Dog parks: whether you love them or you hate them, they will always be a popular place for dogs and dog owners. If you love them, most likely you have a happy, social dog that gets along well with its playmates. If you hate them, negative associations may have formed in your mind due to unpleasant experiences with certain dogs or dog owners. So, if you absolutely love the dog park and feel like no weekend can go by without stopping there, it is fundamental to learn signs of trouble and the body language to be aware of at the dog park before things escalate.
Signs of Peace and Trouble at the Dog Park
The dog park is not a place to read a newspaper, chat with other dog owners or play a game of cards. A dog park is a place to actively watch your dog and his interactions with other dogs. Supervision is a must! While the occasional minor squabble and growl are inevitable, there are instances when things can get out of hand and quickly go for the worst.
Green Light: Dogs are Happy
While these dogs are playing happily, you should never let your guard down as things can change quickly. Two dogs may be playing joyfully, and then one may have enough. A growl may escalate into a bite and then you have a group of dogs fighting with each other. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The following are signs of dogs having a good time.
- Dogs are playing but taking brief breaks.
- Role reversal. Dogs are switching position every now and then.
- Play bow. This behavior means anything done is not to be taken seriously; it’s just playing.
- Happy play face. Dogs have relaxed mouths open, eyes are bright and the expression is purely joyful.
- Movement is wiggly, paws are in the air, dogs leap and jump
- Dog suddenly moves away to entice other dogs to chase
- Barking is high pitched
Yellow Light: Things are Changing
This is when you really need to be alert and intervene accordingly. Some dogs may not want to play for too long or they may be getting tired or cranky. Some dogs that are not socialized well, may confuse play with aggression. Others may simply want to correct boisterous behaviors.
- One dog is sending “back off signals”. Looking away, moving away, growling, freezing. If a dog persists in pestering the dog sending these signals, he should be called away.
- Raised hackles. While this does not typically denote aggression, it does suggest an arousal state that may possibly escalate into trouble at times.
- Attempts to mount. While mounting may be playful, the bottom line is that is may create conflict as some dogs are not willing to be mounted.
- Dogs are continuously playing without taking breaks.
- A fearful dog is cornered with no way out.
- First signs of bullying are taking place.
Red Light: Take Action
This is when you really want to intervene. Call your dog to you or if a fight just started, make a loud noise to startle the fighting dogs or invest in a bottle of Spray Shield. Do not get in the middle of fighting dogs. The risks of redirected aggression are high!
- Dog is repeatedly trying to mount, put paws or head on the shoulder of another dog.
- Dogs “ganging up” against one dog
- Dog that attempts to “correct” hyper dogs or boisterous displays
- Pinning down another dog
- Bullying a dog that is manifesting “back off” signals or fear
- Staring with a fixed gaze
- Body tensing up
- Showing teeth
- Non-playful low growling
- Showing teeth
- Aggressive pucker
- Tense muscles
Dog parks can be a great place to have dogs play together, but not all dogs are dog park material. The same applies to dog owners. Owners who are not willing to watch their dogs, unnecessarily put their dogs and other dogs at risk. If you really like dog parks, please try your best to be considerate and at least try to always keep an eye on your dog in the dog park. It can really make a difference.