Sticky Situations at the Dog Park

{As always, I just want to preface this post with the fact that I am not a certified dog trainer, these are just my opinions based on my experience. }

I hear many people say that they took their dog to the dog park when they were younger, and then they got attacked, so they stopped going. While from a loving parent/owner perspective, this totally makes sense, but it makes me so sad to hear. That dog doesn't deserve to miss out on the hundreds, maybe thousands, of fun times at the park and positive social interactions because of that one incident that wasn't their fault. 

I witnessed one of these incidents at the park this afternoon. A woman and her younger lab were in the big field, playing ball and wrestling with pups passing by. A guy was sitting on the table on his phone, where he had been for the last 20 minutes, as his dog ran wild in the main area of the park. There's lots to be said about that alone, but for now, just stating the facts. This guy's dog approached the lab and started circling while the lab, who had been outgoing and playful with other dogs, stuck to the woman's legs. After a few more circles, the lab got brave and stepped out to play with the other dog. Within seconds the play escalated to the other dog attacking the lab. The guy nonchalantly walks over and kicks his dog, leashes her up, and walks off. Both dogs were OK, it was more noise than anything, but clearly scary for the lab's owner. 

When Bailey was younger, and obviously so was I, I am sure I would have acted the exact same way at the lab owner. Uncomfortable but not really sure what to do, feeling very helpless. Between practically living at the dog park for the past nearly 4 years, knowing infinitely more about dogs than I used to, and being responsible for other people's dogs, I have become quiet comfortable taking charge in and trying to prevent these situations before they even begin. So, for whoever happens to stumble across this post, here are my suggestions:

  • always match dogs to their owners, as soon as you see the dog coming near. You want to know who to talk to if you need to.
  • speak up! If someone's dog is making you uncomfortable, ask the owner to get their dog! If their dog is obviously acting in appropriate, I just ask them flat out to come get their dog. If it is something that I am just uncomfortable with, or the owner is obviously oblivious, I make up an excuse that my dog has a problem with white fluffy dogs (or whatever their dog is) and ask if they will hold onto their dog while I walk away.
  • Shoo the dog away. People often hesitate to bark commands at other people's dogs, and rightly so, but when you feel threatened or like your dog may be in danger, by all means, tell that dog to go away! I am honestly surprised how often it works, I always assume if the dog doesn't know me, it won't listen, but if you use a stern tone and just "no" or "go" and point back to where they came from, they almost always go!
  • use your body language. If a dog is approaching your dog and you aren't sure about that dog, use your body to step in between your dog and the oncoming dog. If a dog is viciously charging at you and you just know it is going to bite you, I wouldn't suggest doing this, that is a whole other level I'm not prepared to address, but I will tell you that has never happened to me.
  • know appropriate play. Check out the APDT's article on Dog Park Body Language for a refresher. A couple simple guidelines: 1) both dogs should be having fun, 2) balanced play (take turns chasing, being on bottom), 3) Mutually initiate play and frequent rest breaks, and 4) no ganging up, 1:1 play is best
  • Last, but not least, if it would make you feel more comfortable, you can carry a bottle of SprayShield Animal Deterrent with you. It is forceful citronella spray that is very effective at breaking up dog fights, but completely safe for the dogs.

If you are timid, it may cause your dog to be more timid, which may make them more of a target for bully dogs. Again, I'm not a trainer, but this is something you hear a lot, and I believe it to be true from personal experience. So be confident and know that you are in charge and no dog is going to mess with your pup! Now go find the nice dogs that just want to wrestle and chase and let your pup run herself tired!