Q: I have been taking my 4-year-old dog Bruno to the dog park in our neighborhood for about six months. He likes to sniff around the area, but avoids other dogs and has bitten a few that come too close. What can I do to get him to enjoy the park and get some good exercise playing with other dogs?
A: In a word, Robert, stop. You are doing both your dog and the other dogs at the dog park a great injustice.
The great thing about a dog park is that anyone can go there with their dog – that’s also the worst thing about a dog park. I’ve been to many, and it’s troubling to see the inappropriate behavior of both dogs and humans on any given day.
The idea that dogs both require and rejoice in spending time playing with other dogs is not at all accurate. Many dogs, while in various stages of puppyhood, welcome a good romp with other dogs, but as they mature into adulthood those desires often disappear. This does not indicate a problem with the dog, but merely a dog that has grown up and no longer finds it rewarding to play with others.
It’s disturbing to see owners placing their dog repeatedly into situations it clearly doesn’t enjoy, while the owners drink coffee, become absorbed in their cellphones, and leave the dog to “figure it out” or fend for itself.
Equally disturbing are the “armchair” dog enthusiasts who insist they know what’s going on with the dogs due to their many hours spent watching canine TV shows, and take it upon themselves to discipline the dogs present.
Your dog’s behavior, Robert, is a clear indication of his increased level of stress when he’s there. Do him a favor and remove him, permanently, and find other ways to give him the exercise he needs. Long walks or jogs with you, and general play sessions with you are a good start. Your dog doesn’t need interaction with other dogs to be happy.
The best way for dog owners to utilize a dog park is to remain connected with their dog, in the visual sense. Study body language and watch how other dogs behave and respond.
A dog that avoids interaction with others and tucks his tail, continually avoids eye contact, backs up, lowers himself toward the ground, pins his ears and shows his teeth or snaps, is a dog that needs to be rescued and removed from the situation. The dog that wags or wiggles, seeks out other dogs, sniffs genital areas and allows others to do so, goes into play bows or other exaggerated movements, etc., is clearly enjoying the company of those particular dogs.
Even if your dog is enjoying himself, it’s smart to frequently interrupt play. Failure to do so can result in play getting more intense, and drifting into something inappropriate. So dog owners should have treats on them, and occasionally call their own dog away from others, praise and deliver treats when he comes, and spend a bit of time lavishing him with praise and petting. After a few minutes, permission can be given to go and resume play.
Bottom line: When taking your dog into a social situation with others, be present, be aware, and be your dog’s advocate.
Lisa Moore’s pet-behavior column appears once a month on the Pet Page. Write to her in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.