Dog parks can be a fabulous place for you to exercise your dog and for your dog to socialize, but they can also be a scary place for a fearful dog, or an unsafe place if there are owners who bring dogs who really should not be there. One negative experience with a dog can forever scar your dog and create both fear and aggression (the best defense is a good offense). Dog’s may also learn bullying play styles that can lead to other problems.
I have put together a bit of information for you so that you and your dog can have plenty of pleasant dog park experiences and avoid any potentially negative experiences.
Do: Learn how to read dog body language and learn what is appropriate vs. inappropriate play. Learning to read your dogs social signals is very important for so many reasons, but really is invaluable when it comes to interactions with other dogs at the dog park. The more educated you are, the better you can keep your dog safe. See additional videos & other resources at the end of this post.
Don’t: Try to bring your dog to the dog park to work on socialization issues. Work with a trainer or behaviorist in a controlled environment with well known dogs in order to address any fearful, reactive or aggressive behavior.
Do: Determine whether or not your dog is a good fit for a dog park. Not every dog is a good fit for a dog park, and that’s ok. Fearful or shy dogs may not be a good fit for a dog park during peak hours when there are a lot of dogs there. Young puppies are also not a good fit for dog parks. Not only should your puppy be fully vaccinated before going to a dog park, but they should also be confident enough to stick up for themselves (typically 5-6 mo. or older). If you puppy rolls over and squeals easily during interactions with other dogs, they may not be ready for the dog park.
Don’t: Listen to other attendees in the park who may not understand their or your dog’s needs or understand canine play and body language. Instead, educate yourself from dog professionals and be sure to stand up for your dogs emotional and physical well being. He shouldn’t have to put up with a rude dog just because “He’s just playing.”
Do: Teach your dog to come when called reliably. It is vital that you can call your dog out of play that may be inappropriate. Also, if a fight breaks out, you want to be able to call your dog away so they don’t become involved.
Don’t: Believe that dogs can “work it out” if you just let them do so. If your dog is growling, snarling or air snapping at another dog and that other dog is not listening, protect your pooch and get them out of there before they feel the need to take things further. Young puppies often do not listen to reprimands well. If the other dog respects the warning, that is great, but don’t allow it to go any further.
Do: Check out the entrance before entering to make sure there aren’t dogs congregating there. It can be very stressful for a single dog to come into a pack of dogs right as they enter. Some dogs may also become territorial of the park which can cause fights at the gate.
Don’t: Congregate with other dog owners and chat. Many fights happen when there are large groups of dogs and humans just standing around due to the fact that they don’t have enough personal space and owners are often not paying enough attention to their dogs.
Do: Keep moving. Even if you go to a small park (bigger is better), continue walking the perimeter and encourage your dog to follow you. You may stop for short play sessions with other dogs, but your best bet is to keep moving to avoid altercations.
Do: Remove your dog if it is bullying others or if it appears afraid.
Don’t: Force your pup to play with a dog he doesn’t naturally want to play with. Size is less important than play style, but it’s not safe to bring a very small dog (under 10lbs) into a park with unknown large dogs. Here is a good example of dogs of different sizes playing appropriately.
Do: Leave special toys at home to avoid resource guarding. Even if your dog doesn’t guard the toy, another dog might guard your dogs toy from him/her.
Don’t: Let all the dogs in the park know that you have treats. If you are working on training, only feed treats when no other dogs are near you, bring non smelly treats and keep them in a high pocket. Also, keep your distance from large groups of dogs.
Do: Encourage your dog to walk away from a dog who may be growling, snarling or snapping at him. These are communication signals that your dog should learn to prevent by not bothering dogs who give more subtle cues such as freezing & staring.
Don’t: Assume that a dog is aggressive when he is only trying to communicate it’s discomfort. Growling, snarling and snapping are a dogs way of saying “Please go away!.” That dog has a right to have space and not have to put up with puppy antics or rowdy play.
Overall, the most important aspect is to educate yourself so that you know what to look for when you are trying to spot problems in play. This is the best way to keep your dog safe! For more information, refer to the posts below and check out some of the Youtube videos below.
- A good example of big & small dog (or puppy & adult dog) play.
- That’s just how he plays.
- Canine Play Handout
- Language of Dogs (DVD) – Sarah Kalnajs
- Body Language of Canine Play (DVD) – Terry Ryan
- Dog Play (Book) – Patricia McConnell
- Canine Body Language (Book) – Brenda Aloff
These books and DVD’s can be found on either Amazon.com or Dogwise.com
Some good examples of good dog play:
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