While dog parks are, in theory, a great idea, they can become a scary place because people don't have control over their dogs. Rarely do people understand the instincts or behavior of dogs. They sometimes lack the education of reading body language or simply don't pay attention to the surroundings.
Why do people go to the dog park?
Most people attend dog parks to exercise their dog?
The last place an under-exercised dog should go to is a dog park. Here are a few great examples of overstimulation which can result in dogfights.
A golden retriever lacking in walks who is very happy to see his friends can be up close in personal space and not respecting the body language of others. This can result in harsh corrections by other dogs who don't appreciate this play style. Neither dog is ‘wrong’ here. But this should not ever be allowed to occur in a park. Often the super friendly dog is injured in these circumstances and owners become irate with the dog that bit. Unfortunately, this dog may have been given no other option but to bite because no one was advocating for him or preventing the rude behavior.
A dog who likes to play chase may start a fun game.
For some dogs, this can turn into a very dangerous scenario in which prey driven dogs can become aggressive very quickly. Once the game becomes dangerous often the dog running either becomes fearful or defensive as he or she has no other option. ‘Flight’ or ‘Fight” become serious and this can be extremely dangerous with large packs. Never allow chase games to continue for long periods of times or ever let a dog chase a fearful dog around.
Dogs should receive most of their exercise by walking with their owner. This builds a rapport with their handler, provides the proper mental and physical stimulation required. Once you have walked THEN consider bringing your dog to the dog park. A calm dog is a safe dog to bring to a play area.
People bring their dogs to play with other dogs.
Most dogs attending the park are not under the full control of their handler so they go to have fun. This is not building any bond with your dog. Your dog does not ‘love’ you more for bringing it to the park to play.
People become totally unaware that there are major differences between a couple dogs playing and a pack of dogs playing. It is extremely important that dogs are controlled in packs and dog parks often lack this system. When dogs become a ‘pack’ a hierarchy is created. While I hate using the term ‘dominant’ as I’ll often get many ‘studies’ debunking those facts. If you watch a pack of dogs it’s quite easy to see who is ruling the pack. The issue here is YOU need to rule the pack and ensure all safety procedures are followed. If you don’t take control - your dog will do that for you with either ‘Flight” or ‘Fight’.
Not every dog wants to play with other dogs. If you notice your dog has no interest in other dogs he either has no interest or is fearful. In either case, these dogs do not need to attend dog parks.
Fearful dogs should never be brought to the dog park.
This is an easy way to ruin your dog for life with other dogs. People who allow dogs to flood their nervous dog or force them to be social in an improper environment reap no long-term benefits.
Puppies have no place in a dog park.
Puppies are often lacking in social skills and need to learn ways to communicate effectively. Take your puppy to a puppy class like April’s! so you both can learn proper skills for safe play.
Some dogs and breeds are not great in a group setting.
I'll pick on the terriers here because they have the worst rap. Terriers, despite people thinking, were bred for other purposes, were solely bred to control varmint. This means these dogs were encouraged to chase and kill. These days we tend to keep terriers as pets however they do come with some instinct of what they were bred to do. Terriers are tenacious, naturally independent and stubborn.
This is why the ‘Pitbull’ has such a horrible time. While I love the breed and there are some wonderful dogs out there, people don't realize what they own or understand that these dogs go from 0 to 60 quickly. This is the only reason this dog has a bad name.
If a fight ensues with a terrier – whether it’s a Yorkie or a Bull Terrier - watch out because generally, these guys aren't easy to stop.
Herding breeds are also hard to manage in packs. They are space sensitive and dogs who lack respect for this are often told by herders to back off. These dogs often have a tough play style as they want to chase and nip, which is not often appreciated by others.
By creating rules and not allowing unwanted behaviors, we make dog parks a safer place to play.
People who lack a strong recall command depend on the fencing to allow their dog to have free time off leash.
Being a dog trainer I can't stress enough having control is the most important part of owning a dog. If you cannot control your off-leash dog you should not be in a dog park. By having a dog who isn't strong with a recall in a park, you could be placing your dog or others in immediate danger if a fight breaks out.
Dogs in packs act very differently than two dogs together. If your dogs get into an altercation be very prepared for other dogs to jump in. Even a friendly dog can become very dangerous in a pack fight and even go after people as well. Before you bring your dog into a situation where this is possible at any time ask yourself: Can I confidently handle this type of situation and my dog as well?
How To Deal With An Issue At The Park
When your dog is approached by a dog that looks like it may be aggressive YOU (not your dog) needs to take the aggressors role.
Dogs that have the potential to be aggressive are going to have a stiff body. Their legs will be stiff; often their tail will be straight up in the air or straight back (never tucked under the stomach - that's a submissive posture). When a dog does this it's to make itself look bigger and stronger.
Dominant dogs will “T-OFF” over your dog. That means to stand at your dog's shoulder and put their muzzle over the shoulders of your dog. This is a dominant display. When you see this, tell the dog’s owner that he or she needs to get control of their dog.
If this does not work, then it's time to leave the park. If there was any aggression you may want to file a complaint with animal control. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN DOG AND THEIR INJURIES. THIS IS NOT THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE DOG WHO ATTACKED YOURS.
If the situation has moved beyond the point where you can leave then you need to take things in your own hands. Verbally tell the dog in a deep voice to get out of there. Usually (not always) this is enough to make the dog back off. When that happens you need to determine if you have solved the problem or if you need to leave. Always err on the side of safety.
Personally, I would never walk into a dog park without an air horn, a leash, and a water bottle. If a lock and hold fight ensues an air horn or water can quickly break the hold and you can get your dog to safety. The ‘Wheelbarrow’ method is the next safest bet to breaking up a fight.
Don't play the blame game, if dogs get into an altercation its EVERYONE'S FAULT. Pay better attention and learn from it.
*Items quoted from www.leerburg.com*
In closing, I encourage you to watch this video.
If you think you would be the girl in the red jacket that is hesitating to grab her aggressive dog off another you have no business being at the dog park. If a fight ensues there is no time for fear and you must be ready to grab your dog to protect everyone.