Dog Park Preparation and Etiquette

Dogs have been selectively bred over thousand of years for high energy work, such as hunting, guarding, hauling, tracking, controlling pests and other activities. These jobs require intelligence, large amounts of energy and varying degrees of social interaction.  Unfortunately, many modern dogs lack Dog Parka satisfying way to engage in activities for which they have been bred. Inactive dogs can become fat. Bored dogs become problem dogs. Idle paws are certainly the “Devil’s workshop.” Providing physical exercise and mental stimulation is not only healthy for pets, it can also keep them out of trouble. Families living in urban environments may have limited options for satisfying a young dog’s needs. Dog parks  provide a way to exercise mind and body, as well as social interaction. They can also be a lot of fun for their human friends. But dog parks are not for every dog or all family members. Dogs that are fearful, frail, tiny, aggressive or who play too rough are not good candidates. I’ve outlined below some important issues and tips you should take into consideration before taking your dog to a dog park.

Before you consider taking your dog to a dog park:

  • Realize that there is always some risk in allowing your dog to interact with unfamiliar dogs, such as infections, injuries, worms and fleas
  • Decide if your dog a “Dog Park Dog”
    • Dogs that are aggressive are not suitable to visit dog parks.Dog-dominates
    • Is he a bully at play? Watch your dog interact with other dogs to determine his sociability. Does his play make other dogs anxious or elicit defensive aggression? Does he back off when the other dog is giving submissive or fear signals?
    • Is he unruly and likely to jump all over people?
    • Is he in good health?
    • Is his age appropriate? Dog parks are not the place for young pups or frail older dogs.
    • Is he big enough? Small dogs should only be taken to parks designated for small dogs.

Preparing your dog:

  • Socialize your pet to other dogs frequently, especially during the first four months of life.
  • Teach your dog to Come’, ‘Sit’, ‘Stay’ and ‘Leave it’ on command.
  • Be sure all vaccinations are up to date, a flea preventive has been applied and he has been tested for intestinal worms. Frequent visits to dog parks warrant more frequent fecal exams for intestinal parasites.
  • Observe your dog’s behavior around unfamiliar dogs to get an idea if he is a candidate for a dog park visit. (See below)
  • Understand dog body language. Read a good book or internet article that describes how to interpret facial expressions, body postures and social behavior of dogs. You want to be able to recognize signs of play, fear, stress and overt, as well as subtle, signals of aggression.

Choose a dog park that has:

  • Enough area for the pets to run about without being too congested.
  • Secure fences and double gates. Clean, safe environment.
  • Separate areas for large and small dogs.
  • Sheltered areas and water for drinking.
  • Posted rules.

Don’t Take:

  • Young children or babies in strollers
  • Highly valuable toys
  • A small dog to a park with large dogs running loose. Small dogs can trigger predatory behavior from other dogs in some situations.
  • A dog that has not been fully vaccinated
  • A dog to the park to treat aggression to other dogs or fear of other dogs

Do Take:

  • Bags for clean up, water, treats, leash, cell phone, something to break up fights (see below)

At the Dog Park:Dog-Chase

  • Before entering, watch the behavior of other dogs in the park. Avoid entering if any dogs are showing behaviors suggesting aggression or inappropriate play behavior.
  • Observe the behavior of owners. Are they supervising?
  • If possible, wait until no dogs are near the gates before entering.
  • Take the leash off your dog before allowing him to enter through the second gate into the park. A leashed dog may lunge excitedly, sending a message that he could be challenging nearby dogs.  Keeping him on a leash might also make your dog feel vulnerable and the need to defend himself since he can’t escape a barrage of rushing dogs.
  • Leave the gate area quickly so the pet is not rushed by a gang of dogs.
  • Don’t forget about your dog. Pay attention to him, the other dogs and the other dog owners (Are they paying attention to their dogs, yelling at dogs or each other?). Be vigilant for potential problems.  Keep your dog safe.
  • Be careful about giving treats or playing with toys near other dogs.

Addressing problems:

  • If a group of dogs seems to be getting too excited, call your dog to another area of the park.
  • If your dog becomes aggressive, plays too rough or is overwhelmed by more assertive dogs, remove him from the area or the park.
  • If another dog is aggressive to dogs in the park, the owner and the pet should be asked to leave. If the dog appears dangerous and the owner will not remove it, remove your dog and call animal control.
  • An occasional light growl can be an appropriate way of telling another dog it is too close or playing too rough. If the behavior appears to be mild and appropriate for the situation, don’t yell or scold as this can create more tension. Use an upbeat recall, “Come”, to call your pet out of the situation.
  • If a fight breaks out:
    • Stay calm. Fights often end up being less serious than they seem.Dog-Fight
    • Yelling and screaming often make the situation worse
    • Grabbing a dog by the collar should be avoided, since you’re likely to be bitten. Dog bites are serious and can result in a deep puncture, laceration or the loss of a finger.
    • Spray Shield is a safe effective product that will break up most fights. It is a small canister containing citronella (non-toxic, non-irritating, exceptionally safe) under pressure. Triggering the product releases a strong stream. The effect is similar to tossing a small bucket of cold water in the dog’s face. A compressed air horn will also occasionally work to interrupt a fight, as may a water hose.
    • There can be some very serious danger in physically pulling the dogs apart. If you are willing to accept the danger, then:
      • Both pet owners should approach their dogs from the rear to separate the dogs at the same time.
      • From behind, grab the front of the upper thighs where they connect to the body (Grabbing the lower legs can cause an injury.
      • Lift the rear legs off the ground and pull the dogs away from each other.
      • Turn your dog, put his leash on and move away from the situation.
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A Dog Shouldn’t Bite the Hand That Feeds It

