While it may seem only natural to take your pooch to the dog park, these canine corrals aren’t the best fit for all four-footers. Luckily, there are plenty of other ways that you can make sure your mutt gets the mental and physical stimulation he needs to keep his tail wagging.
We’ll talk about some of the reasons why not all canines are cut out for dog parks and identify some of the best alternatives below.
Dog Park Alternatives: Key Takeaways
- Dog parks aren’t a great idea for all dogs. For example, young, incompletely vaccinated puppies shouldn’t visit dog parks, nor should dogs who get easily over-aroused, tend to be nervous or fearful, or don’t get along well with other pooches.
- Nevertheless, all dogs still need the exercise and mental stimulation a dog park can provide. Not only are these types of opportunities necessary for providing your dog with a high quality of life, but they also provide important health and behavioral benefits.
- Fortunately, there are a number of ways to let your dog run, jump, sniff, and play without visiting dog parks. This includes things like going on one-on-one puppy play dates, allowing your pooch to accompany you on errands, and visiting local pet stores or vet offices.
17 Alternatives to Dog Parks
We’ve compiled 17 of the best dog park alternatives for you and your doggo below. Some will be better fits for you and your pooch than others, but don’t hesitate to try them all, as long as you can do so safely!
1. Doggie Daycare
Doggie daycare can be a great option for busy pooch parents, and it also gives your dog the opportunity to engage in some supervised puppy playtime.
Unlike the dog park, daycare attendants are trained to understand dog body language and intervene when they note any signs of aggression or doggie disharmony.
This option is great for getting your dog daily playtime and exercise, but it’s only suitable for truly dog-social pups. If you do choose to go with doggie daycare, be sure to ask the staff how your dog acted after every session to ensure he’s having a good time.
If you have a dog-selective pooch (aka a dog who likes some dogs, but not all dogs), consider asking if the doggy daycare divides dogs by size or playstyle, and find out what their max number of dogs per group is.
Also look into dog activity groups, as there’s a growing popularity for services that will come pick up your dog and take them on a trail hike with just a handful of other dogs.
2. One-on-One Playdates
One-on-one doggie dates can be great for socialization, especially if your pooch is just embarking (get it?) on his socialization journey.
This way, you can ensure that your dog and his playmate are a great fit for each other. It’s not unusual for most dogs to be “dog selective,” which means they like some other doggos, just not every dog they meet. Assess your dog’s playstyle and try to meet up with matching companions.
It will also be easier to keep track of your dog’s body language if he’s just interacting with one other dog, rather than a dozen others.
So, call up another dog parent and set up a time for your pooches to play! If possible, try to set the date for a place in which the doggos can run around safely off-leash.
If you don’t have any fellow pet parents on call, you can also ask about small socialization groups through your dog’s veterinarian or trainer.
3. Pet-Friendly Retail Establishments
Believe it or not, there are some pet-friendly retail establishments where you can shop with Spot. This can be a great low-stress activity that makes it easy for your pooch to see other dogs and humans in a safe way.
The obvious pick would be pet store chains like Petsmart, Petco, or Pet Supplies Plus that allow dogs in-store, but more and more stores are adopting pet-friendly policies every day, so inquire with all of your regular haunts.
For example, hardware stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot usually allow pets inside too (just give your local store a call ahead of time to be sure).
And don’t forget about sports arenas and stores, as many welcome pets. Most Bass Pro Shops, for example, are pet-friendly and even host special dog-themed events throughout the year.
4. Find a SniffSpot Near You
Don’t have a fenced-in yard but want to give your dog some enriching off-leash time? SniffSpot has you covered!
SniffSpot offers a network of private yards and dog parks where you can rent solo space for your pooch.
It’s an incredible use of the gig economy; locals make their unused private fenced-in yards available to others for an hourly fee to make some extra cash, and yard-less dog owners get to access a wonderful off-leash space for their pups to enjoy!
Pricing can vary a lot depending on where you are located and what kind of space you are looking for. Private yards are usually in the $4 – $15 per hour range, with higher-priced options for the private rental of indoor dog parks or agility centers.
5. Set Up An Obstacle Course In the Backyard
An obstacle or agility course can be great for exercise and mental stimulation for your pooch. You can purchase an agility course online or make your own with one of these DIY obstacle course options.
Just be sure to start with very easy obstacles for your doggo, as this will help prevent injuries and build his confidence. But you can gradually increase the difficulty and complexity of the course as your pooch gets the idea.
Who knows? Maybe your dog will display an aptitude for agility and end up competing in local events!
6. Interactive Toys
Interactive dog toys or puzzle toys can be super fun for your pooch and keep him mentally stimulated throughout the day — especially if you’re preoccupied with work.
