At the Dog Park: Dog Body Language Explained


Have you ever wondered why your dog acts a bit differently at the dog park? Dogs can exhibit different behavior at dog parks around other pups compared to in their own home. If you're visiting a dog park with your pup, it's important to understand dog body language.


Playful Body Language

It's extremely important to understand the difference between puppy play and signs of aggression. It's pretty easy to tell the difference; you just need to know what to look for!

Playful dog body language includes:

  • Back and forth play - dogs are changing roles and positions frequently

  • Open, relaxed mouths

  • Play bows - a playful front end down, rump in the air, with a wagging tail

  • Jumps and twists in the air

  • Bouncy, exaggerated gestures

Dogs playing can often appear like fighting if you are not used to it. Vocalization, play growling, and some barking is all normal and one way dogs communicate with each other.



Anxious, Fearful, or Aggressive Body Language

It's also important to be able to tell when your dog is unhappy at the dog park. They can feel fearful, anxious, or even become aggressive towards other dogs if they begin to feel overwhelmed. Anxious, fearful, and aggressive body language can look like:

  • Whimpering or crying

  • Tail tucked and back hunched

  • Showing teeth

  • Hackles/fur on back raised

  • Tense posture

  • "Whale" eyes - wide eyes that show whites around the entire iris

Dogs that have not been socialized much, recent rescues, and overly tired dogs may exhibit these behaviors more than usual. Pay close attention to these signals, as it may be a sign it's time to head home.


Other Dog Behaviors That Require Intervention

While many of these behaviors may begin as playful, they can lead to conflict with other dogs. If your dog requires intervention often at the park due to these behaviors, a qualified trainer may be helpful. These behaviors include:

  • Excessive mounting/humping

  • Full speed or hard body slams

  • Pinning other dogs

  • Shadowing or repeatedly following another dog who does not want to play

  • Prolonged fast or heavy play in groups of 3 or more

  • Excessive barking

These behaviors may cause another dog to lash out and potentially cause a dangerous situation. It's best to stop it as soon as you see it occurring.


When to Avoid the Dog Park

Dog parks can be safe and fun for both dogs and humans. However, not every dog will appreciate time at the park. Dog parks can become dangerous for your dog or other dogs around you if:

  • Your dog is sick

  • Your dog does not get along with dogs or people they do not know

  • Your dog is not spayed/neutered over the age of 1 year

  • Your dog is a recent rescue or recently experienced a high-stress situation

  • Your dog possessively guards toys, water, food, or you

  • Your dog is unvaccinated

It's ok if your dog isn't a good fit for dog parks. They can be stressful in the wrong situations, and they may prefer playing one on one with you or other dogs they already know.

Visiting our dog park at Martha's Garden can help prevent dangerous situations found at outdoor parks. We only allow vaccinated dogs to play, and dogs must be spayed or neutered by 1 year of age. We also always have an experienced employee on hand to help with difficult situations and the ability to separate dogs who may not be getting along well.


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