How to avoid canine conflict at the dog park

border collie running with ball

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Dog parks are a fantastic way for our four-legged friends to socialise while exercising and letting off some steam.

But like any social setting, they come with their own set of rules and ‘etiquette’ guidelines.

They can also be a hotbed for potential problems and conflicts if not navigated correctly.

So, to help, we’ve put together a guide for owners on how to navigate the rules and etiquette and avoid any problems at dog parks.

Potential problems and how to avoid them

With an estimated 40% of Australian households owning a dog, it’s not surprising to see dog parks in pretty much every suburb these days.

But, with the rise in popularity, it’s more important than ever that owners know what to do to avoid any possible canine conflict.

Before we get into the rules and unspoken etiquette guidelines, it’s important to understand the potential problems that can arise.

As mentioned, while dog parks are a great place for socialisation, they can also present potential problems.

Here are some of the most common issues owners experience and how best to avoid them:

Aggression If your dog shows signs of aggression, it’s essential to remove them from the situation immediately.

Knowing your dog and their body language should enable owners to act quickly before it escalates into a dog fight.

Regular training and socialisation can help prevent aggressive behavior.

Overcrowding Overcrowded dog parks can lead to increased stress and potential conflicts.

This can be a stressful situation for both the owners and dog, so it’s a good idea to try and visit during off-peak hours.

Illness Dog parks can be a breeding ground for diseases; ensure your dog is up-to-date on vaccinations and regularly treated for fleas and ticks.

Know your dog (and the rules)

The first piece of advice is probably the most important to know – not all dogs suit the dog park environment.

Owners should know their pooch well enough to know if he or she is a good fit for a run around the park with other dogs.

If you have a dog that shows signs of aggression, or is overly timid or anxious, then it’s probably best to avoid it.

Though, experts say that even dogs who are usually suited to dog parks can find themselves in unwanted and unpleasant situations.

“Dog parks can provide a great opportunity for dogs to run off some of their energy and socialise with friends,” says PETstock Ambassador and Dog Behaviourist, Lara Shannon.

“But owners need to remember that dog parks are communal spaces for sharing, and it’s vital they demonstrate responsible ownership to avoid any potential problems.”

Lara adds that it is vital owners understand their dog’s play style and body language, but even more important is knowing when to intervene.

“If you need to intervene, never pull a dog by its collar as it may instinctively bite you,” urges lara.

“Try making a loud noise, splashing water, or throwing a lead into the middle of the dogs to break their attention so that you can call your dog back to you.

“In an extreme circumstance, each owner can approach their dog from behind, picking their hind legs up and pulling them backwards, like you’re rolling a wheelbarrow.”

local dog park visit
The local dog park is a great chance for pets to play, while bonding with their owner

Understand dog body language

As dogs communicate primarily through body language, recognising the signs of stress, fear, or aggression can help prevent conflicts before they escalate.

For instance, a wagging tail doesn’t always mean a happy dog; it can also indicate nervousness or agitation.

While ears pinned back, raised hackles, or a stiff body can signal that a dog is uncomfortable or feeling threatened.

Dog park etiquette

Understanding dog park etiquette is crucial for a peaceful and enjoyable visit.

Here’s some of the most important rules to know:

  • Always keep an eye on your dog. Don’t get distracted by your phone or conversations with other owners.
  • Make sure your dog is well-socialised and comfortable around other dogs before visiting a dog park.
  • Don’t bring a dog in heat or an unneutered male to a dog park as this can lead to fights.
  • Make sure your pets’ vaccinations are up-to-date.
  • Always clean up after your dog. It’s not just polite; it’s the rules and it also helps prevent the spread of diseases.
  • If your dog starts to show signs of aggression or fear, it’s time to leave.

Lara says owners must follow the rules to ensure they have a safe trip to the dog park.

“Dog owners should prepare for all possible situations to ensure their pet has a fun but safe time,” says Lara.

“By following a few simple rules, it’s easy to improve their socialisation skills and confidence, while burning off some of that extra energy.”

Leave the toys and food at home

Don’t bring human or dog food inside the park as it can lead to fights between dogs.

The same rule applies for your pup’s favourite toys.

“Many dogs can become aggressive and territorial when they’re around possessions of high value,” says Lara.

“However, it may be a good idea to keep a small handful of treats, or a squeaky toy, tucked away in your training pouch for positive reinforcement.”

Stay alert

Always keep an eye out for your dog – ensure that they are staying out of trouble, and you’re ready to intervene if needed.
Lara says owners should be familiar with their dog’s body language, as well as that of other dogs.

“Keep an eye out for any subtle signs that a dog may be feeling anxious,” says Lara.

“This includes flicking of their tongue, yawning, raising their lip at another dog, ears back, tail tucked and wanting to be by your side.

“If your dog displays any of these signs when interacting with other dogs or people, then busy dog parks are not the place for your dog.”

Sniffspace online community for dog lovers
Dog park fun (image: SniffSpace)

How to avoid trouble

“When in a shared space like a dog park, it is crucial that your pet has solid recall skills and responds to your cues, particularly “come” for both their safety and yours,” explains Lara.

“If your dog is a first-time dog park visitor, or your dog is prone to anxiety, dog parks can be too much for them.

Lara says some of the main signs of a dog being anxious include barking, lunging, or ‘having a go’ at other dogs and people.

“If your dog displays this behaviour, it is important to seek the support of a qualified trainer at the earliest opportunity.

“This will help stop your dog continuously rehearsing the behaviour.”

Slowly introducing your dog to new environments with minor distractions is a good starting point, says Lara.

Choosing off-peak times, with treats on hand to reward positive behaviour, are great ideas for those starting out.

“Always start with a lot of distance between you and other dogs and people, if they start to reach their stress threshold, they won’t feel the need to react.

“If you’re unsure of your dog’s behaviour around other dogs, or their recall skills are not very strong, avoid taking them to an off-lead dog park where the outcomes can be unpredictable.

“Breaking up a fight, in the unfortunate event that a dog fight breaks out between your pet and another, it is important to try and stay calm – even though it might be hard,” says Lara.

Small white dog at dog park
Dog parks can be a positive experience for all dogs if owners follow some simple tips

Top tips for an enjoyable dog park experience

Make sure your dog is fully vaccinated and healthy before visiting the park.

Bring water, a bowl, and treats to keep your dog hydrated and comfortable.

Supervise your dog at all times, keep an eye out for signs of aggression, and intervene if necessary.

Clean up after your dog to maintain a safe and clean environment for all.

Respect the space and other dogs and their owners; don’t bring in food or toys that may cause conflicts.

Finally, know the rules and regulations of your local dog park.

We hope this guide comes in handy when you’re next planning to visit the dog park.

As you can see, dog parks can be a wonderful resource for both dogs and their owners; however, it’s important to be aware of potential issues and how to navigate them.

By following these tips, you can help ensure a positive and safe experience for everyone.

Remember, a well-socialised, well-behaved dog is not only a joy to own but also a joy for others to be around.

This article was previously published as How to avoid problems at the local dog park – Animal Friendly Life