There are plenty of high-tech gizmos that’ll keep your dog busy, but there are also pretty simple (and budget-friendly) ones on the market too. One of the best examples would be the classic KONG toy.
To keep your pupper busy, simply fill up a KONG with some of your dog’s kibble and dog-safe peanut butter (or any number of other tasty things) and put it in the freezer.
Once frozen, give the filled KONG to your pooch. He’ll love fishing out the treats from inside the toy.
There are also tons of other great interactive toys out there, like the tech-packed PupPod that rewards your dog with treats for interacting with the electronic toy.
7. Nature Trails or Preserves
Taking your dog to a nature trail or preservation can be a great way to get exercise and experience new sights and smells.
Your local dog park may have plenty of pooch-appealing pee and poop scents, but nearby fields and forests will have more strange and intriguing smells than your pup can believe!
Just make sure you’re abiding by the leash laws of the center — you don’t want Fido harassing wildlife or damaging delicate plants.
Moreover, you’ll want to use a good tick-preventing medication and check your dog for eight-legged blood-suckers after spending time out in nature.
8. Consider Visiting The Dog Park In The Rain
If your pooch doesn’t enjoy being around pups but loves running around off-leash, you may want to head to the dog park when it’s raining!
You’ll likely be the only ones there for obvious reasons and your dog will get the freedom he needs to chase a ball, get out his zoomies, and so forth.
Just make sure you limit these rainy-day trips to times when the weather is pretty warm so your pup doesn’t end up wet and freezing!
Dog park visits in the rain can also be great times to have off-leash training sessions since there likely won’t be other dogs around to pose additional distractions.
Also keep an eye out for dog parks with multiple gated areas. Many dog parks have a separate enclosed space for small and large dogs, giving you the opportunity to select whichever gated area is not being currently used.
While crowded dog parks will likely never have a totally empty area, less popular dog parks for small neighborhoods may frequently only have one section of the dog park occupied at any given time.
9. Go Swimming
If you have a pool-lapping Labrador at home, a trip to the lake or ocean might be much more fun than heading out to the dog park.
Taking your pooch swimming not only provides great exercise (and is sure to tucker him out), but it does so in a low-impact fashion. This makes it a great option for dogs with joint or mobility issues.
Be sure to bring lots of water-safe dog toys and a towel for the ride home. It’s also a good idea to fit Fido with a canine life jacket, particularly if he isn’t a strong swimmer. Finally, don’t forget to clean out and dry your dog’s ears after swimming to help prevent ear infections.
10. Use A Long Lead at an Unfenced Park or Area
If you don’t have access to a dog park or fenced-in area, just use a long lead to give your doggo a little more room to roam. You can get a 50- or 100-foot lead, which will let your pooch sniff and explore while still keeping him safe and under control.
In fact, using a long lead is a great way to let Fido play fetch or Frisbee in unfenced areas. Just be sure that your lead is still short enough to keep him from wandering into unsafe places.
Note that really long leashes may end up weighing too much for pint-sized pooches. So, a bit of trial-and-error may be necessary.
11. Use A Dog-Stroller
While they may look a little silly, dog strollers can be great for dogs who don’t enjoy interacting with other pups or senior dogs, who may not be as quick as they used to be.
Dog strollers enable your pooch to still get fresh air and mental stimulation from a safe, comfortable perch.
For that matter, taking Spot for a stroll will also get you some fresh air and exercise, making it a win-win proposition.
12. Visit a Local Pet Store or Your Veterinarian
Taking a trip with your pooch to the pet store or veterinarian can be a great opportunity to get in some positive social time.
Pet stores often have treats for four-legged visitors, so your pooch will likely look forward to the outing. Just be sure to keep your puppy safely in the cart if he hasn’t completed his vaccines.
Most veterinarian clinics allow dogs to come in to use the scale, and they will also offer up a little treat for your pooch.
This can be a great way for your pooch to build up a positive association with the vet’s office while also getting to check out plenty of novel sights and smells.
13. Grab A Bite To Eat At A Dog-Friendly Restaurant
You can find plenty of dog-friendly restaurant chains and eating establishments in a growing number of locations.
Even if it’s not listed as a feature, you can always call the restaurant ahead of time to see if they will allow you to sit out on the patio with your pooch. Some dog-friendly restaurants even offer four-footer foods your dog will love!
Breweries with large outdoor areas are often dog-friendly and can provide your dog with a chance to observe or interact with other dogs and children, serving as a great spot for puppy socilization practice!
