By Caroline Woods
Are dog parks healthy for humans?
Recently, I was at the dog park and started chatting with a city employee about the benefits of dog parks. She said something I can relate to: “If only people knew how beneficial dog parks are to our community’s health.”
My passion is exploring how animals and nature can reduce people’s stress levels and promote our well-being. We know that decreasing stress and increasing mindfulness improve our health, and I want to believe that dog parks can help us derive these benefits if we can pay attention to what we are doing with ourselves and our dogs while in a dog park.
One example is, the Dog Commons hiking area located near Minneapolis. It is a nature-based therapeutic resource that offers on-leash trails to walk dogs. The purpose is to “discover opportunities for physical activity, education, socialization, and emotional restoration” and to promote a “mindful and restorative experience that benefits health and well-being for humans and pets.”
So although it seems counterintuitive, there is concern that dog parks can have some negative effects on our health. Various factors such as being on the phone texting or talking, instead of paying attention to our dogs and enjoying some peaceful time, might increase our inability to practice mindfulness. This puts both us and our dogs at greater risk for injury. A web search showed numerous articles related to how to best enjoy dog parks, reduce injury, and increase the well-being for both you and your dog.
Jaymi Heimbuch for Mother Nature Network reports on “15 Things Humans Do Wrong at Dog Parks” and says, “Dog parks are supposed to be fun — but often they’re not”. She writes that dog owners can end up “spending more time looking at a smartphone screen than at the dogs.” If this is the case, then you are not getting the healthy benefits from being at the dog park — instead, you are feeding your addiction to your digital device and are not practicing mindfulness.
It makes sense that if you are off your phone, both you and your dog will receive the most positive health benefits. To complement this, WebMD emphasizes the importance of learning more about being safe at a dog park.
It would be cool to study stress and mindfulness levels of people who are at a dog park, along with looking at injury rates that occur at a dog park. Thankfully, when I have discussed this with other people at the dog park, I usually receive a positive response and encouraging words. So, perhaps someday we can refer to many more evidence-based studies on “dog parks out there.” Then we can use the research to promote the healthiest ways for humans and their animals to use dog parks.
Caroline is an M.P.H. student dedicated to advancing health equity and promoting the human-animal bond in our community. Thoughts or comments? She can be reached at email@example.com.