Making the Park Fun and Safe for Your Dog
The dog park can be a great way for you and your dog to get some exercise, burn some energy and make some new friends! However, there are a few steps you should take before going to the park to help make the experience safer for you, your dog and the other dogs at the park. Here are some tips and tricks that can help you recognize when things may not be working out, and how to improve your dog’s park experience.
Before You Go
Before you go, make sure your dog is ready for the park. If your dog doesn’t get along well with other dogs, is prone to barking or harassing dogs, or is scared, the dog park may not be right for you. Instead of a trip to the park which may be stressful, a walk on a secluded trail, a nice fetch session or even off-leash play in a larger area may be better.
If your dog is fine with other dogs and doesn’t get too stressed around them, then it is time to go! Make sure to have a leash on hand, and that your dog listens well to you off-leash. Being able to call your dog back to you if he gets distracted or stressed is a plus. Make sure not to bring any treats or objects your dog may become possessive over, to help avoid a problem.
Reading Canine Body Language
Knowing canine body language is important at the park. This will help you better understand how your dog is feeling at the park, as well as how other dogs feel around him. Signs of a relaxed and happy dog include an open mouth, tongue hanging out, loose body position and play bows. Your dog’s tail may be up in the air if he’s feeling confident, or may be in a neutral position. If your dog is feeling stressed, he may have a closed mouth, stiff body or tail that is straight out or tucked.
If he’s not liking one of the other dogs near him, he may show signs such as baring teeth, low growls, or hackling. While this may look scary, these are all ways dogs communicate to each other and are a sign your dog is speaking with others to set his boundaries! If your dog is actively snapping at or constantly hackling at other dogs, he may be a little too stressed and ready to leave the park or move to a less populated area.
Are You Comfortable Reading Canine Body Language?
What to Do if a Fight Breaks Out
Fights are inevitable, and it’s natural for a dog to not get along with every other dog he meets. If you are seeing body language that indicates your dog is stressed or not getting along well, then stopping him and removing him from the situation BEFORE a fight breaks out is always best.
If a fight does happen do NOT yell or reach in to grab your dog. This may increase the reactions of the fight and you may be bitten or injured in the process. If both dogs are leashed, grabbing the leash from a distance and separating the dogs may help. If they are off-leash, a spray bottle of water, hose, or even placing other non-human objects between the dogs (such as tossing a blanket on them) may be enough to get them apart. Once apart, you can then separate the dogs further to check for injuries and prevent another fight. If your dog does get into a fight, it may be time to relax elsewhere.
Fights are VERY rare at the park, and your dog is more likely to have a good wrestle session rather than a fight. Dogs can play very rough, so if your dog is actively growling, chewing on or wrestling with another dog, it may be play behavior instead! Knowing body language is key to figuring out the difference between play and fight. Dogs that fight have stiff bodies, hackles raised and higher-pitched barks, while dogs that are playing have loose, flexible bodies, and will back away if things get too rough.
Signs Your Dog is Ready to Go Home
Any dog can become stressed at the park, or may just be tired from good play sessions and ready to go home. Signs your dog may be ready to go can include stressed body language, or he may even lay down and not engage in play. If your dog seems tired or bored, it may be time to go.
The dog park may seem like a scary place if your dog isn’t used to it, but it is a great way to interact, socialize and exercise your dog. Knowing your dog’s body language, how to stop a fight, and when it’s time to go home will help keep you and your dog safe and keep the dog park and enjoyable experience!