Home > Dog Behavior, Dog Park, Dog Training, Pet Safety > Dog behavior to watch for at the dog park

Dog behavior to watch for at the dog park


Over the holiday weekend, my dogs enjoyed daily visits to the dog park. They loved getting to walk in the woods every day and to meet up with some of their old friends and hang out. Daisy is more comfortable exploring when she knows her friends. She knows what to expect from them and she knows they will respect her space.

Going to the dog park can be quite an eye opener for the new dog owner. Not all dogs have doggie social skills or a respect for other dogs’ space. You have to know what to watch for and have an understanding of what is really going on.

I have been known to intervene in situations where I feel a dog is in danger, afraid or in need of a little assistance. I am used to hearing people say “Dogs can work it out themselves.” or “Let them be. They’ll work it out,” but that is not always the case. We as dog owners have a responsibility to protect our dogs and to prevent them from harm. In some cases, that means not going to a dog park at all. In others, it means you need to be aware and know what to watch for in case trouble starts.

The video below was taken at a dog park and demonstrates some of the dog behaviors that every dog owner should not only be aware of, but also be ready to intervene in, if they see it. It’s worth watching if you do not understand dog body language. The commentator does a good job of describing what is going on. I have already shared it with my dog park friends, please feel free to share it with yours.

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  1. December 2, 2013 at 7:37 AM | #1

    Just when I wS thinking I would venture out to a dog park…. *sigh* Excellent, Mel, thank you!

    • Mel
      December 3, 2013 at 8:26 AM | #2

      Sorry Natasha. I totally get it. If our dog park wasn’t so large and so filled with places for the dogs to explore, I don’t know if I would go to one either. Not everyone is so lucky.

  2. December 2, 2013 at 8:28 AM | #3

    Great post. Some people really are oblivious.

    • Mel
      December 3, 2013 at 8:25 AM | #4

      Yes they are. I hope it gets passed along and helps to educate dog owners.

  3. December 2, 2013 at 9:08 AM | #5

    Great video Mel. I wish more people would pay attention to body language, It’s one of the reasons why I won’t take my guys to a dog park. So many people think its funny or cute when a small dog barks or tries to attack a large dog and they don’t try to intervene. It drives me crazy!

    • Mel
      December 3, 2013 at 8:25 AM | #6

      Me too Jen. I also agree. Little dogs attacking are no better than bigger dogs. So many people don’t understand what appropriate dog behavior is and what behavior should be concerning to them.

  4. Keri
    December 2, 2013 at 10:57 AM | #7

    This is really great! Thanks for making us aware that it is available! Wouldn’t it be great to have something like this avail at dog parks for viewing? One can dream…….

    • Mel
      December 3, 2013 at 8:24 AM | #8

      Yes! I would love it if they had these showing at dog parks Keri. Our dog park actually has a FB group and I shared them there. I wish more people could see them.

  5. December 2, 2013 at 12:53 PM | #9

    That was such an upsetting video. I hated watching it.

    It’s horrible to see how little people know about their dogs.

    I’m terrible with video but I keep thinking I should shoot some footage of Honey playing with other dogs in the back yard. Yes, there is lots of chasing. But it’s always back and forth. One chases then the other one does.

    Every once in a while, if the dogs feel too aroused, they’ll break off play and shake or sniff until everyone is aroused again.

    And the body postures are entirely loose and floppy.

    I think a helpful video would put tense interactions on one side of the screen with relaxed dog play on the other so people could see them together and compare.

    • Mel
      December 3, 2013 at 8:23 AM | #10

      What an excellent idea Pamela! I would love to see a side by side set of videos showing the differences. I have shared the Zoom Room videos twice before so people can see the differences, but perhaps we need a set of videos that show the differences.

  6. Beagles and Bargains
    December 2, 2013 at 1:36 PM | #11

    Thank you for this post. I am hoping to start taking to the dog park to help get her better socialized, but I have been hesitant because I didn’t know what to do or expect. This really helps!

