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The hidden dangers of entering a dog park

January 6, 2014 23 comments

DSC05342If there is one thing that drives me nuts at the dog park it’s dogs mobbing the front gate, the gate through which dogs enter and exit. There is so much energy at that front gate. The dog coming in is excited and amped up and the ones inside are excited and amped up and become even more so when they see another dog coming in who is in the same state.

When there is a mob by the front gate, I wait for the other dogs to leave. If they don’t, I ask their owners to come and get them. If that doesn’t happen, I leave and go to another gate or leave altogether. I won’t put my dogs at risk for an attack.

Last week I witnessed two dogs start to fight after an excited setter entered the park and several dogs mobbed the gate. The owner really should have waited until the dogs had moved away or until the owners moved their dogs away physically, but she didn’t. She probably wasn’t aware of the dangers in not waiting. As was expected, the excited setter was attacked by one of the dogs on the inside of the gate as soon he entered. And as the two wrangled a bit, several other dogs decided to join in. Fortunately for the dogs, the owners were close enough to intervene and did so quickly, but for a second there I thought it was going to devolve into something more.

Entering a dog park can be dangerous if an owner is not aware and does not plan ahead on what they will do if there is a mob at the gate. Given my recent experience, I thought it might be good to share another video from Great Dog Productions showing just such a situation at a dog park. I am also including the slow motion version of the same video so you can see how quickly things can turn ugly. Watch as some of the other dogs join in after a black and white dog jumps the doodle that is entering the park.

Here is the slow motion version of the same video. Notice how the Lab is pushed away from the gate, but quickly comes back when the black and white dog goes after the doodle. Also notice the little Westie who started to join in. Watch the body language of the doodle. How is he feeling right about now? Scared? Nervous? You bet.

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Dog behavior to watch for at the dog park – Part Two

December 15, 2013 21 comments
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Lab being chased by three dogs. You can’t even see the terrier because she is so close to the Lab and harassing him with nips to his side and head.

Trips to the dog park have been pretty rare lately. A combination of whole “fall back” time change and the extremely cold temperatures has made it near impossible to get there, except on the weekends. On Saturday it was warm enough to stay for over an hour. We saw lots of our friends and some new ones.

Towards the end of our walk, I was chatting with one of our friends when I noticed a yellow Lab running across the field with an Irish Terrier in hot pursuit. I watched as they had a fun game of chase, taking turns on chasing and playing.

Suddenly, two other dogs joined in on the pursuit and what was a fun game of chase quickly became harassment. The terrier, already over aroused and excited, amped it up, and then the other dogs joined in on the pursuit. Soon the Lab was running for his life and had one dog nipping at his side and two others on his tail.

I could tell the Lab wasn’t having fun anymore – his hackles were up and several times he stopped and rolled on his back in hopes of stopping the hot pursuit and harassment, but it only led to the terrier nipping at him continuously while the other two dogs barked and lunged and barked and lunged. He quickly got up and started running again.

Realizing that someone needed to intervene, I yelled “Hey! Hey! Three on one is no fun!” and started walking quickly towards the dogs. My shout got the other owner’s attention and they started running towards their dogs to intervene too. A couple of owners made a grab for their dogs and pulled them away from the interaction. The Lab ran back to his owner for reassurance and just like that, the whole incident dissipated.

Afterwards, I couldn’t help but smile. It’s not often you see owners intervene like that on behalf of a dog. And yet in this case, all the owners intervened. It was awesome to see such involvement. I wish we all saw more of this type of owner behavior at dog parks.

Later, the Lab’s owner mentioned that he wasn’t sure what had happened because just before his dog had been playing chase very nicely. His comment was not surprising. All it took was an excited dog getting amped up and a couple other dogs keying in on that energy and joining in, and suddenly everything changes. It’s a great example of why owners must always be aware of what is going on and be ready to intervene if necessary.

This incident reminded me of another dog park video I had recently watched showing some great examples of dog harassment at a dog park and what happens when an owner intervenes. It’s a great reminder that we dog owners can help dissipate this kind of behavior by simply interrupting the behavior before it gets out of control. I hope you will watch and then pass it on.

Just a quick reminder – not all dogs should be at a dog park and not all dog parks are safe for dogs. You have to be your own dog’s advocate. Be aware. Be alert. Be ready to intervene. 

Dog park safety – Do you know how to keep your dogs safe? (video)

October 21, 2013 18 comments

IMG_0536Ask most dog trainers how they feel about dog parks and I guarantee that most of them would say they hate them. I know many of my friends, who are dog trainers, have told me as much when I have told them stories about things that have happened there.

Perhaps the biggest issue most trainers (and I) have with dog parks aren’t the dogs, but the owners – they don’t pay attention, they don’t have control over their dog, and they don’t intervene soon enough. It’s one of the reasons I am so hyper-vigilant at the dog park. I want to know where my dogs are, where other people’s dogs are, and want to walk away from trouble before it begins. My dogs love the dog park, but I think they would love it less if I wasn’t so focused on making sure they are safe and having fun while they are there.

Being a dog owner means not only being responsible for your dog, but also being his advocate. If you go to a dog park, you better take this role seriously because if you don’t your dog, or another dog, could get hurt. Here are some suggestions on how to keep them safe:

  • Keep your dogs moving. The more they are moving and exercising, the less chance they will be engaged in trouble with another dog.
  • Intervene if you see more than one dog ganging up on another. Way too many dog owners don’t intervene when they should. This often leads to trouble and can cause a dog to be injured. If more than one dog is harassing one dog, it is not play, it is bullying.
  • Walk away when they excitement level between dogs at the dog park reaches a hyper level. When I see dogs overly excited, I take my dogs in the opposite direction. Overly excited dogs tend to get other dogs excited and pretty soon you can have over-the-top trouble. Better to stay away from that kind of activity.
  • If your dog is hiding between your legs, hiding under a bench or picnic table, or looks scared and unhappy to be there, LEAVE. A dog that is scared to be at the dog park is not a happy dog. Why would any owner force their dog to stay in a fearful state?
  • Make sure your dogs are well-trained and respond to your commands. If you don’t have control over your dog, you should not be at a dog park. Period. No one wants to deal with an unruly dog and an irresponsible owner.

Not sure what to watch for? Here is a great video that illustrates some of the behaviors you should be watching for at the dog park.  I highly recommend every dog owner watch it. 

Dog parks can be fun places, but it takes knowing your dog and knowing what to do if you see trouble. Not every dog wants to go to a dog park nor should every dog be at a dog park. Owners need to know what to watch for and to be an advocate for their dog and know when the dog park is not the best option.

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