Dog Park Ettiquette

Dog at puppy play itme, small and big dog parks and dog beach

Dog Park Etiquette Part 1

The Beginning Puppy Play Time - Early social development
Taking your puppy to the "dog park", after they have received all their shots, is important to start their social development, but make sure they are at least 4 months old. Consult your veterinarian to see if your puppy is ready for that higher level of play.

Big dog parks usually have a small dog area, but not always. In the beginning, it may be best to take them to the local pet store "Puppy Play Time". Then graduate them to the big dog park as they grow and become more socially competent. Above all, you want to make sure they have a positive experience, so anticipate problems and be quick to respond when necessary to minimize any trauma.

If they are afraid, do not comfort your dog, because this rewards an unwanted behavior and encourages them to fear. This often increases into fear-aggression, if continued. Instead, continue to act like nothing happened and it is no big deal. They will forget about the event and move on. You want a confident dog, so you need to be the example. Encourage and praise the behavior you want, and correct or ignore unwanted behavior. Remember, you are the pack leader.

Don't worry if your dog doesn't play with other dogs. They can benefit from the dog park - just in different ways. Some dogs have no desire to play, but will watch other dogs interact, which is mentally stimulating or they may check out the grounds. Some dogs are thrilled to run with other dogs from one end of the park to the other. Just like people, some dogs are outgoing and never meet a stranger, and others are shy when they first meet new dogs.

There are few things I like to see more than a happy, healthy dog that is well balanced physically and emotionally. Regular visits to the dog park fulfill the emotional needs of your dog and give them the social interaction that they just can't get from being with humans all the time.

For the physical and emotional health of my dog Samson, I also feed him Abady Dog Food. Carnivores need a high protein diet. Their digestive systems were not designed to digest grains, fruits and vegetables. In the wild, carnivores eat the herbivores' digestive system, which has already digested the vegetation, making the nutrients available for the carnivore. Grains, beet pulp and other ingredients are fillers that prevent diarrhea, but cause other health problems, like bloat, diabetes and cancer. Soy is a poor, cheap protein source and sugar in dog food is unthinkable. For more information about nutrition go to the Veterinary Nutrition Services page.

Dog Park Etiquette Part 2

Introduction to the big dog park
This is a great time for people to connect and chat while their dogs play together, but always keep your mind and eyes on your dog. Just like with raising children, you are responsible for and must supervise your dog at all times, especially when they are interacting with other dogs and people.

Watch how other dogs are responding to and interacting with, not only your dog, but other dogs. Sometimes there is a tough crowd, with a number of different breeds, sizes, temperaments and energy levels. Ideally, there should be just a few, well matched dogs; close in age and temperament, that play well together. However, it only takes one bully to start a dog fight. You can avoid many problems before they begin, by watching their body language. The conversation between dogs can appear to change from friends to enemies in a second, but if you know the subtile signs, you will not miss the warning when there is contention, with the potential to become a quarrel. 70-80% of dog communication is non-verbal. Just like with people, you can see a lot in the eyes. Watching another dog with curiosity is fine, but fixation and staring communicates, "You don’t belong here and I will run you off. I don’t like you. Leave".

Possible signs that all is well:
*    Dog carries base of his tail close to even with the back, w/head at the same level = secure about who they are, but not dominant.
*    Calm, submissive. Balanced mind.
*    Play bow - front end low with front legs stretched out in front of them, on their elbows, butt in the air. “Let’s play!”
*   When dogs greet on a friendly basis, they usually approach each other from the side and stand nose to butt. “What’s your name?”

Possible signs of aggression:
*   Greeting head on, tail high, lift a corner of their lip, glaring stare, low rumble, roll both lips
 and show teeth, growl, attack.
 *  Dog carries his tail high w/head high = dog is very self assured, very secure in who they are, very much in charge, dominant, King of the hill. The opposite of timid. Usually would fight, rather than flee.
 *    Humping other dogs, regardless of sex, or trying to climb on another dogs’ back is a sign of dominance and aggression. If the other dog corrects, all the better, because you don’t have to. Otherwise, you will need to anticipate and stop that behavior before it happens and correct that behavior every time it does occur.
 *     Dominant-Assertive, Unbalanced mind.
 *     Stalking approach.
Note: To correct this type of behavior, is suggest you seek a professional who specializes in dog behavior.

Possible signs of insecurity and fear:
* Trembling, hesitant, cowering,
*   Fear that can turn into aggression if they feel trapped by another dog.
* * Unpredictable and the most dangerous. Reacting out of fear.
*   Dog carries tail down or between the legs = very insecure, fearful, timid, unsure, would flee instead of fight.
* Submissive-Fearful, or Aggressive-Fearful, Unbalanced mind.