    • Mel
      December 3, 2013 at 8:21 AM | #12

      I hope it does Jessica. You may want to check out this person’d other videos for more dog behaviors to watch for.

  7. December 2, 2013 at 7:26 PM | #13

    I saw these videos somewhere else too. Broke my heart watching that poor little dog. Dog parks freak me out. I could never take my boy simply for the fact, I don’t trust other dogs nor their owners. Sad, right?

    • Mel
      December 3, 2013 at 8:20 AM | #14

      Mine too Bren. I am freaked out by most dog parks. The one we go to is different because it is 16 acres and has woos, fields and walking paths. I am able to keep my dogs moving and to avoid a lot of people. It is rarely so packed that I can’t get away from people by just heading into the woods.

      Most dog parks are too small and have too many inattentive owners standing around talking while their dogs get into trouble. I refuse to go to those places. I don’t trust most owners or their dogs either Bren. And yes, it is very sad.

  8. December 3, 2013 at 12:50 AM | #15

    Very scary video, IMO. Especially the Husky, I’ve seen that stance and look too many times on small animals like squirrels and rabbits.

    It really is sad that your average dog owners doesn’t know or understand the body language and signs of their dogs.

    Thanks for raising awareness Mel.

    • Mel
      December 3, 2013 at 8:17 AM | #16

      So agree. In fact, I cringe every time I watch it. It upsets me to no end that the owners seem so oblivious to the dangers and to their dog’s fear. It is why I continue to share information on dog body language. Even if an owner learns some of the basic behaviors it is worth it.
      Thanks 24 Paws.

  9. December 3, 2013 at 6:49 AM | #17

    We prefer going to the dog park when it isn’t real busy. I can be a bit standoffish and my sister Katie can get mad because she can’t play like she used to and she gets frustrated but if we seem to be getting upset, Mom moves us along and out of the situation.

    • Mel
      December 3, 2013 at 8:14 AM | #18

      Your Mom is very smart. I do the same thing. Jasper can be a bot standoffish too Emma and he is also easily offended by dogs running into him or sniffing him too long.

  10. December 3, 2013 at 2:39 PM | #19

    One of the best seminars I’ve attended was entirely on interpreting dog body language in play. It even included a few hours spent observing dogs at a local dog park known for its problems. The information I learned that day has been incredibly useful in gauging my own dog’s sometimes assholey behaviour. :-P

    Thanks for sharing this awesome video!

  11. December 4, 2013 at 8:59 AM | #20

    Thank you for posting this video as it was very informational. As a dog owner, we need to be aware of the dangers that our dogs are around. The dogs ears and facial expressions tell you a lot and we need to be aware of our dogs behavior as well as other dogs. We have two small bully dogs that run off leash at a park near us and the owner does nothing to control his dogs. That park has a leash law and he disobeys it all the time.

  12. December 4, 2013 at 1:46 PM | #21

    This video just confirmed what I suspected the first time I took my dog to the dog park. She had her tail tucked, her ears were pinned back and she was running from a group of about 5 or 6 other dogs whose owners stood there and did nothing. I intervened and got her out of there and they said to me “Oh, the dogs are just playing” and I told them “That was not fun for my dog – this was not play.” We haven’t been back since. She just isn’t a dog that enjoys groups of dogs like that – she was picked on in rescue and I realize I took a gamble on even bringing her to the dog park in the first place. But lesson learned and I am glad to at last have confirmation that I wasn’t just being overly protective of her. Thank you for this!

  13. December 4, 2013 at 7:38 PM | #22

    This is extremely helpful. As a pet sitter, I’ve thought visiting a dog park would be helpful for my charges to burn off energy and enjoy others dogs. But a month ago I took a medium Shepherd mix to a dog park and he repeatedly humped every dog, which could be from anxiety (I read later). His mom hasn’t had time to work with him in dog parks so he and I won’t go back, at least not yet. I don’t know as much about dog behavior as the narrator so am at a disadvantage. I suspect owners can be uninformed, too. I think there are “Dog Park 101″ posts out there, but should there a “Not Every Dog is Suited for a Dog Park, and That’s OK” (just as some kids like sports and some like to read. Again, thanks for this.

