By Emily Gantt
Published: 01/21/2022, edited: 01/21/2022
Who doesn't look forward to park days? Pet parents get the chance to meet other dog lovers, and their pups get to run around and just be dogs. But park days can turn from fun outings to dangerous scenarios quite quickly.
Dog fights, escapes, and injuries can happen in a matter of seconds, but staying aware of your surroundings can prevent these incidents. Read on to learn how to deal with unsafe dog park scenarios and the signs that you need to leave the park ASAP.
Any dog park can become dangerous under the right circumstances, even a park that you've frequented without issue many times before. There are a few warning signs that a dog park is no longer safe, and these signs can arise without a moment's notice. If you notice any of the signs below, it's probably a good idea to head out.
Witnessing aggressive body language is a sure sign you need to leave the dog park immediately. Aggressive body language is a dog's only way to warn another dog that they are about to bite. It's a protective measure for themselves and those around them.
If you see any of the following aggressive behaviors, remove your dog from the situation immediately:
Yawning, panting, or licking their lips when they aren't sleepy, thirsty, or overheated
Standing over another dog with the head held high in a dominant position
Appearing "on edge" or frantically surveying their surroundings
Vocalizations like growling, barking, or grunting
Tucking the ears and tail
Stiff body posture
Raising of the fur
Biting the air
Resource guarding is another common cause of dog park fights. Dogs with resource guarding tendencies may stand over toys or water bowls and snap or growl when other dogs (or humans) approach them. For this reason, many dog parks don't allow visitors to bring toys and food into the park.
If you notice a dog becoming possessive over supplies, leash up your pet and leave immediately. If your dog is the culprit, they may need some training to address their guarding issues before they come back to the dog park.
Park rules are essential for the safety of all park-goers, both human and canine. Even breaking a seemingly innocuous rule, like bringing food into the enclosure, can start a brawl between food-aggressive dogs (hence why dog parks ban this practice). Likewise, bringing a female in heat to the park can also spark sexual aggression and territorial behaviors.
The bottom line is, park rules are in place to protect everyone. So before entering the play area, read up on the park rules — you can usually find these on park signage or the park's website. Besides the written rules, make sure your pack also follows basic dog park etiquette.
You're at the park having a great time when you see another dog trying to hump your fur-baby. You try to get the attention of the dog's parents, and they just ignore it — or worse, laugh it off. Unfortunately, this scene is all too common at dog parks.
Pet parents often write off mounting as normal play. And while it's true that some dogs do hump to be playful, it's also a way to show dominance. No matter what a dog's reason is for humping, sexual behaviors have no place in the dog park. Not only is it rude behavior, but it's also a common cause of dog fights.
An excessive amount of feces in the play enclosure should be a major red flag. Sure, pet parents are bound to miss the odd clean-up job from time to time, but if the entire park is littered with poop, it's a good idea to go elsewhere.
Besides being gross, intestinal parasites and certain viruses (like parvo) are transmitted through feces. When pet parents fail to scoop their pets' poop, they could be putting other visitors at risk.
Canine body language can be very subtle, and often, pet parents are unaware that their dog is sending them social cues. While at the park, pay close attention to your dog's body language, particularly their stance and the position of their head and tail. If your notice your dog hunkering down, bowing their head, or tucking their tail, chances are they're uncomfortable and want to go home.
Some signs of discomfort aren't as obvious, so be sure to watch how your dog interacts with others too. Does Fluffy try to make friends and engage with other woofers, or do they prefer to stick close to you? If your dog doesn't want to leave your side, the dog park might not be their scene.
Last but not least, survey the park for potential safety risks:
If the answer to any of these questions is "no," then you should probably leave and alert park management on your way out. Damaged agility equipment could cause injuries to pets playing on or around the structures. Likewise, broken gates or damaged fencing can pose an escape risk and put dogs (and their people) in harm's way.
Accidents can happen anywhere, especially in fast-paced environments like dog parks. Moreover, dog parks can put dogs at risk of contracting communicable illnesses like parasitic infections and kennel cough.
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