be 100% certain about the health and vaccine status of the other dogs at the dog park, but you can ensure that your own pet is protected before taking them to the dog park. It’s important to make sure that your pet has had a yearly physical exam and is up to date on vaccines. Our recommendations for dogs vary depending on each individual pet’s circumstances, but generally, we recommend that dogs who visit the dog park be up to date on their Rabies, Distemper/Parvo, Lepto, Lyme, and Bordetella vaccines. These vaccines will protect your dog from diseases and infections that could be more common in areas frequented by a lot of dogs.

Some of the diseases and infections of concern for dogs visiting the dog park are described below:

-Rabies. Rabies is a deadly virus most often transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. Most state and local authorities require companion animals to be vaccinated for Rabies.

-Distemper: Distemper is a highly contagious viral disease. It’s incurable, often fatal, and multisystemic (affecting multiple organs).

-Parvovirus. Parvovirus is a highly contagious and potentially deadly virus that attacks the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and immune system of unvaccinated puppies and adult dogs. It’s hard to kill (resistant to heat, cold, humidity, and drying), can live for a long time in the environment (survives for many months and even a year under the right condition), and is shed in large quantities by infected dogs.

Leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is an infectious disease that causes serious illness and can be found worldwide in soil and water. It is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be spread from animals to people.

-Lyme. Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States and is transmitted through tick bites. When dogs do show signs of Lyme disease, they typically present with shifting-leg lameness, arthritis in one or multiple joints, enlarged lymph nodes, lethargy, and/or fever.

Bordetella (also known as Kennel Cough). Bordetella bronchiseptica is a bacterium that is associated with respiratory disease in dogs. Commonly referred to as Kennel Cough, it leads to an upper respiratory infection and is a greater concern when a large number of dogs are in close proximity.

As you can see, protection from the above diseases is important, especially when your dog visits a high-traffic place like the dog park. Please note, puppies should not visit the dog park until a couple of weeks after they’ve had all of their vaccines or at least 5-6 months old. Even then, it might be best to wait to visit the dog park with your puppy until they’re a little older and have a better understanding of acceptable behavior and how to interact with other dogs.

  1. Make sure your dog is protected from pests and parasites by keeping them on year-round prevention.

Dog parks are a breeding ground for fleas, ticks, and other parasites. For this reason, we recommend dogs visiting dog parks be vaccinated for Lyme disease and kept on year-round heartworm, flea, and tick prevention. As we mentioned in the last point, there’s no way to know if the other dogs at the park are on prevention, but you can ensure your dog stays parasite-free and pest-free by keeping them on prevention year-round.

Dogs that visit dog parks may be more likely to have parasites than dogs in the general pet population, according to survey results. Overall, about 21% of dogs had some parasites and dogs who visited parks in the Southeastern US were more likely to have parasites. The questionnaire results, combined with the sampling, also found lower hookworm prevalence among dogs on heartworm preventives, at 6% rather than almost 12% of all dogs.

When dog owners said their pets were on heartworm preventives, most of the dogs positive for hookworms were antigen positive only and not shedding eggs, and they may have been reinfected between doses. Our heartworm prevention recommendation is Sentinel, which protects against hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms in addition to heartworms.

Our flea/tick prevention recommendation is Bravecto, a chew given once every three months that protects against fleas and ticks. Bravecto will also provide protection from Lyme disease and other common tick-borne diseases. After every visit to the dog park, give pooches a good rubdown and check everywhere on their skin – including around their ears and between their toes – to be sure they didn’t bring home any pests. This is also a good time to make sure your pup didn’t get any other injuries, like a bite or a cut paw, while playing.

  1. Make sure your dog always wears a collar and has proper identification.

Going to the dog park opens up potential opportunities for your pet to get lost or to escape, so it’s important that your dog is wearing a collar and ID tag with all the necessary information to help get them back home. Additionally, when your dog wears a collar inside the dog park, it allows you to quickly wrangle them in case of an emergency.

In addition to a traditional collar and ID tag, we highly recommend all dogs who go to the dog park be microchipped. A microchip is a computer chip enclosed in a small glass cylinder (about the size of a grain of rice) that is injected under your pet’s skin as a means of identification. Unlike a typical ID tag, a microchip can never be lost and ensures your pet is identifiable if you become separated.

  1. Be aware of each individual dog park’s rules.

Each dog park will likely have their own rules and requirements for entry and it’s the pet owner’s responsibility to educate themselves on what those are. For example, many dog parks ban un-altered dogs from visiting the park or have rules stating that all dogs must be accompanied by someone 16 years or older.

