Dog parks can be a great place for our dogs to burn off a little energy, get some exercise and socialize with other dogs, but, just like people, not all dogs are going to get along. Unfortunately, play can escalate and an incident can occur very quickly, so it’s important to be able to recognize when things are heading in the wrong direction and when you may need to intervene.
When you arrive at the dog park take a moment to see how the other dogs are interacting, before you enter the park, and note any behaviour you don’t like or is questionable. This includes not only dogs, but owners too. Remember, even in an off-leash park, all pet owners must be immediately aware of their dog’s actions and have control of their dog at all times. If you see concerning behaviour or lack of control of dogs by their owners, it may be best to come back later or another day. As you visit the park more often, you will get to know many of the dogs, including ones who are often not on their best behaviour and should be avoided.
Appropriate and safe play between dogs:
- Role reversal (for example, changing roles between the chaser and the one being chased)
- Frequent breaks in between play sessions
- Loose and “happy’ body language
Inappropriate play to look out for:
- Pinning and not allowing another dog to stand up
- Prolonged staring
- Tense/stiff body language
- Nervous or fearful body language
- Cornering or multiple dogs ganging up on one dog
- Frantic fleeing
When inappropriate play begins to take over, it’s important to know how to safely intervene. Here are a few ways you can do this:
Call your dog away: It is important that your dog has a reliable recall signal before they go to the dog park. Just as other owners must have control over their pets, so do you. Be sure to practice this at home regularly by calling them away from play for a short break. If your dog enters into an altercation at the park which is intervened with a recall, after a short break you can try allowing your dog to play again, or it may be time to leave the park.
Place something between the dogs: By placing an item in between the dogs you reduce the risk of harm in the engagement for you or the pets. If you’re at the park, you can use a light jacket, for example.
Wait until the dogs have released their hold: If dogs are engaged, or one dog has a hold of another with their mouth, wait until the dog(s) have released before separating them. Trying to do so while they are engaged can cause more damage.
Stay calm: Try not to yell or make a loud noise as this can sometimes aggravate the situation.
It is important to know that not all dogs will be comfortable in a busy dog park nor get along with every dog they meet, which is absolutely natural. Ways to overcome this can be done by going to the park at different times of day with different dogs, entering the park when it is less busy, or by going to private areas with a few of your dog’s pet friends they get along with.
And remember, you are responsible to be aware of your pet and what it is doing at all times – no chatting with a group of other owners with your coffee as your dog runs around the far end of the park. Also, be sure any small children are safe and avoid giving them snacks that a hungry dog might like a bite of too.
With a little patience, awareness and training, the dog park can be a safe and fun place for everyone!
The RHS offers numerous dog training classes, including Recall. You can learn more here.