  14. December 7, 2013 at 7:09 PM | #23

    I completely agree with this blog. We adopted our dog a little over a year ago at 2 years old so we needed to come in tune with his body language. We have come to find that he does not like unneutered males and highly dominating dogs male or female. So before we even enter a dog park (which I won’t attempt if there are about 5 or more) I will stand outside the fence looking for dogs who are unneutered, who tend to mark highly, will paw on other dogs in a dominating fashion, humping, or aggressive growling and/or barking. And if and when we do enter I keep a very very close eye on him making sure that he takes his turn with tag or wrestling. I have seen dogs playing just fine but just getting fed up with being on the bottom all time or a third dog barking excessively at two other dogs playing leading to a dog fight. We just recently had a success in which a dog humped him, and he went after him, but grabbed in time before anything happened, but after a time out and verbal reinforcement, he left the dog alone, which wouldn’t have happened a few months ago. I really wished that owners would get more involved, be more aware, and choose more wisely if their dog should be in the environment. Some people think that humping, excessive barking, or aggressive pinning is ok. It is not. They think a nervous or anxious dog is ok. It is not (it can lead to other dogs picking up on this vibe). If I see my dog being overbearing or getting nervous (when 2 dogs gang up on one), we take a time out. If he gets too wound up, we take him for a time out. If I see my dog is being butthead, we leave. If the situation does not seem right for him to go in, we do not regardless how much he loves playing with most other dogs, I’d much prefer him and others to be safe. Thank you for sharing!

    • Mel
      December 7, 2013 at 10:32 PM | #24

      Samantha – You are welcome at my dog park any time. Loved your comment!

  15. December 8, 2013 at 6:57 PM | #25

    Great post! I had to stop going to the dog park after finding it too difficult to manage our pack. I can’t watch my dogs’ signals and try and interpret the signals of other dogs without getting stressed. My dogs pick up on my stress and it goes downhill from there.

    I’ve head those comments from dog owners too along with “my dog just wants to say hi.” Since each visit was becoming more stressful, we stopped going.

    There is a walking trail around the dog park so we take our dogs on that along with other trails. I miss the interaction, but since we have a pack, I hope that it’s okay that they’re interacting with each other.

  16. December 9, 2013 at 3:08 PM | #26

    Our dog park is too small, it’s just not worth the risk for me. Because I find that while MOST of the dogs are fine, it’s the owners who aren’t paying attention.

    • Mel
      December 10, 2013 at 6:34 AM | #27

      That is why I avoid the small ones too Jodi.

  17. Gayle
    December 9, 2013 at 11:56 PM | #28

    I’m sorry but I could not disagree more with Sue regarding the red Husky’s behavior. Has she ever seen a Husky? Their tails curl over their backs!! Their ears are naturally forward!! Shiba Inus are the same way. Look up Huskys on Google images and you’ll see that those are both natural traits. An error of this magnitude makes me doubt her veracity in everything she says. I understand and appreciate where Sue is coming from, but misinformation is not helpful.

    • Mel
      December 10, 2013 at 5:59 AM | #29

      Gayle – There is more to see here than what you point out. Yes a Husky’s tail does curl over their backs, but in dogs who are making an aggressive move or showing signs of aggression will also point their tail up over their backs even more. Jasper does this when he is about to go off on a dog. I know this and watch for it so I can intervene. Pricked ears are also a behavioral signal. It’s knowing how they point forward and how they lean forward and how they place their head over a dog’s shoulder, etc., etc. etc. that you need to know and watch for. Sue is not wrong.

  1. December 2, 2013 at 11:52 PM | #1

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