If you have decided you are going to bring your dog to the dog park, then you must be prepared to follow certain rules and proper etiquette. You can check out Part 1 for more information for how to be safe at the dog park, and what you should or should not bring. Here I will go in-depth on human behavior at the dog park.
Paying Close Attention to Your Dog
In Part 1, I discussed the importance of learning dog behavior, and having a well-socialized dog. This is to prepare yourself to keep an eye on your pup and prevent the possibility of a dog fight. Even with the best behaved and well mannered dog, the dog park is unpredictable and fights may happen. Realistically, we cannot expect our dog to get along with every dog they encounter. We have to expect and plan for worst-case scenarios. With that said, the best way to prevent a dog fight is to keep a careful watch over your dog. Of course, there are always owners that do not pay close attention to their dog. You do not want to be the person who is scrolling idly on their phone and ignoring their dog’s potentially rude behavior!
If you’ve been to a dog park, I’m sure you’ve experienced the dog that doesn’t know how to back off and listen to corrections from a dog they are harassing. Perhaps they were playing too rough, getting mouthy, or even humping! A good dog owner will step in and correct their own dog if they are being too aggressive. While most dogs can figure it out on their own, sometimes we have to step in and be the referee. Sometimes interactions can escalate very quickly, and then you have to know how to diffuse and prevent a potential dog flight. Watch for bared teeth, raised hackles, and stiffness. If you notice your dog showing any of this body language, you want to calmly separate the dogs. This is where a good recall comes in handy! Call your dog, and calmly exit. If you need to, you can barrier yourself between the dogs while leashing yours and pushing them towards the nearest exit.
This might mean that your best option is to leave the park. If it is not large enough to safely keep the dogs separated, realistically, the agitator should leave. More often than not, I have witnessed the other dog owner refuse to leave, even if their dog was the aggressor. In the great words of Michelle Obama, “when they go low, we go high” and it is in your dog’s best interest to “go high” and leave!
Breaking Up Dog Fights
If your dog does end up in a fight, you need to know how to safely break it up. Some dog trainers recommend carrying an air horn to distract the dogs that are fighting. You never want to put your hands or arms in their way of their mouths to try and separate them! One of the most successful methods to breaking up a fight is the “wheelbarrow method.” Two people will grab the hind legs of the dogs and pull backwards. Once the dogs are separated, you want to turn around in a circle with the dog so they are no longer facing each other and you break eye contact.
When the situation is safe, and the dogs are separated, you need to check your dog for injuries. Small puncture wounds in the neck can easily go unnoticed. Medium and long haired breeds may hide bite wounds better than short coats. Be thorough when examining them! Contact your vet immediately for a proper evaluation or care. Carrying first-aid like antiseptic wipes and bandages as mentioned in Part 1 can be helpful for a quick-fix before you get to the vet.
Depending on the severity of injuries, you will want to exchange contact information with the other dog owner. If not possible, and you are at a dog park that has a parking lot, you can record their vehicle's license plate number. It is also important to request to see their proof of rabies vaccination. Always have the information for local Animal Control/SPCA saved in your phone! It is important to the safety of the community to report an incident.
Dog Collars and Tags
While you do not want to over-accessorize your dog, it is important to keep a flat collar with their up-to-date tags on them. This includes their dog license, rabies vaccination, and personal tag with your contact information. There are even tags that note that your dog is microchipped.
Prong collars and choke chains are usually noted as restricted from dog parks on their list of rules and regulations. They are unsafe and can cause serious injury during play. It’s easy for other dog’s mouths and teeth to get stuck in these collars. These are training tools that should be removed before entering the dog park.
Interacting with Other Dogs
It’s important to ask permission before petting another person’s dog. It might seem safe to assume most dogs are used to human interaction at the dog park, but they may not be receptive to all humans. For example, I know a dog that is very shy with men with beards. It may be tempting to pet every other dog in the park, but it’s best to keep your hands to yourself! Additionally, treats should be left outside the park when possible. But if you have to bring training treats in, do not feed other dogs! You do not know what allergies or dietary restrictions they might have. If a dog is jumping up on you because they smell treats in your pocket, their owner should be nearby to correct them. Otherwise, turn away and walk away. If they are persistent, hopefully their owner will correct them. I never want to treat strange dogs, and especially if they are jumping up on you, then you are rewarding that bad behavior.
Get to Know Your Dog Community!
While some people prefer to keep to themselves at the dog park, it is a place of community where you can make new friends or stay up to date with what’s happening around your neighborhood. Oftentimes dog parks will have bulletin boards where you can exchange information, or find a dog-walker or pet sitter. I always encourage pet parents to become an advocate for their local dog park. This means reaching out to the local government if your dog park needs improvements, like water fountains or new fencing. The more people you have invested in maintaining the quality of the dog park, the easier you will make it for the city to have to listen to your needs.
The best alternative to the dog park for dog socialization is pack walks! A pack walk is a structured walk with established rules and guidelines to promote safety for all dogs and handlers. This way dogs can still be in the presence of other dogs, in a calm and controlled environment (quite literally, the opposite of a dog park)!