Note: People often comfort and pet this dog, reassuring them that they are okay. Doing this reinforces this kind of behavior and tells the dog that this is the behavior you desire from them. You are praising them! They become even more unbalanced, afraid and timid as a result. To correct this type of behavior, is suggest you seek a professional who specializes in dog behavior.

You should not get so far away from your dog that you can’t see these details in them or dogs that are with them.
Note: When a dog “yawns”, they are not necessarily bored. They may be stressed.

I have heard many people say, “Oh, if you leave them alone, they will work it out!” Would you let your child pick on or start a fight with other children at the play ground, or watch someone else’s child bully and bite your beloved family member? I am not saying dogs are your children. What I am saying is that the social rules are very much the same. They need to be taught how to be respectful, polite and play nice.

You have to do what is right for your dog. You know your dog better than anyone. You know what training and behaviors you are working on with your dog, what stage of social development he/she is in and the difficulties or challenges he/she needs to master. Other dog owners should respect that. So, don’t let other people tell you how to supervise or correct your dog’s behavior at the dog park. Politely ignore their comments, continue doing what you know is right for your dog and the situation, and don’t give them a second thought. Your silence will speak volumes. Keep in mind that you are responsible for your dog, not them.

Sometimes I have experienced owners who are just not being responsible for their dog. They fail to react when their dog makes an aggressive move toward my dog. I don’t correct their dog, but I do step in between their dog and mine, and become “alfa dog”. I a protecting their dog from harm as well as my own. Truly, that is all it takes and the other dog backs off. If that makes the hair on their owners back stand up, oh well. They just don’t understand dog social behaviors.

For example: One day a huge male German Shepherd fixed his sights on my large, but young puppy, and wanted to eat him for lunch. Like a mother bear, I claimed my dog’s space by getting between them. The Shepherd backed off, and even thought we had just arrived, I knew we couldn’t stay. We calmly departed the dog park immediately, because it just wasn’t worth the risk of having a bad experience for him or for me.

Another example: A short-legged, mixed breed dog, with a Napoleon complex and superior, conceited attitude, had such a snotty disposition that he got his fun by seeking out and breaking up all the other dogs who were playing nicely together. “If no one would play with him, then they couldn’t play with each other either” was his philosophy, I remember saying to someone. He was actually jealous of any other dogs who were playing with each other, but not with him. The owners of the snotty dog were on the other side of the park sitting on a bench, not supervising their very irritating and rude pet. In fact, while walking around, I overheard the owners of this rude dog remark about how “cute” they thought his behavior was. This is a typical response to the behavior of a little dog, but what if it were a Great Dane. Not so cute, right! A few minutes later, I was sitting on a park bench where a young chocolate lab was playing with an even younger lab puppy that was hiding under the bench. Snotty dog came over to break up their play twice, to which the chocolate lab protested, with a warning. When he returned a third time, I watched the snotty dog make an aggressive bite move at the chocolate labs neck. The chocolate lab took hold of the snotty dogs neck, including the collar and one ear, growled insistently and refused to let go. Even when the owners of the lab, who were standing very near by, tried to pry open the clenched mouth of their dog, he would not let go without great effort. Only then did the owners of snotty dog get up and attempt to manage their dogs’ behavior. The people with the young labs left the dog park, because they realized that the other people saw nothing wrong with their dogs behavior and refused to control him. I anticipated all of this, because I was watching the events as they unfolded, and kept my dog close by my side. Finally, the snotty dog also departed the dog park and those who endured his visit were relieved by his absence. Only then could the fun begin. Who was at fault for that altercation? If you were to listen to the conversations that started as a result of the snotty dogs actions, even before the attack, you would hear a unanimous response; “ the snotty dog was not at fault, but the owners of the snotty dog were definitely at fault, because they allowed him to act that way”.

If I see a dog or group of dogs playing too rough or doing things I don’t want my dog to learn, I simply keep my dog on leash with me until the bad influence leaves or we leave. I want to have complete control over my young dog and be able to move out of harms way quickly if necessary. Some people have remarked to me that I am putting my dog in danger by keeping him on leash for any length of time inside the dog park. They think the other dogs will be aggressive toward a dog that is restrained. I have not found that to be the case at all. In fact, I notice the opposite to be true. They loose interest, because they realize my dog “can’t come out to play”, but even more importantly, they understand that I am the boss. I project my “alfa dog” dominant energy around my dog and the other dogs respect that. This is why it works when I get between my dog and his aggressor. I want my dog to run and play, but when necessary, I keep him close to me for his protection. Young dogs have not learned the social skills to stand up to an older, more experienced, dominant dog.

