Plays Well With Others? What to Know Before Hitting the Dog Park

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By: Arden Moore

My dog, Chipper, goes ga-ga if I mention the phrase “woof park.” That’s my nickname for dog parks. If I say that phrase – even in a whisper – Chipper, my Golden Retriever/Husky mix, will start to whine and wiggle with delight.

For nearly three years, we’ve gone to a local dog park in the early morning. There’s a regular crowd there featuring well-mannered dogs just looking to play a friendly game of chase (or chase me, please) and tennis ball fetching. The owners pay attention to the canine antics and share training tips and goofy dog stories with one another.

Recently, however, we arrived an hour later than usual. The usual gang was not there. Chipper and my small dog, Cleo, bolted into the fenced-in dog park and began what they normally do – the perimeter prowl. They stopped and sniffed. Their noses were filled with the scents of dogs and other delights – pure canine bliss, I guess.

At dog parks, I pay close heed to the body languages unleashed from my dogs and other dogs. This time, an Australian Shepherd mix made a direct beeline to Chipper. In the world of dog etiquette, that’s a rude – and threatening – gesture. Most dogs come up to one another from the side. This dog then growled and leaped on Chipper. I produced my deepest, I-mean-business tone and yelled at both to stop and sit. Surprisingly, they did. If they hadn’t, I was prepared to use Chipper’s leash to safely separate them without getting my hands bit.

I managed to put the leash on a shaken Chipper and noticed that she had a cut below her left eye. It was starting to bleed. Meanwhile, the owner of the Aussie just looked, shrugged and said, “Oh well. Dogs will be dogs.” Unbelievable.

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Fortunately, I keep a dog first-aid kit in my car, and I cleaned Chipper’s wounds and stopped the bleeding. Then I noticed another man coming back into the parking lot with a dog limping. It turns out that the Aussie attacked his dog, too.

Dog parks are designed to be places where well-mannered dogs can romp and socialize. They are not places for aggressive dogs to try to “work out” their bully tendencies. And, they are certainly not places for owners to abandon their responsibilities to keep their dogs from harming others.

My parting advice: Please pay close attention to the interactions of dogs – and the watchfulness of their owners – before you decide to bring your dog inside the park. If you see aggression, leave and treat your dog to a long walk elsewhere. Even though your dog will have to be on a leash, it will be a far safer way to get in some exercise.

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