inPERSPECTIVE / DOG PARKS: Promote Dog Health & Inclusion


The dog park boom of the past decade or so has brought more places for dogs and their owners to play to communities across the U.S., but with all of that rapid development, many dog parks have simply copied the rules posted by the town next door instead of doing their due diligence to understand the best ways to ensure that dogs coming to the park are healthy. This is especially true when it comes to vaccine requirements. 

Do you require pet owners to show proof of annual vaccine boosters? If so, read on to find out why you might want to amend your rules.

Lasting Immunity

Vaccinations are an essential tool in protecting dogs from common diseases. Core vaccines are given to every dog to protect them from common and potentially fatal diseases, and include rabies, distemper, parvovirus and adenovirus-2. There are also non-core vaccines that are only recommended for dogs likely to be exposed to illnesses based on lifestyle and location. These include leptospirosis, Bordetella, Lyme and influenza.

The core vaccines are generally given to puppies in a series of doses spread out over a number of weeks, followed by regular boosters for adult dogs. Many veterinarians continue to recommend boosters on an annual basis, but this practice is no longer consistent with science or best-practice recommendations. 

How did that come about?

Ronald Schultz, Ph.D., a veterinary immunologist who chaired the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Pathobiological 

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Sciences, conducted research on vaccines. In 1999, Schultz published a paper covering the duration of immunity for several vaccines based on challenge (exposure to the disease) and serology (blood antibody levels), which found that for distemper, parvovirus and adenovirus, immunity lasted at least seven years, and for rabies, immunity lasted at least three years.

His conclusion? “Vaccines for diseases like distemper and canine parvovirus, once administered to adult animals, provide lifetime immunity.” And, “We have found that annual revaccination with the vaccines that provide long-term immunity provides no demonstrable benefit.” 

In 2003, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) changed their revaccination guidelines for core vaccines. Instead of annual vaccination, these associations now recommended vaccination every three years. The most recent AAHA guideline, from 2017, suggests that subsequent boosters should be administered at intervals of three years “or longer.” Importantly, the association also now suggests that titers can be used instead of vaccinating. 

A titer is a lab test that measures antibodies in the blood. Titers can be used to prove immunity to disease, which means pet owners and their vets can determine if a follow-up booster is needed or not. AAHA guidelines state that titer tests can be used to determine a dog’s immunity to parvovirus, distemper and adenovirus. 

Based on all of this, requirements for annual vaccination are simply out of step with the most up-to-date science on canine vaccinations. 

Why Does This Matter?

Vaccines are a crucial tool in disease prevention, but every time a vaccine is administered, there is a potential for an adverse reaction, from common reactions like lethargy, fever, and soreness to more dire problems like behavioral changes, hives, anaphylaxis and more, according to Schultz. Administering unnecessary vaccines subjects dogs and their owners to unnecessary risks.

What’s more, some dog owners, including those with older dogs or dogs who have had adverse reactions to vaccines in the past, may be advised to avoid additional boosters. Annual revaccination requirements mean these dogs and their owners are left out of the dog-park fun. 

New Rules

To be truly inclusive of all dogs, consider updating your rules to recommend revaccination every three years or more, and also allow titer testing and health certificates from veterinarians as an alternative and effective way to verify that an individual dog is healthy and has the necessary immunity. (Note, however, that rabies revaccination requirements vary from one jurisdiction to the next, so be sure to follow the local guidance on rabies boosters. And if your community still requires annual revaccination, consider working with local authorities to change those laws to correspond to the most current recommendation of revaccination every three years.) Be sure to include your update in the rules you post online as well, as many dog park visitors will look there first to find out what they need to do to ensure they can visit the park with their pets. 

Updating your dog park’s rules to allow for more flexibility in the ways dog owners can prove immunity to the most common canine diseases will help ensure more people and their pets have access to this important recreational outlet.     RM