Of course, you’ll want to be sure that your pooch exhibits good manners while you’re dining, so he doesn’t bother other patrons. And, though we hope it needn’t be said, keep your pet leashed while you’re there.
14. Dog Treadmills
For high-energy canines, a dog treadmill can be a great way to get in Fido’s needed exercise from the comfort of your home.
Dog treadmills can also be great for disabled pup parents or dogs who need to shed a few extra pounds. They’re also a great pick if you live in an extreme climate that makes it difficult for your dog to get his steps in on a consistent basis.
It can take some time to get skittish dogs comfortable with a treadmill, but a bit of patience and some treats will usually yield good results.
15. Focused Training Sessions
Training sessions are another great way to your four-footer’s brain busy (and they also serve as great bonding opportunities).
Your pup will love the mental stimulation that comes from training as well as the treats that come with it. Plus, it’s also a good idea to brush up on Buddy’s skills to keep him safe.
Don’t know what to teach your dog? Don’t worry — we designed a course featuring 30 things you can teach your dog in a month!
16. Go On A Long Leisurely Walk
It’s tried and true: Most dogs will enjoy going on a long leisurely walk with their favorite human companion. This will help your pooch get his daily exercise but also expose him to stimulating new sights and smells.
To make things extra engaging for your pooch, try going on a different route whenever you can. You can also drive to a new area for your stroll with Spot to switch things up.
Just be sure to bring plenty of water, and give your pooch chances to rest as he tires.
17. Set Up a Scavenger Hunt
Scavenger hunts are another great way to get your pupper some stimulation, and they don’t even require you to go outside! This makes them perfect for rainy days, as well as those times when you’re working or otherwise occupied.
It’s pretty easy to set up a scavenger hunt for your doggo: You simply need to hide a few stinky treats (the smellier the better) around the house and then let your pooch sniff, search, and enjoy!
Some dogs will get the idea of scavenger hunts sooner than others, but with plenty of practice and praise, most will learn how to play.
Just make sure to start by hiding the treats in easy-to-find locations (such as on a coffee table or bare windowsill), and increase the difficulty level as your pup becomes better at the game.
Need some tips for setting up your dog’s scavenger hunt? Just check out the video below!
Reasons Some Dogs & Owners May Not Want to Go to the Dog Park
Even though dog parks can be a lot of fun, keeping our canines comfortable and safe is a top pooch parent priority.
Accordingly, it’s important to acknowledge some of the primary reasons why the dog park may not be the best pick for you and your dog:
- Dog parks present health risks for incompletely vaccinated puppies. While waiting out your puppy’s shots for vaccines can require some patience, it’s important to avoid introducing your pup to other dogs until he is completely vaccinated and you’ve received the green light from your veterinarian. Other dogs at the dog park may be sick, unvaccinated, or carry parasites, which can pose a threat to your pooch.
- Your dog doesn’t get along with other dogs. Some dogs simply aren’t social butterflies, who get along with other dogs. But that’s totally OK! If your pup would rather spend quality time with his human companions than other dogs at the park, there’s no need to attempt to change his mind. Keeping your dog away from the dog park keeps both your pooch and other pups safe and is simply the right thing to do (though you can certainly try to desensitize him to other doggos over time).
- You’re afraid of what other dogs may do to your pet. Dog parks require a lot of trust. You not only have to trust the other dogs but the other owners as well; there’s no guarantee that other dogs will play in a “fair” or gentle way, nor that other dog owners will closely supervise their dogs as needed. Not all attendees are aware of proper dog park etiquette. Plus, if your dog is on the smaller side, he may be more likely to suffer injuries during a visit to the park.
- Your local dog park is too crowded. If your local dog park is too crowded, it can be difficult to supervise your dog and make sure that your pooch stays safe. Moreover, crowded canine enclosures can stress some dogs out and increase the risk of spreading disease and parasites through close contact.
- The local dog park doesn’t feel safe. Unfortunately, not all dog parks are well kept, which can make these pooch play spots somewhat unsafe depending on your dog’s needs. For example, some dogs might be skilled escape artists, so the 5-foot tall fence at the dog park might not keep your canine corralled. Others may be riddled with ankle-spraining divots or littered with dangerous debris.
- Your schedule doesn’t work with the park’s hours. Your local dog park may only be open during hours that might simply conflict with your schedule. You could have a dog walker take your pooch to the dog park, but this can be risky as you’re probably the best supervisor of Spot’s behavior.
- There are no dog parks in your area. You may not be able to head out to the dog park on a regular basis simply due to a lack of access. This is particularly true of owners living outside of major metropolitan areas.
