Aggression at the dog park: Dog behaviour explained

Jordan Dog Training Press

Recently, Jordan Dog Training provided advice for dog owners in the Pine Rivers Press, after an unfortunate incident resulted in the sudden death of a schnauzer puppy, who was attacked by a larger dog at a northern Brisbane dog park.
As experts in dog behaviour and training, we’ll talk about common issues dog owners face at a dog park and provide tips on how you can ensure your dog has a safe, fun time in off leash areas. We’ll also give advice on what you can do if tension starts to rise at a dog park.

How do you know that trouble is imminent and what can you do?

It’s important to pay close attention to your dog’s body language and other dogs’ body language throughout your visit to the park.Dog behaviour explained

Here are some examples of situations where you may need to call your dog away or distract them with another activity before a play situation escalates into aggression:

  • Rough, excitable play where one dog is having fun but the other dog is getting overpowered or crushed
  • Rough play where both dogs are over-excited (this play can suddenly break into a fight)
  • Play where there is a significant size difference between dogs

How do you distinguish normal interactions from aggressive or fearful behaviour?

The best way to work out whether a dog is engaging in aggressive behaviour is to watch how other dogs respond to that dog. If the other dog in question reacts with anxiety or fear, such as turning their head away or tensing up, you will need to step in.

Dog Play

Follow these guidelines to avoid aggression between dogs in off leash areas:

  • Monitor your dog’s interactions with others and remove them from play if they are charging or tackling dogs at full speed
  • Call your dog away from the gate to allow others to enter calmly
  • Wait a few moments before allowing your dog to greet newcomers
  • Where possible, let your dog remain with four paws on the ground to allow them to use their body to communicate with other dogs.
  • Remove your dog’s lead as soon as possible once inside the fenced
  • Correct or redirect your dog if they try to mount other dogs and praise when they are interacting appropriately
  • If you can see that another dog is uncomfortable with your dog (are they turning their head, tensing up or trying to move away from your dog) – even if your dog isn’t doing anything ‘wrong’ – redirect your dog away from them

What else can you do to protect your dog and keep other dogs safe?

  • Train your dog to focus on games with you as well as other dogs or people at the parkdog park behaviour tips
  • Train your dog to return to you when called (commonly called ‘recall’) so you can intervene before he gets into a problem situation
  • If your dog likes to steal toys, you will need to develop your dog’s ‘fetch’ and ‘release’ skills so he will immediately bring the stolen toy to you and
    you can return it to the rightful owner
  • If stealing toys becomes a serious problem, you may need to remove your dog from the area

Keep in mind that it’s okay to allow your dog to play and socialise with other dogs, as long as both dogs are relaxed and enjoying the interaction.

If you have a small dog

Carefully weigh the pros and cons when deciding to bring a small dog to an off leash area or dog park with large dogs.Small dog park behaviour

If your dog is small, he may be easily injured by excitable or larger dogs. You need to feel comfortable that your small dog will feel comfortable in this high energy space.

Some dog parks have separate fenced areas for big and small dogs.  These will be listed on the relevant council’s web page.

A common mistake that dog owners make is to pick up their small dog if it appears intimidated. Lifting a small dog may trigger a ‘chase’ instinct in larger dogs, causing them to jump up to reach or snap at your dog. The larger dog may also try to reinstate the natural hierarchy by mounting or knocking down your small dog when he is put back on the ground.

What is recall and how can it help?

Recall is much more than simply training your dog to come to you when called. Recall means your dog pays attention to your every command and is ready to obey no matter what. Obedience and recall skills are important not just for your dog’s safety, but for the safety of every dog and person he interacts with in an off leash area.Group dog obedience class

If your dog’s social skills or obedience need some work, or if they’re a bit of a loose cannon at the dog park, Jordan Dog Training can assist you. In addition to providing obedience training and puppy schools, Jordan Dog Training also offers private consultations for a variety of behaviour issues, and can help you train your dog to have a reliable recall and increase their responsiveness to your commands in off leash situations. Every dog is different and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, so we suggest that you speak to us about your concerns and what you would like to achieve with your dog. We can then recommend the best training approach for you and your dog.