Aggressive Dogs At The Dog Park
Have you ever left the dog park with your tail between your legs? Yes you! Did your dog nearly bite some poor puppy's head off and you're left wondering if you're going to have to muzzle your dog? Relieved to be back from the dog park you wonder about the warning signs that lead to dog on dog aggression.
Let's take a look at some of the common causes for aggressive behaviour in dogs at the dog park.
Dog aggression at the dog park
Dogs know how to play. A big dog knows when it’s dealing with a smaller dog and will supplicate itself to play fair. You'll notice that dogs like to play in pairs.
Sometimes their play looks aggressive and rather terrifying from our human perspective. You don't want to step in if all is well. Your dog’s reaction is your cue - if their tail is wagging there's nothing to worry about. If their tail is between their legs - something isn’t right. If your dog runs away and hides between your legs - chances are, they’re afraid.
Unhealthy play is when one dog nips, barks, chases, jumps, or pins the other dog down. If a dog isn't giving their playmate time to respond they're not playing fair. This behaviour could escalate into a full blown fight. It’s important to read warning signs and respond in time.
Dog on dog aggression, what are the signs?
Why is my dog aggressive?
Puppy socialisation window period
The most likely story is that the aggressive dog wasn’t socialised within the first 16 weeks of its life. If not socialised there will be behavioural fallout.
Puppies need to meet and play with well-socialised dogs. If a puppy grows up unexposed to proper behaviour they won't know how to behave when meeting other dogs. It’s likely that they see the other dog as weak or fearful. And believe themselves to be stronger and more dominant.
They become accustomed to their bad behaviour and it will soon be ingrained unless trained otherwise. It's never too late, rewards based training is the right thing to do.
Afraid dogs are aggressive
What if your usually gentle dog suddenly shows signs of aggression towards its playmate? The other dog probably went too far and now your dog is afraid. If a dog is threatened it's natural for them to use aggressive behaviour. Other causes of aggression can be over resources, territory, people, and when in pain. Dogs can also show aggression towards a sick dog.
An alpha dog doesn't need to exert their power, they have it. They’ll growl at the nipping dog and put it in its place. This sort of reaction is good for the rowdy dog, teaching them to not cross that line.
A dog might become over-excited when they're playing games of tug of war, chasing, or wrestling. Then when they're not able to read the signs from their playmate, whose had enough, it could result in a dog fight.
Some big breeds may need more exercise than they're getting. This could make them grumpy and aggressive. They need to run and bond and their lack of stimulation is getting in the way of healthy play. Some see it as attention-seeking but they're probably just bored. It's less about getting rid of unwanted behaviour, it's more about needing more playtime with you.
Could it be Breeding?
It’s never the breed, always the training. Even those breeds that have been bred for certain jobs like guarding and have been taught to attack will not display these tendencies unless trained to do so. Puppies of those breeds won't show aggressive behaviour on account of their breeding. Not unless they're in an extreme situation.
Why is the puppy socialisation period so short?
A puppy will go from curious to suspicious at the 16-week mark. If they're not trained they won’t know how to behave.
Let’s consider a dog in the wild. All strange things that approach them could well be a threat. If wild dogs were curious and investigated everything, they wouldn’t last very long - they’d be eaten. Puppies are keen to explore, but as they grow they become hard wired to treat all strange things as potentially dangerous.
It's vital to make the most of this socialisation window period. Start training the minute your puppy becomes a member of your family. Don’t wait until your puppy is vaccinated. Let them explore the world. Visit your friends whose dogs are vaccinated. Take your puppy for a drive. Let them experience as much of the world as possible so they grow up to be well-socialised, happy dogs. Watch Adem Fehmi explain novel stimulus which is all about how to introduce your puppy to the world.
How to protect your dog from aggressive dogs?
You must intercept aggression the instant you see it.
Save your dog
You can yell, clap or throw dirt or water at the aggressive dog. Tell it to “get!” in a commanding tone. If the dog is in a fury, throw a jacket over their face to blind them. Never put yourself in the middle of a potential dog fight.
Get your dog away
Take your dog away from the situation. It's not only about stopping a fight, it's also that you don't want your dog to become anxious or fearful.
Choose new playmates
Many dog parks have allocated areas for different size dogs. It’s best to stick to the area that suits the size of your pup. Let them socialise with dogs similar in size and breed.
Worried about your small dog? Get them a harness with a handle on it for easy grabbing - airlift them to safety.
Subtle warning signs that your dog is feeling anxious
- Turning their head away
- Licking their lips
- Looking away from you and seeing the whites of their eyes
- Having a tense body
- Lowering their body
- Tail tucked under
- Lifting their front paw
How to help your aggressive dog
Choose alpha playmates
Seek out alpha playmates who will discipline your dog. They’ll let them know when they’ve gone too far. Of course, stay vigilant because you don’t want any growling to escalate.
Create a stop word
Do not come down heavy on your dog as this reinforces the aggressive tendencies. Create a stop word. Use a soft word like “Oops” - it is hard to be aggressive with a word like “oops''. Say “oops” and put the lead on them and take them away for a time-out.
Many trainers believe that you must save the word “no''. Don't overuse it. Also, it’s very important to not use your dog’s name when cautioning them. Don’t let them associate their name with anything other than praise and treats. Your dog must always want to come to you when you call their name. LINK: charlotte car - training at home
Consult a professional dog trainer
Book a few sessions with a professional dog trainer or behaviourist.
Be vigilant, step in immediately
You don’t want a pattern of bad behaviour forming. The sooner you step in and take action the better and the quicker you can break the bad habit. A timeous intervention stops the behaviour from becoming ingrained.
No rewards and give them time out
Take them away from the situation. Put them on the lead and take them out of the fray. Let them settle and calm down. No treats!
Reinforce appropriate behaviour
Once they're completely calm you can release them to play again. Keep a watchful eye and step in until their behaviour changes.
Signs of aggression
- Lifting their lip
- Staring intently
- Baring teeth
Either way, if you like to visit the dog park it’s good to train your dog to brush up on their recall skills. Your dog must come when you call their name. Lucy Heath shows us how we can train our dogs to come when we call them. Watch: Lucy Heath teaches Recall.
Because, let’s face it - every dog deserves a good sniff at the dog park.