- Your dog is vulnerable for some reason. If your dog is healing from a wound or operation, or he is starting to show his age, dog parks may not be the best pick for your buddy. Vigorous play can make it more difficult for a dog to recover so you’ll want to hold off on visits to the park until your pooch is back up to speed.
Given that there are so many potential pitfalls to dog parks, it begs the question: Why visit them in the first place? What kinds of benefits do they provide?
We’re so glad you asked…
What Value Do Dog Parks Provide?
While dog parks aren’t the best fit for every dog, they do offer a ton of benefits for many dogs. That’s why it is important to seek out some alternatives if dog parks don’t work for you and your upper.
Some of the most noteworthy things dog parks provide your pet include:
- Exercise — Regular exercise is critical for your dog’s health and wellbeing, and dog parks (or other types of enclosed, fenced-in areas) can be a great place for some dogs to get the chance to exercise and safely burn off excess energy. It also gives your dog a chance to get out the zoomies in a safe space. Fortunately, dog parks aren’t the only places your pooch can run around at warp speed.
- New Sights, Smells, and Stimulation — In addition to physical exercise, dogs also need plenty of mental stimulation. They need the chance to sniff, explore, check out new things, and — if properly socialized and safe — say “Hello!” to other people and dogs. Dog parks are obviously good for this, but there are also other places you can keep your canine’s cranium churning.
- Pooch Playtime — Exercise and stimulation needs aside, pooches need time to play! Dog parks are a great place for your four-footer to play fetch or chase other doggos (and according to dog park statistics, 26% of owners cite dog-on-dog socialization as a primary motivator for visiting the dog park). If your local dog park isn’t a good fit for Fido, you’ll want to seek an alternative place or activity that lets him run around like a goofball.
- Training Opportunities — As a safety precaution, it’s always a good idea to practice your dog’s commands on and off-leash, especially to come when called. Dog parks can be a great place to practice and test out your dog’s skillset to keep him safe, but your backyard (or any fenced, safe area) will also work for this. Additionally, your dog will probably pick things up quicker if there aren’t a ton of other distractions around.
Unfortunately, while there are plenty of alternatives to dog parks, few will scratch all of the important itches discussed above. Accordingly, you may need to add more than one of these alternatives to your regular schedule.
Just be sure that you select a combination that provides all of the benefits we’ve listed. In other words, if you pick an alternative that primarily provides tons of mental stimulation, you’ll also want to pick one that works to help with training, socialization (when safe), and exercise.
Dog Park Alternative FAQs
Still unsure whether or not the dog park is the right pick for your pooch? Here are a couple of frequently asked questions and answers to clear the air.
Why are dog parks a bad idea?
Dog parks aren’t necessarily a bad idea, but they aren’t the best optio for all (or even most) dogs. For example, some dogs simply aren’t dog-social. There’s also no guarantee that other dogs at the park will play nicely or that other dog owners will supervise their pets properly.
If you do decide to bring your pooch to the dog park, you’ll want to wait until he’s fully vaccinated and understands how to properly play with other pooches.
Can I go to the dog park without a dog?
Sure! While you may get a couple of curious looks, this can be a good way to meet a bunch of different dogs and breeds before seeking out one of your own.
Just be sure to keep your distance from dogs and let them come to you at their leisure. In addition, make sure you don’t have food, treats, or anything distracting on you that could cause a scene.
How can I get my dog to like the dog park?
The best way to make the dog park an enjoyable place for your pooch is to introduce him to the experience gradually. It’s a good idea to start with one-on-one play dates until your pup seems ready to take it to the next step.
Keep in mind that not every dog enjoys the dog park (just like some of us don’t enjoy large social gatherings) and that’s totally OK. Support your pooch by engaging in activities that bring out the best in his unique personality.
How often should I take my dog to a dog park?
This answer largely depends on your dog’s needs. If your pooch enjoys the park and has seemingly boundless-energy, you may find yourself heading out to the dog park every day. Other dogs may only enjoy going once a month or so. Just try to match your visit frequency with your dog’s needs and personality.
Are dog parks safe?
Dog parks can be safe but there are a lot of factors that are outside of your control. Though it’s expected that all dogs who come to pooch parks are fully vaccinated and healthy, this rule is rarely enforced which makes public dog parks susceptible to disease and parasite exposure.
In addition, dogs have different playing styles and it’s possible that one of the pups at the park hasn’t learned appropriate dog play behavior. Finding a dog park alternative might be a safer and more enjoyable option for your dog.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to determine whether or not the dog park is a good fit for your pooch. One of these dog park alternatives might end up being a better option based on your best buddy’s individual needs.
What are some of your favorite activities to do with your dog? How do you keep Fido mentally and physically engaged? We’d love to hear all about it in the comments below!