If you’ve frequented dog parks, I’m willing to bet you’ve witnessed a few scary experiences.
Maybe they even turned you off to dog parks altogether.
I had the pleasure of interviewing a doggie daycare worker who spends five days a week at an enormous dog park with 100-200 dogs daily! Gina Castagnozzi spends an hour and a half each morning driving through the Hollywood Hills, picking up lucky dogs to join her and the dogs from her five coworkers at the off leash dog park. There, the pups enjoy three hours of playtime.
Each of the workers transport 10-12 dogs in their SUVs, which creates a super pack of more than 40 dogs. Over the last several years she’s learned a great deal about triggers, pack behavior, and how to avoid altercations and escalations. We got her to share the top ten tips for preventing mistakes at the dog park:
Avoid holding your dog on a leash. Instead, drag the leash if necessary.
This seems counter intuitive, right? If I have my dog on a leash I can better protect him. But what actually happens is you create an uneven playing field for them. Other dogs want to interact, but by restraining your dog he may feel threatened. Instead, if your dog is new to the park, try dragging the leash allowing him to explore on his own. This way he is able to interact and smell other dogs. If anything should happen you can catch him easily with the leash.
Avoid letting new puppies roam in the large dog area.
Puppies don’t understand pack life politics and run blissfully unaware up to an alpha dog the same way they would to a geriatric dog. This lack of etiquette and personal space gets under the fur of many dogs. You should also keep your pet in the small dog area if your dog scares easily (yelps or cries), since that attracts the prey drive in surrounding dogs. You always want to immediately pick up your dog if he yelps.
Avoid losing your cool.
When things escalate the last thing you want to do is lose your cool. Dogs can sense fear and anxiety. If your dog is approached by an aggressive dog, keep your cool and direct behavior with firm commands and motion. If you freak out and freeze you might as well have screamed “Fight!” (and flash back to junior high) inviting any other dogs to join the brawl.
Intact male dogs regularly attract negative attention.
Gina has witnessed countless dog attacks and harassments simply because the animal was intact (not spayed/neutered). Call it jealousy, or a pheromone craze, but it can really stir the pot at the park. Oddly enough, it happens almost exclusively to male dogs. Females may receive attention in the form of mount attempts, but fly under the radar with irrational fights.
Avoid staying in one spot.
Dogs are territorial creatures, especially when in a group/pack. If you keep them moving at the park, then they don’t have a territory to protect. Furthermore, if you get stuck in a tight spot with a group of dogs, call them off, protect your dog while moving away from the original location of the fight. This helps deescalate the situation.
If your dog has a thing for certain breeds, you can anticipate problems in the future.
Some dogs have consistent aggression towards a certain breed or color. Call it dog prejudice, or maybe it’s from a traumatic past experience. If you know your dog doesn't like white dogs or huskies, for example, be on the lookout to avoid negative interaction.
Avoid letting play escalate.
Just like with teenage boys, wrestling and rough play can easily escalate into an actual fight. There’s a fine line, so monitor play closely and don’t allow the wrestling to get too rough. If their tail is wagging, they’re playing.
Giant breeds, flat-faced breeds (bulldogs, pugs, boxers), and huskies often attract negative attention.
The sheer size of the giant breeds intimidates. The flat-faced breeds have less personal space since they depend on their vision instead of smell to mingle. And it’s unknown why huskies have a bad rep. It could have something to do with the fact they resemble wolves, which puts off some dogs.
Hydrate your dogs at least every 30 minutes, more if it’s hot.
A hydrated dog is a healthy dog! Don't add to any dog-park anxiety by letting them pant uncontrollably.
Keep your kids close if you bring them into the park.
Many dogs have no idea how to handle kids, or are aggressive toward them, which is why they were placed in homes without children. You’re on their turf, so keep your kids close. Don’t allow kids to run through the park, and always have them ask before petting a dog.
Now you’re equipped to enter the dog park with confidence and the knowhow to avoid trouble!
I’m never happier than when I’m in nature with my pup. Walking amongst green giants covered in moss, a crystal clear river running alongside us providing water for my pup and a cool down for me. When I’m not in my happy place I’m teaching high school Medical Science or writing lifestyle, pet, and travel pieces.