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        As a child I was taught to never bother a dog while he’s eating. Certainly good advice since messing with a dog at dinner time can be asking for trouble. Food-related aggression problems are not uncommon. The success rate for treating them is relatively high, but can entail a significant time commitment and some risk. On the other hand, prevention can be safe and relatively easy.  Here are some tips to insure that your puppy will be relaxed and safe around his food:

Things to do:

  • Make dinner time family time – Don’t ignore the pup when he eats.  Sit on the floor with him.  Feed dry food from your hand.  Occasionally hold the bowl in your lap and allow him to eat.
  • Teach the pup to look forward to having people nearby – Every now and then, drop a small chunk of canned food or lean chicken in his bowl as you stand near or walk by.
  • Associate food with gentle touch and handling – During a few dinners each week, practice getting the pet used to being touched while he’s eating. Gently touch him, then promptly hand a few pieces of food.  Repeat, gradually touching him all over.  The pup learns that touch means food is coming, not being taken away.
  • Feed the pup enough – If you have a healthy pup that has plenty of energy and no health problems, but is thin and acts like he’s starved – then he probably is. Feed him more. Hungry dogs are more likely to guard their food.
  • Socialize frequently – Have friends of all ages visit as often as possible. Ask them to hand feed small amounts of dry food or small treats, piece by piece. Do the same thing when you meet people on walks. When the pup learns to sit, request a sit before they give the food. Poorly socialized dogs are usually anxious around unfamiliar people and the anxiety can be manifested as aggression near food.
  • Start obedience early – Teach the puppy to respond to obedience cues as soon as possible. Enroll in a puppy class at eight to ten weeks of age. Take it through a basic obedience class at six to twelve months of age. Obedient dogs are less likely to be aggressive.
  • Establish a relationship in which the family is in control – Remind the pup that you are in charge by asking him to sit before he gets anything he wants or needs (food, toys, play access to outdoors, social attention). Frequently reinforcing deferential behavior is a safe, effective and humane way of accomplishing this.

Things to avoid:

  • Frequently snatching the food away from the pup while he is eating to show him “you own the food  – This will just irritate the puppy and can actually cause food bowl guarding and aggression. I’d think about biting someone who did that to me!
  • Physical “leadership exercises” – Don’t try to teach the pup you are the boss by rolling him on his back, shaking him by the scruff or by using any other rough techniques. This can cause distrust of people, make the pup hand-shy and lead to defensive aggression.
  • Punishment – Physical corrections and harsh training techniques weaken the bond, cause distrust and can lead to aggression. If your pup growls, do not physically discipline him or harshly scold him. Immediately contact a pet behaviorist for instruction on how to handle the problem.

VERY IMPORTANT
These techniques should only be used with friendly, young puppies.  They should not be attempted with adult dogs or any dogs that are already showing signs of aggression.  If your pet is already exhibiting aggressive behavior, seek the help of a professional.

Do “Invisible” Fences Cause Dogs To Become Aggressive?

IMG_3384I took a call yesterday from a councilman in a nearby city. He had a complaint from one of his constituents who felt threatened by a large dog that was contained in the family’s front yard by an underground fencing system. The dog ran along the edge of the property actively barking and growling in a very threatening manner whenever the woman passed with her pets. She was very concerned for her safety and that of her pets. She thought that perhaps it should be illegal to keep any dog in a front yard using an underground fence.

One of the councilman’s concerns was whether this type of fencing system should be allowed because using it might actually make a dog aggressive. I told him that this type of fence would not, by itself, make a dog more aggressive. But if a dog is confined on a rope in the yard, behind a window, screen door or any type of fencing system and is allowed to bark and growl at people or other dogs in a threatening manner it usually gets more aggressive over time. The reason for this is that when the dog acts aggressive, the person continues walking down the street or may cross the street. In the dog’s mind this makes aggression a successful strategy for keeping unfamiliar people away from the home. In time, the behavior gets worse and worse.  The pet also may become more aggressive to visitors to the home who don’t heed the initial warning (that works with most people) and continue to approach the home. To the dog, this means that these people are not getting the message and that more aggression must be required to protect the home.

The other problem with allowing dogs to be very aggressive at a boundary is that  in the event of  sudden escape (the rope breaks, the door pops open, the glass window breaks, or the electric fence fails) the dog may suddenly find itself free with access to the passerby. All the pent-up energy may then propel the dog into a very vicious attack.

Underground systems are fine in some situations, but they do not protect the pet from roaming dogs or children that might harm it. They also do not protect people who might inadvertently enter the yard of an aggressive dog. Families need to take responsibility for their pets’ behavior. Permitting a dog to run around the yard barking and growling viciously at people who pass is little different than permitting a son to run about the yard cursing and brandishing a knife at passersby.  It may just be bravado and he may never actually hurt someone but you can’t take the risk, and at the very least it’s just plain rude.