Many of us have witnessed at least one dog fight at the dog park, and it can be pretty frightening. The goods news is that it’s preventable if you know what to look for.
Dogs, like humans, don’t always like each other or want to play together. Confrontations usually happen because one dog is behaving in a way that is annoying another dog (yes, dogs get annoyed). Dogs don’t have a form of verbal communication, so that means they will become physical in order to communicate their dislike for each other (which for us is a dogfight).
Here are some warning signs that two dogs don’t like each other and may be confrontational.
- Non-reciprocal play. This is when you see one dog trying to engage another dog in play, but the other dog is ignoring that dog by looking away, walking to a different play space or flashing their teeth at the dog. These are all signs that at least one dog doesn’t like the other. If you see this behavior, move the dogs away from each other.
- Growling. Sometimes growling is a warning while other times it’s a threat. In a dog’s world, that is the difference between inaction and action. The pitch can tell you a lot about what your dog is trying to communicate. The lower and more intense the growl, the more likely the behavior is combative. As with barking, if a low growl is coupled with a rigid body posture, then it’s definitely threatening.
- Rigid posture. Dogs should always be relaxed as indicated by open mouth breathing, an even distribution of weight on their legs, floppy ears and wagging tail. Dogs who feel threatened or instigate aggressive behavior usually tense up. Their mouth will close shut, and their ears, tail, and body will be positioned forward. Generally, their muscles are rigid, and they appear focused. This is a big warning sign that your dog is on high alert and should take a time out from play. (To note: dogs can also look like this when they see a squirrel or other small animals that they want to attack.)
- Staring. This is what we refer to as a “red flag” behavior, and it means that a fight is imminent. Just imagine two adult men staring each other down – it’s not good. The same goes for dogs. If they are locked in on each other, they are about to start a fight, and you only have a few seconds to break it up.
The next time your pup is playing in the dog park look out for these warnings signs to help prevent dog fights and keep the dog park a friendly, fun place to play.