Thursday, May 19, 2011

Advice from a trainer: What to do if an unfriendly dog approaches mine at the dog park

On Monday, I posted my response to a reader asking what to do if an unfriendly dog approaches her dog while at the park. You can read my response here: What to do if an unfriendly dog approaches ...

With my own pooch not fit for the dog park, though, it's not an area I have a whole of experience with. So, I reached out to my favorite local dog trainer, Nicole Herr. She and her husband, Brian, run Herr Pet Training. They have the right knowledge about dog behavior — not all trainers do — and are capable of tackling the toughest of behavior problems. It's all about credibility for me and these two have it.

Without further ado, here is Nicole's response:

The question
“What to do if you are at the dog park with your dog and a “not friendly” dog approaches. I would love to say this never happens when we are out, but there have been a few times that I have been out with my dog and another dog comes up that is a little too aggressive (starts to show aggressive dominance behaviors like mounting). If you had any tips about how to handle while minimizing getting hurt that would be great!”

Great blog post Karen! (Gee, thanks Nicole!!) You've written sound advice on a very tricky subject and I'm going to build on that...

This is the trickiest part of a trip to the dog park ... the other dogs. It's an element you can't control for, so you need to be very alert and aware to your own dog's body language and cues of stress. If your dog begins to look stressed, it is our job as pet parents to step in and manage or remove them from the situation. Many dogs do not handle the dog park environment well. Having even a basic knowledge of canine body language will help you identify what dog-dog communications are occurring, and if your dog will fit well into the environment. 

An important note to start: While you are at the park with your dog, don't sit back and read a book.  Keep a watchful eye on your dog and stay reasonably close. Seconds matter if an altercation occurs and being a football field away is simply irresponsible. 

If I am in the dog park, I am always carrying VERY tasty treats, a loud whistle and a small air horn.  The treats can help redirect your dog if necessary and can be used as a lure for others if the need arises. The whistle and air horn are there to serve as an interrupter.  They can startle the dogs just long enough for you to step in and diffuse the situation. You should ALWAYS have your leash immediately at-hand as well. Your leash can be used a loop to quickly gain control of your dog when there isn't time to clip onto the collar. 

To go back to the original question, I am assuming that you are in the immediate vicinity of your dog when this happens and that your dog is off-leash.  If the dog approaches in an offensive and charging manner, take a step between them and give a "HEY!" to startle them. Often, something this simple will stop them or slow them down. At this point a "Please come get your dog" in a nice, loud voice will have the owner coming in for assistance.  If the dog continues to approach, use your whistle or air horn if you feel threatened (this will definitely get everyone's attention). We are looking to startle them just long enough to intervene and avoid a dog fight.

"He may stand there, looking at you, confused, not quite ready to give up more of his space. Tell him to get lost. Wave him off. If it doesn’t work, stand there and hold your ground until he decides to trot away in a different direction.
If he tries to go around you, body block him. If he takes a step to his left, you take the same step to match him. Claim your space. Claim your dog.
This is great advice from Karen.  (Thanks, Nicole!!)

A few other notes on this subject:
*Stay calm--  Your dog feeds off of your emotions, so remain calm and confident.  If you panic, so will they. 

*Don't grab for the collar — A dog in a heightened state won't know your hand from the touch of another dog. They may turn and snap at or bite you if you grab at their collar. Use your leash to loop your dog and regain control. If you need to physically remove your dog from another, do not use your hands. At that point, use your legs/shins to shove them, then loop them to regain control. 

*Avoid busy times at the park — Simply put, go when it's less busy. Or visit during times when the less-than-friendly dogs are not there. 

*Report it!  — If you see a dog that is a problem, report them to park authorities. If there is no one on-site, make a report to the governing offices. Keeping the park safe is everyone's responsibility. 

While I enjoy a day at the park with my dog, I highly advocate for trying a good doggie daycare, too.  The daycare is a controlled environment, where the dogs have been evaluated for temperament and personality. This keeps the "not so friendly" dogs out, as they generally don't make it past the initial screening process. 

Please keep in mind that these are general tips to keep the "not so friendly" dogs at bay. Avoiding them is the first step. If you find yourself encountering them at a park too often, let the authorities know and find a new park. Before I take my dog to a new park I will go by myself to observe and meet some people. Ask questions. Are there times to avoid? Dogs to stay away from? Take the time to find the right place for you and your dog to enjoy. 

1 comment:

  1. These are some great tips! They also are helpful to remember while walking in neighborhoods. I'm a dogwalker, so I'm out there everyday in the wilds of suburbia. The approach of strange dogs is as common a hazard there as it is in dog parks.

    One of the most effective strategies, as mentioned, is shouting HEY! NO also works. The dog usually stops and looks at you funny. Then I say GO HOME! This works most of the time, the dog turns and goes back the way he came.

    Thanks for the excellant topic, Karen.