Home > Dog Behavior, Dog Park > “Playing” at the dog park – Red Alert Behaviors

“Playing” at the dog park – Red Alert Behaviors

September 2, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

Poor guy has a lot of dogs checking him out. Nice dog too. #dogparkThis past weekend I had the opportunity to attend a two-day workshop on dog interactions, dog behavior, aggression and behavior management. One session focused on behaviors often seen at dog parks and doggy daycares. It was eye-opening, mind-expanding and thought-provoking.

One of the key learnings I took away from the seminar had to do with what we often like to think of as “playing” at the dog park. (Hint: Most of what we see at the dog park is not playing.)

When we think of dogs playing, what do we often see them doing? Chasing?  Wrestling? Playing tug? Probably all of those right? But what are we missing?

If you’ve watched any of Sue Sternberg‘s dog park videos, probably a lot. Dogs are always communicating with one another, whether it be before, during or after their interactions with one another. What we consider “play” at the dog park is often not play, but something else, something frightening and dangerous – dog-on-dog aggression.

Sue calls out five “Red Alert” behaviors that we dog owners should be watching for when we take our dogs to the dog park. We should be intervening immediately when we see them. These behaviors include:

  1. Risky chasing behaviors almost always include out of control and high arousal chasing that may include one of more of the following: group chase, hard physical contact, pinning, high tail carriage, neck or throat fixation and the chasee hiding, or trying to get away.
  2. Mobbing is a group of individual dogs approaching, harassing, controlling or attacking a single dog. This can be with or without bloodshed.
  3. Targeting is one dog following or pursuing another dog relentlessly, exclusively, obsessively. It’s relentless engagement that may or may not include many of the behaviors displayed in Risky Chasing.
  4. Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior through the use of physical overpowering, hard contact, body slamming, hip-checking, shoulder-checking, relentless engagement, chase or ganging up to affect an individual dog.
  5. Hunting is when a dog moves around the dog park going from dog to dog, looking for something to jab, chase, poke, pounce on, roll. This is not looking for a playmate, but forcing himself on other dogs.

I have seen many of these behaviors at my own dog park and have intervened as often as possible, but it takes everyone in the dog park watching for them to ensure dogs stay safe. And, if you are the owner of a dog who is hiding, has a tucked tail, is cowering or running away or the recipient of any of the five Red Alert behaviors, remove him from the park immediately. Not only is he not having fun, but he could be injured.

Worried you won’t remember any of these behaviors? Or, worried your own dog is practicing these “bad” behaviors in your dog park? I highly recommend you get Sue’s Dog Park Assistant app for your phone. It only costs 99 cents, but it will pay for itself in the long run.

The app provides you with not only descriptions of Red Alert behaviors, but also videos showing what each looks like. It also shows you other common dog behaviors at lower threat levels. You can input your own dog’s profile and set it to remind you to intervene while you are at the dog park or review some dog park tips, best practices and find external resources to help you.

I know many of you will say “This is why I never go to the dog park.”, but as Sue said in the seminar, they exist for a reason and they are here to stay. With more of us living in cities where green space is difficult to find, and where more and more homes are becoming two-dog households, dog parks serve a purpose. Dogs need to run and in some cities, dog parks are the only place available for them to do that. But, if they are to be safe, we all need to take a part in keeping it that way.

Here’s an example of Bullying, one of the five Red Alert behaviors.

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  1. September 3, 2015 at 2:06 AM

    I am guilty of not taking my dogs anywhere that they could interact with other dogs. The two of them take turns chasing each other all over our 2 acres. They follow us all around the house or yard.
    Of note, they will not sleep in the same room.

    • Mel
      September 3, 2015 at 6:40 AM

      How lovely to have that kind of space (we are jealous!). That makes it so much easier and less dangerous. Interesting that they sleep apart. So do mine!

  2. September 3, 2015 at 6:35 AM

    We have been so surprised that dog parks are being used for human social interactions, while the dogs are mostly unsupervised, that we would not consider letting Ray loose in one. We see no reason to change that perspective. It would seem to us that there are 2 main issues – total lack of supervision (the owners are chatting and drinking coffee); no desire to learn about their dog (every wagging tail = happy dog and every growl is just rough play!) Sadly, if you try and advise to the contrary, the response is usually abusive.

    • Mel
      September 3, 2015 at 6:39 AM

      You are exactly right Colin and Ray. There is way too much standing around, talking and drinking coffee, instead of watching and engaging continuously. I am thankful the dog park we go to is 16 acres and allows us to avoid people like that (for the most part). I am happy to talk and engage (I have been guilty of being less aware than I should be at the dog park), but we keep moving so we can avoid most of the chaos that occurs up front. It also helps that many owners walk with their dogs too, so it keeps them and us moving and not standing around.

  3. September 3, 2015 at 8:45 AM

    We don’t get the chance to go to dog parks very often. But when we do, I try to watch for anybody that could bully Torrey.

    • Mel
      September 3, 2015 at 11:03 AM

      I would be worried too. High energy dogs tend to draw the trouble-makers. I know Jasper does. He’s mostly excited about chasing a stick, but other dogs key into his excitement and will try to engage him. I intervene almost always, unless it is one of his friends.

  4. September 3, 2015 at 10:43 AM

    When I take Molly to the dog park, she just completely ignores all the other dogs. She either stands by the gate waiting for me to let her out, or on top of the A frame, not interacting with the dogs at all. It’s not that she’s scared, she just wants nothing to do with other dogs, and I sometimes wonder if it’s a lack of socialization that makes her that way, or if she sees dogs being bullied, and that puts her off.

    • Mel
      September 3, 2015 at 11:02 AM

      Good for Molly! My dogs mostly choose not to engage with other dogs, except ones they know well and feel safe with. I also make sure that they are with me and stay away from dogs we do not know.

      I think a dog who is more connected to you and less to other dogs is a good dog to have. Go Molly!

      • September 5, 2015 at 12:21 PM

        Yeah, you are probably right. Now I think about it, she does actually socialize with dogs she knows.
        I also think maybe a group walk/hike with other owners and their dogs might be a better alternative to the dog park, since the owners would be doing something with the dogs instead of just turning them loose, and there would be less opportunity for bullying, etc.

  5. September 3, 2015 at 1:36 PM

    Good information. Max and I go to a dog park several times a week. We are lucky to have a very large, wooded one with walking paths that used to be horseback riding trails. There are no benches for people to sit on. Everyone walks with their dogs. Max enjoys running in and out of the wooded area and greeting and sniffing other dogs. If any dogs are being bullies or harassing we have plenty of space to avoid them. Even though we have a large fenced yard the dog park is where he really runs. He always keeps me in his sight and returns often to check in. I love seeing him and his dog pals just running free off-leash. Some dogs are clearly not enjoying themselves and they really shouldn’t be there. I wish everyone knew how to read their dog and respect their feelings.

  6. September 3, 2015 at 8:56 PM

    Reblogged this on ZeroBites Dog Training and commented:
    Another great article from No Dog About Blog, again talking about playing at the dog park – red alert behaviours and why dogs need to be supervised, when off lead. Same can be said if your dog goes to a doggie daycare or boarding kennels. If dogs are running free in groups, they need to have someone watching 100% of the time, for changes in behaviour, such as over excitement, stress, bullying and aggression.

  1. September 13, 2015 at 10:26 PM

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