When my huge puppy has been the aggressor, wanting to play too rough with a smaller or more timid dog, I was all over it. He doesn’t know how big he is! I protect the other dog from my guy by claiming the other dogs’ space and stop my dog. Then I immediately correct him, to teach that what he is doing is not acceptable behavior. This must be done within 3 seconds of the misbehavior or he will not know what the correction is for. Blink, and you miss the opportunity. If necessary, I remove him from play for a “time out.” and let him rejoin the fun again when he has changed his mind. Doing nothing to correct unwanted behavior, communicates to them that their thoughts and actions are acceptable. I have been thanked numerous times by other dog owners at the dog park for being responsible for my dog in this way.

One last word about being responsible for your dog. Often dog parks provide little bags for you to use to pick up after your dog, but they are small. I always take my own. The plastic bags that I get whenever I buying produce at the grocery store are much larger and perfect for this. Please, always spot when your dog uses the potty and do pick it up. Simply put your hand in the bag and use it like a glove to pick up after your dog. Then turn the bag “outside-in”, while holding the droppings in your plastic covered hand. Twist and tie the length of the bag into a knot. There are always trash cans at the dog park for you to dispose of the waste. It may be just me, but whenever I see droppings left by other dogs, I pick them up too. It is wonderful to have dog parks to take our dogs for socialization and play. Often they are free of charge. I feel it is everyones’ job to keep them clean.

This information is based on my experiences at numerous dog parks, reading books on dog behavior, my service dog trainers’ advice and observation.

Positive aspects of dog parks
- Excellent for dog social and physical interaction without worry of encountering cars, bikes, children or other dangers.
- Great place for people to meet socially and exchange ideas and experiences.
- Provides stimulating mental and physical exercise, which lessens destructive and annoying behaviors at home.

Negative side of dog parks
- Potential danger from aggressive dogs, physical injury, parasites and disease.
- Potential of lawsuits arising from dog fights or bites and other liability issues.
- Some people do not understand the concept and will abuse the park by not supervising their dog, pick up after their dog or allow their dog to indulge in inappropriate behavior.
- Dogs can learn bad habits from other dogs.
- Some people may leave their dog unattended.
- Not appropriate for small and large breed dogs at the same time.
- Intact dogs may create problems.

Don't
- take sensitive dogs into the dog park when there are more than 6 dogs there, because they could gang-up-on them. Instead, wait until some of the dogs leave or choose a time that is less busy.
- bring treats or toys into the dog park.
- allow dogs to form a pack. A fight is sure to break out.
- allow a dog to bully another.
- bring intact males or females into a dog park.
- be concerned if your dog does not play with other dogs at the park. They may just enjoy the dog park in a different way.

Do
- consult your veterinarian before taking your dog to the dog park and make sure they are fit for that level of play.
- observe the temperament and energy level of other dogs as you approach the dog park, and of those who enter the dog park after you. Note the dominant dog and keep an eye on how each dog plays with others. Be aware of any potential behavior problems.
- make sure your dog has all it's vaccinations and is in good health.
- make sure your dog is not being bullied or learning bad manners from the other dogs. Anticipate and stop problems before they happen.
- ensure a good experience for your dog and others by not getting so involved in conversation with other dog owners, with your cell phone or a good book, that you are not supervising and keeping a watchful eye on the way your dog and other dogs are playing together.

Dog Park Etiquette Part 3

The Dog Beach
In my search for dog parks in my home state, I was pleased to find a dog beach on the Chesapeake Bay. My dog, Samson, loves water! I just knew he would enjoy going to this dog park on one very hot August day last summer. Upon arrival, we were delighted to see that other dogs were already there, but they would not go near the water. Their owners told me they threw sticks and balls into the water, hoping to encourage their dogs to get wet, but the dogs seemed to be afraid of the moving water as the small waves overlapped the shore line.

Samson didn’t hesitate, headed straight for the water and jumped right in. He showed them that it was not only safe, but also fun. No more than 5 minutes passed before the other dogs worked up the courage to join him. In no time they were running in and out of the water, up onto the beach, shook water all over us and ran back into the bay. It was a fun time for everyone.

There are few things more glorious to behold than an exhausted puppy at bed time!

In memory of Greater Swiss Mountain Dog died 25 months old with Wobblers Syndrome