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
Hackles/fur on back raised
"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:
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
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.
Come visit us!