Think Like a Dog Trainer. Part 7: The Dog Park

11/15/2016
by Jess Rollins

By Jess Rollins
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Welcome to part 7 of a multi-part article designed to alert you to the many of the potential pitfalls of living with an untrained dog. In each description of a potential problem, I will outline how you can prevent it, how to teach good behavior, and what to do as an immediate response if you find yourself in a situation where you need to quickly stop him from misbehaving. Ideally, you will proactively prevent your dog's misbehavior and hence will not have many "Ack, STOP that!" moments. Using the "immediate responses" below more than a time or two each day could set back your training efforts with your dog and prevent him from learning how to behave politely. Therefore, if you find yourself relying on them too heavily, simply increase the prevention you are doing and make sure that your rewards for good behavior are truly rewarding to him. The immediate responses below are designed to interrupt your dog without either rewarding his misbehavior or frightening your dog.

Visiting the Dog Park!

The dog park can be a great way for your dog to burn up energy and keep up his "dog language" skills, as long as you can avoid the many potential pitfalls.

Dog Park Tips:

  • Do Not bring an adult dog that is hasn't been neutered or spayed. An intact dog is more likely to cause fighting.
  • Do Not bring puppies that are under 4 months since the disease risk for them is high.
  • Do take small dogs to the "small dog park" since it is safer for them.
  • Do bring your aggressive dog deterrent in case of fights.
  • Do Not use a chain collar the dog park as it can be a choking hazard. The best collar to have your dog wear is a safety collar.
  • Do supervise your dog (instead of chatting "“ hard to resist sometimes!) in order to be ready to step in when you need to.
  • Do take your dog to the dog park for the first time when it is not busy, so he can get a sense of it without being overwhelmed.
  • Do consider leaving small children at home since you cannot be sure that all dogs at the dog park are friendly and safe.
  • Do Not go to the dog park when it is crowded since that may cause dogs to get tense and more prone to aggression.

Issues to Be Alert for When at the Dog Park with Your Dog:

  • Shyness/fearfulness (your dog wants to leave)
    If your dog is nervous at the dog park, allow him to retreat, but reward him when he is being more outgoing. If he is completely overwhelmed and not calming down, it is best to leave and try again when it is less crowded and/or contact a positive trainer to help you.
  • Bullying
    If your dog or his play partner are playing past the point of it being fun for one of them, PLAY-BREAK (a description of words in all caps is in the table at the end of the article). If your dog is the pushy one, give him a TIME-OUT. A quick test to see if a dog is being bullied or not is to hold both dogs back and then release the one that you are concerned is being bullied. If that dog goes toward the suspected bully and wants to continue interacting they are probably fine. It is always a good idea to give frequent breaks from play however to make sure play goes well.
  • Aggression between dogs
    You will undoubtedly (unfortunately) see aggressive dogs at the dog park. It is a good idea to keep an eye on all the dogs.
    • Prevent: Before you enter the park look around for dogs that seem to be making other dogs uncomfortable. Bring your aggressive dog deterrent such as Spray Shield.
    • Immediate response: If you see a dog that seems to be aggressive, or is scaring or bullying other dogs, you should leave right away. If your dog is behaving aggressively (and some play looks rough, so watch to see if the other dog is trying to escape as your clue that you need to interrupt), you should time him out or leave depending on how serious it is. Aggressive dog deterrent can be helpful if a fight happens.
    • Train: If your dog is behaving aggressively stop visiting the dog park until you are able to see a professional trainer for help.
  • Fighting
    • Prevent: Read and follow the advice in this section!
    • Immediate response: INTERRUPT. If that doesn't work, use your aggressive dog deterrentor douse them with some water. If that doesn't work, try pulling the dogs apart by lifting their back legs. To avoid being bitten, be careful not to put your hands near their heads.
    • Train: If your dog is aggressive, prevent him from meeting other dogs until you've contacted a trainer. The sooner you get help from a good trainer, the less work you will have to do to resolve his aggression.
  • Guarding
    Growling or snapping at dogs that approach his toys or his people.
    • Prevent: Don't bring your dog's own toys. Be careful when handing out treats "“ make sure that the dogs are well separated before you try to feed. Only feed your dog treats to keep things from getting chaotic.
    • Immediate response: If your dog is guarding you, turn away from him and walk away. Begin teaching him that other dogs close to you means he will get more good stuff from you. If he has an object that he is guarding, DROP-IT.
    • Train: Let him know that he gets attention and rewards when other dogs approach you.
  • Jumping up on people
    It is tough to teach a dog not to jump up at the dog park since the dogs are off leash and it is therefore more difficult to prevent the jumping. In addition, each person will respond differently to your dog and some will even reinforce begin jumped on by giving your dog a pat.
    • Prevent: Try to intercept him before he can jump on someone (this may not be easy!)
    • Immediate response: When your dog launches himself towards someone, try calling out, "please ignore him if he jumps" while you get on your way to intercept him. If your dog does jump up on someone then TIME-OUT . If your dog knows "sit", you can ask him to "sit" when he approaches a person and then reward him for sitting instead of jumping. If someone else's dog jumps on you, turn away from the dog and greet him when he is off of you.
    • Train: 4-ON-FLOOR
  • Mounting (humping)
    Not all dogs seem to mind being humped, but it is generally a bad idea to allow it since it can lead to fights or in the "hump-ee" being traumatized.
    • Immediate response: When you see it done by, or to your dog, INTERRUPT. If your dog is a chronic humper, then TIME-OUT. If your dog is being continually humped, call it a day and leave the park.
  • Not coming to you
    Make a point to call your dog a couple of times during the "lulls" in play and feed him a bunch of treats while you hold his collar. When you are ready to leave the park, call him or go to him and attach the leash. If it is safe to do so, play with him for a short while he is on the leash so that he does not associate having his leash attached with fun ending. Train your dog to "Come".
  • Being "tackled"
    Be careful not to call your dog to come to you when you are far away and other dogs are near him. They may choose to chase him and possibly harm him

KEY:

Instructions:

4-ON-FLOOR

Click for more information on teaching your dog to greet people politely without jumping up.

DROP-IT

Ask him to "drop it". If he does not yet know "drop it", show him a treat to induce him to open his mouth. If he still won't release the item, force his mouth open using the technique described here. Click for instructions on how to train your dog to "drop it".

INTERRUPT

Say "Hey!" loudly and clap your hands to interrupt what he is doing. Then take a couple of running steps away to entice him to follow you from the area.

TIME-OUT

Give a warning like "enough". If he continues the behavior, say "time out", and repeat every few seconds as you approach your dog. Take your dog by his collar or drag line and lead him to his time out area. Then focus on adding more prevention and rewards for good behavior.

PLAY-BREAK

To interrupt dogs that are interacting try: walking or standing in between them, clapping your hands (not to close to ears!), moving quickly away or tossing something. If you need to interrupt your dog frequently, consider putting a short piece of rope to use in order to lead him away.

Click for Part 6: Your Dog in the Yard

Click for Part 8: Going for a Walk

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