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Monday, July 26, 2010

ASK THE DOG TRAINER: My Dog and I are Nervous at the Dog Park

by Judith Joseph, DOI

(c) C.F. reader copyright on file
Bucky Loves to Play Frisbee
Dear Judy:

I have enjoyed reading about dog parks a All Things Dog Blog and it sounded like loads of fun, so off Gilly and I went to our closest park. It was very big and very crowded. We walked in, quite nervous and not sure what to expect. Would Gilly have fun? What would I do among all these strangers? I was nervous and probably Gilly was too. Her tail was between her legs and she stuck close to my legs for most of the time.

When she did finally venture out to play a bit, another dog was picking on her. He got too rough so I finally separated Gilly from him and we left. Can you give me some tips for helping Gilly feel better about this next time. Me to. I guess I need a how to manual. Thank you, Carol
Dear Carol:

Is Your Dog Ready for the Dog Park?  Are you?   Some dogs take to dog parks right away, making new play-pals and happily interacting with everyone they meet, but this isn’t true of all dogs.   Going to a dog park, unsnapping your dog’s leash and letting her run isn’t always the best idea.  She may be overwhelmed by the unfamiliar dogs and run neurotically throughout the park; getting her back can be quite a challenge.  She may try to jump into your arms, or hide between your legs snarling and snapping at any dog that comes close.  Her actions could trigger a fight with even the friendliest of dogs, putting her at risk of being attacked.   Picking her up and trying to scare away the other dogs won’t help; in most cases, it makes matters worse.

A step-by-step introduction to the dog park is in order.  First, visit the park on days it is least crowded.  Leave her on leash and walk the park’s perimeter staying outside of the enclosure.   You can learn a great deal about how dogs interact by watching them play from a safe distance.  Watch their owners too.  Are they paying little or no attention to their dog or involved in their play?  Take note your dog’s behavior.  Is she curious and quietly observant or anxious and barking excessively?  On your second visit, keep her on leash and walk the inside perimeter of the enclosure.  If other dogs approach for a friendly sniff, don’t pick her up or chase them away.  Remain calm and allow them to sniff.  They usually wander off within a few short seconds.  If she allows them to smell her and appears at ease, praise her and offer a treat.  Lengthen her leash and give her opportunities to meet other dogs.

If she snarls or shows any signs of aggression, correct her with “Eh-Eh, NO,” snap her leash and slowly continue walking the outer edge of the park.  Repeat as needed.  On your next visit, place her on an 8 to 10 foot lead, and walk around the park area allowing her to sniff where other dogs have been.  Stop and talk to friendly owners and allow them to pet her.  She will either relax and engage in play, or continue the aggressive/fearful behaviors. 
Remember, not all dogs are dog park candidates.  If she exhibits signs of fear or aggression, or is uncomfortable around loud noises, strange people, other dogs, or children, she may not be a dog-park dog.   Many dogs aren’t, and it’s not the end of the world.  Find other safe places for her to run freely and play Frisbee with you.  If she regularly exhibits aggressive behavior in or out of the park, contact a professional dog trainer for assistance.
Good luck,


Judith Joseph, DOI

For more information on Judith Joseph and her training, you may find her at TCDOA Dog Training. A personal appointment will likely provide more specific information on your dog's issues and your questions.

Related Reading:

Thanks to reader, Chris F. for contributing our cover dog photo of Bucky. What a talented 'disc dog'! I'm betting Bucky would love to play Frisbee at the dog park with my gang. Check out Xena's comments over at 5 Minutes for Fido


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