We all want to make sure our dogs get plenty of socialization and exercise, and for many of us, that means bringing our dogs to the dog park after work or on the weekends. While dog parks can offer your dog positive experiences, they are also a place where dogs (if allowed) can experience negative interactions and even get into some scuffles.
At dog daycare, we know a thing or two about managing safe dog play and have put together a list of tips to help you keep your dog safe when they are playing at the dog park.
Understand basic body language
Dogs use body language to speak to each other, so it is important to pay attention to what they’re doing so you know what they’re saying. Here are some body language signals to look for.
- Raised hackles. If the hair on a dog’s back is standing up, it can mean a lot of things, like excitement or intent. To be safe, take a break from play if you see these pop up.
- Looking away. This means that one dog is not interested in playing with another dog and mostly importantly, make sure the other dog gets the hint.
- Stalking. If a dog is stalking your dog (or vice versa), leave the play area. Stalking is predatory and should be stopped or avoided immediately.
- Tail tucked. While not aggressive, it means the dog is afraid needs space. So make sure your dog is keeping his distance from dogs exhibiting fear.
- Staying close to you. Some dogs are intimidated by large groups of other dogs or they sense something else happening in the group. Don’t force your dog to participate if they don’t want to.
- Shaking or yawning. These are signs of stress. It’s indicating that a dog doesn’t like the situation.
- Whale eyes. When dogs look away, and you can see the whites of their eyes, this means they are not comfortable and are stressed.
Fear, stress and excitement are all reasons for concerns when at the dog park. To be on the safe side, if you see these behaviors, take a short break from play until the dogs settle. For a full list of body language, read about it here.
Be present with your pup
These days, we can often be distracted with our phones and social media, but it is important to put this aside while at the dog park. Make sure you limit your distractions and spend quality time with your pup! Keep your eyes on him – and not the cute guy (or gal) across the park – and know where your dog is, who they are playing with, and what your dog is doing at all times.
Correct inappropriate behavior
Make sure you’re keeping up with your dog’s obedience training and correct your dog’s behavior when appropriate by using basic commands such as “off” “down” and “leave-it”. For example, if you notice your dog humping another dog or jumping on people, correct it right away with an “off” so that your dog knows the rules apply at the dog park too.
No kids allowed
Dogs are not allowed at kid parks and the rule should go both ways. It’s not safe. Kids tend to hold dogs tightly and hug them in ways that dogs see as a threat, which can result in a dog bite. In addition, you don’t know temperament of the dogs at the dog park, so why take the risk? Make sure that you keep the kids at home or behind a fence when visiting the dog park.
Know your dog
Understanding your dog’s boundaries is key. What are his triggers? Does he like large or small groups? Does he like or dislike rough play, or certain breeds? Make sure you understand these well and know how to avoid those triggers. If your dog hates bulldogs, and there are 5 bulldogs at the park, maybe today is not a good day to socialize. Don’t chance it!
No toys in large groups
Tennis balls and ropes can be fun in a small, trained pack. But you never know whether or not the other dogs at the park are toy-aggressive, so it’s best to avoid these situations. If your dog is possessive over his toys, then it’s definitely not a good idea to share at the park.
Be on the right side
Large dogs should interact with the other large dogs and vice versa. Small dogs should definitely not be in the large dog area. Some dogs are sight dogs and will quickly chase and sometimes attack small dogs out of instinct, so make sure to stay around other dogs your dog’s size. If you have two dogs of different sizes, the small dog yard is better.
Barking dogs are saying something, and in a pack, that something is generally a call to action or warning. Barking is complex and depending on the pitch, tone, and frequency, it could be indicating anything from a warning to an immediate threat. It’s best as owners to stop the dogs from riling each other up and potentially egging on a dog fight. If all of the dogs are barking, remove your dog from the scene and get them to focus on you with a treat.
Stop rough play
You are at the dog park so that your dog can socialize and play with other dogs. But how do you know if your dog is playing rough or it just looks rough? When play is combined with growling, pinning, humping, nipping, thrashing and yelping, then it’s getting dangerous, and it should be stopped immediately. Watch for other clues to know when to stop inappropriate play.
Lastly, make sure you know the proper dog park etiquette before taking your dog to the park. Study our list of dog park do’s and don’ts before your first visit. Also, if you’re located in West LA, check out our top picks for best and safest dog parks in the area.
What else have you learned at the dog park? Do you have any extra tips? Let us know in the comments!