There’s been a rash of incidents in our city’s dog parks, so perhaps it’s time to review some rules of etiquette for using them. Use of the parks are on the honor system because they are not monitored (except by users, who can be a fairly close and vocal clique). Incidents have included everything from dogs being abandoned in the parks to a small Chihuahua being killed by another dog – and everything in between.
There is always a risk when you let your dog interact with other animals, especially new unknown ones. And there is an assumption of liability when you enter a dog park. So unless there is a history of known aggression, there is less animal control can do about incidents when they occur there. Even dogs that have played well in the past can have fights – like when children play together – someone almost always ends up crying. Why does this happen? There are a million reasons.
Possibly, one of the dogs is not feeling 100 percent, so their tolerance is lower. Perhaps two dogs are playing well when a third enters and changes the dynamic. Maybe one pup is feeling pushed around or threatened by a bigger dog and, in turn, takes it out on a smaller one who innocently walks by. Animals pick up on their owner’s fears and emotions, too, and if you are acting nervous around certain dogs then your dog may react to defending you. Some guard toys and treats, so it’s best not to bring them along – although what’s a romp at a park without a tennis ball (bring two so you can share if someone starts hogging it).
Tensions can often be diffused by attentive parents who separate and distract dogs before a tussle can break out – that is your job at the park – to be constantly monitoring how, and what, your dog is doing. Too often pet parents don’t pay enough attention to their dogs and instead are buried on their cell phones or a book. And then they are caught by surprise when a fight breaks out and no one clearly knows what happened or who started it (helpful to prevent it from repeating).
Would you know how to safely break up a fight? The No. 1 reason people get bit is they stick their hands in between two fighting dogs (hint: that’s the wrong thing to do). Fights can be scary – it usually sounds like they are completely shredding each other but know that the vocalizing is in place of actual damage, each dog is just trying to intimidate the other. Often when the dogs separate there is only slobber on the other and no real marks at all. That’s the best case scenario. In that situation, usually just a loud, firm “knock it off” will get the dogs apart. Or try to use a chair or some other physical object that you can put between the dogs.
If the dogs are actually biting each other, pulling on them can just cause more damage by tearing the skin they have hold of. Instead of reaching for their collars (and getting your hands close to their faces) grab their back legs by the inner thighs and lift the back end off the ground. This will both startle the dog and throw his balance off, usually resulting in his opening his mouth and releasing the other dog. At that point, depending on the size and weight of the dog you have hold of, you can swing him away from the one just released. Because reaching for the back end is not instinctual, you might want to practice on your dog (do it lightly as if you are playing) so you can feel what it’s like.
Obviously only dogs that are completely comfortable around all types of dogs should be brought to a dog park, but there’s always a first time for any behavior. By being observant and really watching to see if your dog is enjoying the park, you can prevent incidents from happening. Sometimes, though, I think going to the dog park is more about the social interaction of the people rather than the dogs!