7 Tips for Avoiding Dog Fights at the Park
There's nothing quite so wonderful as watching puppers playing together. Sometimes, though, personalities clash. How can you help your hound have a happy play date and keep him safe from doggo bullies at the dog park? Here are seven helpful tips for avoiding dog fights.
1. Know Your Dog Park Rules
A fun romp at the dog park starts with knowing the park's rules before your play session. Many are designed to lower the risk of fights. For example, never bring a female dog in heat to the park. It's likely to lead to male dog fights and could even lead to an unplanned litter of pups. In fact, many parks require visiting pups to be spayed or neutered.
Likewise, if your pup has a history of fighting or guarding, he shouldn't go to the park. It's best to work on socializing a reactive pooch in a safe setting with the help of a behaviorist rather than among unfamiliar neighborhood pups. Also, avoid taking treats and toys to the park, since these can cause conflict. Finally, make sure you know that your buddy will come when called, even if you don't have a treat. You want to be confident that you can get your dog out of a tricky situation, if necessary.
2. Get the Lay of the Land
Make sure there's enough space at the park for all dogs present to play comfortably — they don't like to crowd together. You might want to pass on a park that's too busy. Pups are more likely to become aggressive if they can't avoid other pooches who worry them. You want to ensure your buddy has enough space to escape perceived threats or stressful situations.
If you have a small dog, find out if the park has an enclosure for friends his size. You may also want to find out if it's supervised. Many dog parks aren't, and not everyone follows the rules. Take particular care with toy breeds. They are more likely to get hurt while playing with bigger friends. If you have a large dog, keep him out of the small-dog area — even if he's good with little ones. Small pups aren't always happy to be around larger dogs, and you don't want your pal to spoil their fun.
3. Be Careful Entering and Exiting
Most pups prefer to have space between them unless they're already good friends. This means the gate where everyone enters and exits can be a problem spot if pups and their partners aren't paying attention. Doggos entering can be rambunctious, while those leaving might feel tired and not ready for another bout of play. Allow outgoing pooches to pass through first. Leave plenty of space between your pup and others who are ready to head inside.
4. Survey the Pups and Their People
Are the other dogs well-supervised, or are their humans distracted? Does anyone look worried about their pup? If so, steer clear in case they expect their pooch to be reactive. Try to avoid unsupervised dogs — the owners may be less likely to interrupt if play gets too rough. Avoiding dog fights can be as easy as avoiding unpredictable dogs.
Get a feel for the energy in the park and whether it's appropriate for your buddy.
For example, if your pup is timid and the park is rowdy, it might be best to try again another day. He could have an overwhelming experience instead of the fun time you had planned. Once you decide you're going in, look around for an ideal playmate and encourage him to head that way. If there are other dogs you don't want to engage with, steer your pup around the potential trouble spots.
5. Understand Body Language
Dogs usually don't fight without warning. If they are preparing to fight, they tend to give a warning with their body language. Familiarize yourself with canine communication. Once you know what different signals mean, it's easier to avoid a fight. By recognizing feistiness, you'll prevent your pal from becoming a target. You'll be better able to predict his own behavior, too.
6. Know the Difference Between Play and Fighting
Fighting and playing between dogs can appear similar. Learn the signs of "balanced play" to know the difference between friendly play and an unfriendly disposition. In a game of chase, for example, each pup should take turns chasing and running. Make sure that the one being chased isn't actually trying to get away. If he keeps looking over his shoulder, he's likely signaling that it's all right for his friend to carry on. But if the chased pup is running fast with his eyes locked forward, he may be trying to escape.
In other words, play should happen on both sides. If one dog is boxing, the other should be boxing back. If they're wrestling, they should "take turns" being the victor. This kind of play can get rough. Check if their bodies look relaxed, they jump apart regularly, and their tails are loose. Then, it's likely still playtime for both.
If things look like they're getting too intense, call your pup away for a cooldown. If both dogs want to return after a pause, then chances are they were getting along fine. If they choose not to reengage, they may not have enjoyed it, or maybe they're ready for something else. If that's the case, move along to meet different doggos.
7. Carry a Leash
Even in an enclosed park, keep your leash close at hand in case you need to remove your pal from a tricky situation. There might be times when your fur buddy becomes an annoyance to another dog. This is common during puppy adolescence, when they start testing boundaries. Leash and separate your pal if he becomes persistent about playing with a fellow park-goer.
Visiting a dog park should be a fun outing for you and your buddy to spend time together and with friends. Avoiding dog fights will ensure you make the most of this time together and return home feeling good. In turn, you also help keep the park fun for all your pal's friends, too.