  1. Assess the other dogs and the park.

Do the other dogs in the park look healthy? Do any of them seem fearful or aggressive? Are these the types of dogs you want your dog to interact with? Does the environment and energy of the dog park seem like something you and your dog want to be a part of? Are other pet owners keeping a watchful eye on their dog’s activity? These are the types of questions that pet owners should be asking themselves before entering the dog park. Assessing the current situation within the park can be important to determining if today is the right day for your dog to visit the park. You also want to assess the park itself. Are there any jagged edges or sharp spots where a pup could get injured? Is there anything on the ground that’s been discarded or shouldn’t be there? Keep an eye out for anything that seems out of place.

  1. Know your dog.

The dog park isn’t for every dog. If you have a senior dog who doesn’t like rough play, then the dog park may not be for them. If your dog is fearful or aggressive, then you could not only be risking your own dog’s health and safety, but the health and safety of all other dogs and visitors in the park. Dogs who visit the dog park should be friendly and have good manners when interacting with people and other dogs.

  1. Separate by size.

There’s a reason many dog parks have separate sections for small dogs and large dogs and that’s because it can be very dangerous to bring a small dog into the large dog section or a large dog into the small dog section. Unfortunately, a large dog can do significantly more damage to a small dog than to a similarly-sized pooch and in a much quicker period of time. That’s not to say that larger dogs can’t do damage to one another or that large dogs are inherently more dangerous, but what might not be a big deal for a larger dog can become a catastrophic injury for a smaller one. Keep your dog in the section that best corresponds to their size and the dog park will be safer for everyone.

  1. Supervise your dog at all times.

Watch your dog closely for any signs that they’re not having fun or they aren’t comfortable with another dog. If you dog displays any scared, anxious, or nervous behavior, then it’s best to remove them from the situation. Be prepared to step in if needed and be aware that dog fights happen fast. Also be mindful if it looks like your dog is trying to consume anything unsavory like left over food, discarded items, or anything toxic so that you can intervene.

  1. Time your visit.

When you’re first introducing your dog to the dog park, it can be helpful to visit at off-peak times. This allows your dog to get acclimated to their surroundings without excessive stimuli. Dog parks tend to be especially crowded after work or on the weekends, and your dog may find all the activity intimidating. A dog’s first experience at the park should be fun, so timing the visit right is important.

In general, visiting the park when there are fewer dogs is more enjoyable and can help to avoid some undesirable dog behavior. Dog parks are typically less crowded later in the evening or while people are at work. If the dog park is too crowded, we highly recommend leaving early or choosing not to stay

We also recommend pet parents be mindful of the weather and adjust their plans accordingly. Avoid the dog park during peak-sun hours like the middle of the day and keep a close eye out for signs of overheating. You can learn more in our blog post 8 Tips To Beat The Head And Keep Your Pets1 Safe This Summer.

  1. Have an emergency plan in place.

Accidents can happen and dog fights can break out in the blink of an eye, so it’s important to have an emergency plan in place so that you can act quickly if needed. Make sure your cell phone is always charged and with you when you’re at the dog park. Save the phone number and hours of your vet and the local Emergency Vet, especially if you visit the park after normal business hours. Consider saving the following information in your phone right now:

-BIG LICK VET: (540) 776-0700 | 7777 Bent Mountain Road, Roanoke, VA 24018

-EMERGENCY VETERINARY SERVICES OF ROANOKE: (540) 563-8575 | 5363 Peters Creek Rd, Roanoke, VA 24019


Local Dog Parks in the Roanoke Valley

HIGHLAND OFF-LEASH DOG PARK: 502 Washington Avenue SW, Roanoke, VA 24016

Nestled in Old Southwest neighborhood, a winding one-way road cuts through the park, allowing for easy access and parking.  Highland Park has an enclosed dog park, which is a popular attraction for many dog owners and their furry friends. Highland Park welcomes dogs to run and play off-leash in its one-acre enclosed dog park. The dog park also features a smaller enclosure for little dogs and puppies. There is also a dog water fountain! Please remember to make use of the Mutt Mitt dog bag stations and to clean up after your pet before you leave the dog park.

THRASHER DOG PARK: 930 Old Vinton Mill Rd NE, Roanoke, VA 24012

Thrasher Dog Park is fenced in and covers an entire acre with separate areas for large and small dogs and the design is similar to the city’s first dog park in Highland Park. The dog park has a Mutt Mitt station for cleaning up after dogs and a pet water fountain.

SALEM ROTARY DOG PARK: 1301 Indiana Street, Salem, VA 24153

Dogs are not allowed in Salem’s public parks, even if they are on a leash, but the dog park has remedied that problem and given dog owners a place to exercise their animals and socialize off leash. There are both large and small dog sections. Owners are asked to read the park’s rules and follow the guidelines to make visiting the park an enjoyable experience for dogs of all sizes. There are also a few concrete tunnels, a small obstacle, benches, shaded area, a proper refillable water dish and a hose.

Check out a live camera feed of the Salem Rotary Dog Park.