Tips for Interpreting Dog Body Language at Dog Parks
by Arden Moore
11:44 AM, Monday, August 27
One of the favorite features at the new Beneful Dream Dog Park in Alabaster, Alabama is the splash pads that keep dogs cool.
One of the favorite features at the new Beneful Dream Dog Park in Alabaster, Alabama is the splash pads that keep dogs cool.
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In canine introductions, consistency reigns. Dogs don’t lie. They don’t disguise their feelings. Problems arise when people misread canine communication – or intercede too quickly and then a yap turns into a snap.

Here are my tips to set your dog up for success – and safety – at the dog park:

ASSESS YOUR DOG'S ATTITUDE. Some crave canine companionship. Others focus solely on shagging tennis balls and could care less if there are other dogs in the park. Some prefer hanging out with people or seeking shady spots to snooze.

ENTER THE DOG PARK WITH CONFIDENCE. Dogs are quite skilled at reading our emotions – and often feed off our moods. If you are fearful or angry or unsure, they know it. If possible, bring your dog through the entrance when there are not a lot of dogs hovering at the gate. Bunched up dogs in a tight space triggers the fight-or-flight response. Speak in an upbeat tone as you encourage your dog to “go play.”

WATCH IN SILENCE AS YOUR DOG MINGLES. Don’t panic if one dog puts his head over the back of another. In the dog world, this posture determines the higher-ranked dog. Don’t gasp or shriek if one dog’s hackles are raised. Siberian Huskies raise their back hair automatically whenever they are stimulated. Schnauzers and ­Beagles tend to yap during intros in a verbal exchange I describe as “canine air guitar.” Often, it ends quickly and the two will play or choose to go in different directions. If you sense an escalated exchange, direct your dog to join you in another area of the park.

Keep your dog’s leash draped around your neck in case a meet-and-greet erupts into a brawl. Act quickly. Speak in a low, commanding tone to both dogs to “knock it off!” or “leave it!” Resist the temptation to grab your dog’s collar because you risk being bit. Instead, loop of the leash over your dog’s chest and pull the dogs apart. Assess for any injuries and leave, allowing your dog to calm down.

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