By Stephanie Bennett, Owner, Believe In Dog Training, BeliveInDogHouston.com
- Make sure your dog is healthy and up-to-date on vaccinations.
- Use the double gated entrance/exit pen as a safe place to unleash/leash your dog.
- Unleash your dog inside the pen before entering and vice versa. Never keep your dog on-leash inside the park or off-leash outside the park.*
- Take off all training/correction collars (e.g., choke chains, pinch collars, shock collars, martingale collars) before entering the park.**
- Avoid entering the park if there is a “gang” of dogs congregating around the entrance, and wait until the crowd disperses a bit.
- Keep your eyes on your dog.
- Leave special toys at home to avoid resource-guarding problems.
- Be cautious about taking advice from other park patrons who are not dog professionals.
- CLEAN UP AFTER YOUR DOG!
*Dog parks are meant to be safe areas for dogs to play off-leash. Although you may think it is safer to keep your dog on-leash at the park, you are most likely doing more harm than good. Keeping your dog on-leash whilst being greeted by off-leash dogs creates a tension that tends to cause frustration and anxiety which can very often develop into leash reactivity/aggression.
**Training collars that cause pain such as pinch or shock collars should never be left on during play/socialization. Negative association is developed if a dog regularly feels pain when playing/socializing with other dogs, which of course, will sooner or later develop into aggression or fear.
**Keeping any kind of training collar on a dog while playing and/or socializing with other dogs can be very dangerous, as dogs naturally love to grab each other’s collars and necks during play. It is very easy for a tooth or bottom jaw to get caught in a chain or loop of a collar thus causing injury or strangulation.
- Take your eyes off your dog.
- Open the entrance gate or enter the pen while another owner is in the process of leashing/unleashing their dog.
- Assume a dog is aggressive when she is only trying to communicate her discomfort.
- Force your frightened dog to remain in the park and hope things get better.
- Believe that dogs can “work it out” if you just let them do so.
- Congregate with other owners at a picnic table or other small areas. Instead, spread out and keep your dog moving with you around the park.
- Bring picnics and/or snacks into the dog park.
- Jog inside the dog park, unless of course, you want to be chased, nipped, jumped on, barked at, etc. (Again, too silly for words.)
- Bring small children to the dog park. They will get jumped on and very possibly nipped, chased, humped, etc.
- Bring puppies under 4 months of age. Young puppies need very structured socialization to ensure only positive experiences. Instead, find a good puppy class/school.
- Bring a dog showing any signs of potential illness.
- Bring dogs that are known to have exhibited aggressive or fearful behaviors. Contact a certified, professional trainer for help. www.apdt.com
Pay close attention to your dog’s play style and supervise constantly. The moment you feel the play is becoming too intense or rough, interrupt the play to calm your dog down.
Playful actions to watch for that indicate appropriate, balanced play:
- Back and forth play — dogs change position — role reversals
- Bouncy, exaggerated gestures
- Wiggly bodies
- Open relaxed mouth
- Twisted leaps or jumps
- Pawing the air
Red Flags that Require Intervention:
- Excessive mounting
- Pinning (holding another dog down and standing stiffly over them)
- Shadowing another dog (following) incessantly
- Bullying: repeatedly bothering another dog that does not want to interact
- Fast non-stop running with a group – high arousal situation
- Full-speed body slams
- Putting head repeatedly onto another dog’s neck or back
- Staring with a fixed gaze directly at another dog
- Snarling or raised lips
- Showing teeth
- Hackles up at the shoulders
Signs of FEAR/Anxiety/Stress:
- Fast wagging low tail (A wagging tail does not always mean “I’m happy”!)
- Extreme tail tuck
- Whining or whimpering
- Ears may be back
- Hiding behind objects or people
- Growling, snarling or raised lips***
- Showing teeth***
- Hackles up at the shoulders***
***Never punish a dog for growling or simply trying to communicate her discomfort and fear. A dog only has a few ways to communicate and these are all warning signs. If we punish her for warning, she will eventually stop and just go straight to biting.
BE WILLING TO LEAVE THE PARK:
- if she appears afraid or is just not having fun
- if she is bullying others
- if your young dog is being bullied or learning bad manners from the other dogs
Know your dog. There are many dogs who simply don’t enjoy the dog park. There are so many other ways to keep her mentally and physically stimulated, and socialized. If she doesn’t love the dog park, don’t force her to stay!