Welcome to the first post in our Dog Training blog series. This ongoing series will feature guest posts by local professional dog trainers and highlight some of the big questions they address to their clients. Today's post was written by Adam Miller of Big Dog Behavioral Dog Training.
As the weather warms up and dog owners are looking for things to do outdoors with their furry family members, visiting a local dog park is a popular activity. To make sure your experience at the dog park is a positive one, there are some basic guidelines and rules that all dog owners should adhere to when visiting any dog park.
Make sure that you do not allow your dog to pull you all the way up to the entrance to the dog park. Not only is this rude and disrespectful to the owner, but this shows the other dogs in the park that you are not in control of your dog and this may cause the other dogs to get excited, nervous or dominant. I frequently observe owners actually rewarding this behavior by letting the dog into the park after being pulled to the entrance gate…from the dog’s perspective, they just got rewarded for all the pulling and will most likely pull harder next time.
I suggest that you insist that your dog walks politely with you up to the entrance and then sits and waits to be invited inside. If you cannot get your dog under control while approaching the dog park, simply return back to your car with your dog, wait until they calm down and then try again. Repeat this procedure until the dog figures out that pulling will not get them into the park…dogs are pretty smart and usually figure this out after a few attempts.
Use the double-gated entrance area correctly. This area is where you want to leash and unleash your dog when entering and leaving the park. Once you have unleashed your dog in this area, remain there for a few minutes to see how your dog and the other dogs react to each other. I recommend not entering the park until the initial excitement of a new member coming in has worn off. I frequently see owners enter the park with their dog still on leash while there is a large group of excited dogs at the fence. This is a disaster waiting to happen. The dog that is entering on a leash may become nervous or reactive, since it will probably feel trapped or cornered, given that it is on a leash and the other dogs are off leash.
Staying in this area will give you a chance to correct any unwanted behavior from your dog and will give you the opportunity to observe the other dogs in the park. Make sure to pay attention to any dogs that appear dominant or over-excited…hard eye contact and stiff upright tails are good indicators. You should match your dog’s energy and play style with that of other dogs already inside the dog park. Once the energy level at the entrance has calmed down, open the gate and enter the dog park.
Be a diligent and active owner while at the dog park…don’t just sit there and watch your dog cause trouble or harass other dogs. As the pack leader of your dog, it is your job to set the rules, boundaries and limits of play with other dogs…any behavior that you do not correct will be considered acceptable by your dog.
When to get involved is very important. I recommend getting involved whenever you see a dog becoming scared, nervous or reactive to another dog and the dominant dog is not backing off or calming down. If you do not intervene, there is a good chance that the submissive dog will tire of the harassment and react by barking, lunging or biting the other dog.
The goal is to set the limits and rules of play by correcting the level of or type of play before it gets to the point where one of the dogs feels that it has to take control of the situation. If you need to intervene, instead of pulling the other dog away, I recommend that you get between the dogs (this is referred to as “splitting”), face the disruptive dog and herd it away from your dog…pulling on a dog may just cause more excitement. Once the dogs are separated and have calmed down, let them continue to play as long as the energy level is acceptable. If the dogs start to get worked up again, just repeat the procedure…pretty soon the dogs will understand what level of play is accepted.
Finally, if you are not comfortable with the owners or dogs in the park during your visit, or if things seem to be getting out of control, just leave and come back another time. Trust your instincts…if you feel uncomfortable then your dog probably feels the same way. As with any situation, you get what you give when interacting with a dog so be sure to remain calm and confident while at the dog park…this will help your dog remain relaxed because your dog will know that you have everything under control and will take care of any situations that may arise.
This post was written by Adam Miller of Big Dog Canine Behavioral Training. For more information or to learn how Adam can help with your dog needs, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.