Dog parks: Minimizing risk and increasing enjoyment

Most important!! Make sure your dog likes the dog park! Some dogs, like some people, would prefer to relax in their neighborhood instead of going to a crowded restaurant (or in your pup’s situation, a dog park) with a bunch of strangers!

Make sure your dog is under voice control. This means that she must come to you when called and stop doing a behavior when told “No”. If you don’t have this basic control then you will have no way to help her if she gets into a dangerous situation.

When you get to the parking lot take a few minutes to observe the dogs and people in the park. If you are uncomfortable for any reason…LEAVE

Take your dog off leash before she enters the park. This will give her a greater ability to get away from trouble if it erupts but it will also help her to feel more comfortable.

Move away from the gate as quickly as possible. The gate is the main area where dog fights start because dogs that are already in the park try to prevent new arrivals from entering.

Don’t hang out with large groups of people. Lots of people go to the park to socialize. They sit around one table or stand in one area. As a result, the dogs cluster in this and there is a greater chance for a fight or disagreement (among the dogs AND the people). Plus, if you are busy chatting with a friend then you may miss the early warning signs of a pending dog fight.

Heavily praise your dog every time she looks at you or comes up to you. This will encourage her to come to you more often and thus she will be more likely to listen when it is time to leave.

Verbally reward your dog for all proper social interactions. Did she just allow a dog to sniff her? Good job! Did she move away from rough play? Good girl! Most dogs will look to their owner for guidance so make sure to show her which behavior you want!

Be aware of any of the following changes in behavior of your dog or other dogs because they can be warning signs that a fight is going to start. If you see any of these signs quickly, but calmly, (being calm is key – if your dog is already nervous and then she sees that you are nervous it will make the situation 20 times worse!) get control of your dog so you can remove her from the situation.

A. Sudden change in flow of play
B. Change in vocalization
C. Hard eye contact or rigid body posture
D. Unevenly matched “play mates”
E. Excessive greeting postures or submission
F. Bully behavior
G. Pack/prey “play”