Dog Park Behavior and Etiquette Tips (cont.)
When You Get There
Keep the following recommendations in mind to minimize your risks and maximize your fun:
Interpreting Dog Play and Interaction
While you're at the dog park with your dog, it's important to closely monitor interaction between playmates. But interpretation can be difficult sometimes. What do dogs look like when they're friendly with each other? How about when they don't feel so friendly? What constitutes polite play between dogs? How can you tell when playmates aren't getting along, and how do you know when it's time to intervene? The information below should help you interpret and evaluate dog play. For illustrations and more information about how dogs communicate, please see our article, Canine Body Language.
What Good Play Looks Like
When dogs play, they often play-bow, paw at each other and bounce around like puppies. Their bodies look relaxed, rather than stiff, and they might make “play faces”-they hold their mouths open and look like they're smiling. During play, the dogs might growl playfully and open their mouths wide, exposing their teeth and pretending to be ferocious. They might switch roles so that one dog's sometimes on top when wrestling and sometimes on her back, sometimes chasing and sometimes being chased, sometimes pouncing and sometimes getting pounced on. The dogs might also frequently switch games, alternating between stalking and chasing each other, wrestling and rolling around on the ground, mouthing on each other, playing with toys, and taking breaks to drink water or sniff around. As the dogs run and wrestle, you might notice them pausing or freezing frequently for just a second or two before launching back into the game. These little pauses and breaks in play help ensure that play doesn't get out of hand.
Signs of Trouble
If possible, watch for warning signs and step in before a fight happens. Your first clue that things aren't going well during play might be the absence of all the signs of polite play described above. Instead of those signs, you might notice the dogs' bodies becoming stiffer and more tense. Their movements might seem faster and less bouncy. Play might become louder and build in intensity, without any breaks or pauses. If you see any of these signs, it's time to separate the playmates. You should also interrupt play if you see a dog who's pursuing and playing too roughly with a playmate who's trying to get away, or who's repeatedly knocking down or standing over another dog. Intervene immediately if a number of dogs start to chase a single dog-especially if that dog is small.
Damage Control: If There's a Fight
Sometimes, despite your best efforts to monitor playtime, dogs get into fights. These scuffles often look and sound ferocious. The dogs might growl fiercely, snarl at each other, bark, snap and show their teeth. However, most dog fights don't result in injury to either dog. They're usually the equivalent of getting into a brief, heated argument with a friend or family member. Even so, if a fight lasts more than a few seconds, the dogs' pet parents should separate them. Doing this can be dangerous. If you grab a dog who's in the middle of fighting with another dog, she might startle and reflexively whip around to bite you. To reduce the likelihood of injury to all parties, follow these guidelines:
The ASPCA Virtual Pet Behaviorist specializes in the resolution and management of pet behavior problems only. Please do not submit questions about medical problems here. Only licensed veterinarians can diagnose medical conditions. If you think that your pet is sick, injured or experiencing any kind of physical distress, please contact his veterinarian immediately. A delay in seeking proper veterinary care may worsen your pet's condition and put his life at risk.
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