Dogs are very social animals and enjoy the company of their families. If socialized well, they can also enjoy the company of other dogs, too. At a dog park these two worlds collide and it can make for difficult decisions for your dog to make. “Do I go play with those dogs and sniff over there, or do I stay somewhat close to my mom and/or dad?”
Some dogs have no issue taking full advantage of the park, going anywhere they choose. The others will have some kind of radius on how far they will go from you. This can vary from a few feet to the majority of the park, it just depends what your dog is comfortable with.
The feeling of having a radius can be stressing, it can also make them protective of their radius from other dogs, especially if it’s a small radius. As always, enough stressors can lead to aggression.
This one particular stressor may not be enough to make your dog snap, but every dog has its limit. Add in any other stressors at the park that day – like an overly playful young dog, a resource guarding dog, and a dog stuck on a leash – it could be enough to push any dog over the edge. Anything we can do to help lessen stressors of all the dogs at the park we should be doing because this lessens the chance of aggressive behaviors. Safety should always be our number one priority.
So, what can we do? The easiest is to keep yourself in motion. Yes, this means walking laps around the dog park.
This does a few things:
1. It keeps your dog engaged with you and its surroundings by continuously changing the dog’s “safety radius”. When they’re busy going on an adventure with you, they have less time to think about any stressors happening around them. It’s giving them a happy distraction.
2. Instead of other dogs seemingly invading your dog’s safety radius, you’ll be invading each other’s. This is way less threatening to your dog. He hasn’t claimed this spot as his, it seems more like a passing greeting rather than a confrontation on who’s turf is who’s.
3. It keeps your dog moving. A tired dog is a happy dog. You don’t have to be rushing around the dog park. A very slow leisurely pace is fine. It’s just about letting your dog feel comfortable exploring the whole park, getting some physical exercise, and also getting some mental stimulation from all the sights and smells. Bonus: you get some easy exercise too!
4. This also keeps you engaged with your dog. You’re not going to miss a poop because you’re on your phone, you’ll keep tabs on your dog better, you can watch your dog’s body language more closely and be able to call him out of any situation that you feel could escalate.
5. Has your dog ever been the target of another dog? Mine always seems to be the target of super rambunctious dogs that just don’t know when to knock it off. When another dog is repeatedly pestering mine to play and he doesn’t want to, this seems to help take that dog down a peg or two because to continue pestering they have to follow us.
As they follow us, they get distracted by sights, smells, and other dogs we come across. It gives my dog little breaks where if we were sedentary, he would have no breaks and would eventually feel so flustered, he would have to very loudly tell the other dog to back off. Or we would have had to leave before it went that far. That’s no fun for anyone!
6. Your dog will love it! At first they may not understand what you’re doing, especially if your typical dog park visits have usually meant you’ve been stationary. They may not even follow very well the first couple of times. However, you’ll see they start to understand very quickly. You will also notice other dogs following along with you, too. They all enjoy when a human is engaging with them on a level they can appreciate at the dog park.
We do this every time we’re at the dog park and honestly we’ve noticed a huge change in demeanor in the entire dog park while we’re there. The other dogs take turns following us part of the way, at least until we hit the end of their “safety radius”, but while they follow along you can see their whole body language change and become much looser.
Try and change it up by changing direction, making smaller circles, cutting across the dog park, playing a very quick game of hide and seek by stepping behind a tree and calling your dog. Doing these changes helps reengage them and get their attention back and keeps checking in with you every once and a while.
My number 1 tip is to never be afraid to leave the dog park. Being totally honest, we probably leave the dog park earlier than anticipated 25% of the time. This is for a lot of reasons. Rarely, it’s because of telltale signs that a dog just isn’t acting right and has the potential to “snap” at any minute. Although, more often than not, the people are the reason we leave. They’re usually doing something that’s going to create a situation or escalate a situation I don’t want my dogs to be a part of, whether for their physical safety or mental well-being. I’d rather sacrifice some “fun time” than even have a chance of putting my dog in harm’s way. You can always add a short walk or home play session instead.
Test it out and let me know! I’d love to hear your experiences of walking vs. standing still.