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Dog Care Info, Issue 48
February 04, 2014

"Swim at your own risk" and "kids should be accompanied by an adult" are two very well known phrases used when we are making use of public areas. What does this really mean?

How often do we see very rowdy kids swim in the same pool with less confidant or younger kids causing fear and risk to that child? Another kid pushes your child off the monkey bars and throws sand at him, well he already had that experience so how is your presence really going to rectify that? The key is to be able to step in before the experience takes place, when the kids are starting to get over excited.

It's the same thing with dogs at the park or beach...

There are a lot of positives to a dog park, but my focus here is on the "cons" as not many people are aware that there are any cons.

First of all most dogs over the age of 2 become less interested in playing all the time with other dogs. They might enjoy interaction with you much more like going for a hike, playing tug of war or taking part in a dog sport. Not all dogs are social butterflies and even though we can work on them accepting other dogs we should not force them to be with a group of dogs when they are not having any fun.

Remember even though your dog is well trained and non reactive towards other dogs at the park you will find untrained, bully's and even dogs showing aggressive behaviours towards other dogs at the park. Are you skilled to handle these "attacks" at your dog?

The vast majority of dogs at a dog park is untrained but even more importantly not well socialised. Meaning they may know some commands, and owners would probably tell you that their dog can do all manner behaviours very well. This could very well be true-but being able to sit and lie down inside the home does not mean that the dog knows how to handle a big group of dogs. Most of these dogs go ape at the sight of other dogs, and many have no idea how to play correctly. This is largely because most dogs do not have regular interaction with other well socialised relaxed dogs outside off the dog park.

And when a dog is rarely exposed to things except in situations where excitement and arousal are peaking, he will become quite adept at becoming energized quickly and will have a hard time calming down. He learns to react towards other dogs instead of responding with a proper greeting and approach towards another dog before possible play.

Without proper greeting skills and play know-how, he can terrorize other dogs. Unfortunately, this type of dog is often owned by the less-than-concerned person, who makes excuses for rowdy behaviours and refuses to acknowledge that his dog shouldn't be there. At the park your focus should be fully on your dog and not chatting away with your buddy next to you or playing with your phone, how else will you be able to intervene when your dog is being terrorized or terrorizing another dog?

Many owners the same as with parents with kids see this time as their "free" time to not have to worry about their dog or kids when in fact it is very crucial to be present in these situations to make sure that all interactions are as positive as possible. Owners are often uneducated about what good dog-play looks like it is important to educate yourself on dog body language and stress signals. A good book for this would be Shaping Your Dog - The Positive Way. Know your breed of dog, because along with proper play you also need to understand your dogs breed characteristics, he doesn't just look different then the dog next door his personality is also different.

Small dogs should not be mixed with bigger dogs especially when you don't know the bigger dog. Play should be reversed, meaning the same dog should not be chased down as if he was prey instead they should be swopping around chasing each other, a confidant dog will be happy to be underneath another dog instead of trying to pin another dog down the whole time.

If you are unsure, read up on dogs and their body language and how they play. You can even ask a professional dog trainer and behaviour consultant to accompany you to one or two play sessions at the park to help guide you to make the best choices for your dog. I am not saying you must be over protective and not let your dog meet any other dogs, I am just saying that we need to be more aware that when your pooch is constantly being pinned to the ground or pinning another dog to the ground that you might need to intervene and either take your puppy home or do a proper time out instead of being oblivious to what is going on.

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