Dog Park Safety: Dog Fight Prevention and Beyond

I had the pleasure of taking part in an Ask The Trainer session with the South Slope Dog Owners Association yesterday. I was invited to be one of their guest bloggers. Here’s my first entry that I posted to their site about dog park safety:

It was great meeting all of you who showed up to the Coffee Bark and Ask The Trainer event yesterday. I had a blast answering your questions and interacting with your dogs.

For those of you who missed it, let me introduce myself. My name is Jenny Chun, CPDT-KA and I’ve been supporting the South Slope Dog Owners Association almost from it’s conception. I’m a professional dog trainer nationally certified through The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and the proprietor of Give Paw Dog Training. I have a strong belief that dog training should be a fun bonding experience between you and your dog and I strive to use the most positive ways to help dogs and their humans learn. I’m a Professional Member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers as well as a Certified AKC Canine Good Citizen Evaluator. I’m a dog body language and clicker training junkie!

There were many great questions asked yesterday concerning how to prevent and break up dog fights. When you make the decision to let your dog off-leash in a public place, you are taking certain risks. I hope the information provided below as a recap to our discussion yesteday can help everyone minimize their chances of injury and maximize the opportunity for a good time!

CANINE BODY LANGUAGE

Learning how to properly read your dog’s body language may help prevent a dog fight. Often times, when a dog’s stress level is elevated, their likelihood of biting also increases. If you can identify your dog’s stress signals then you can easily tell when a trip to the park may not be the most fun for your dog. Help prevent conflict by removing him from a stressful situation… before it escalates.
Some common stress signals to look for:

  • Lip Licking
  • Freezing (Body goes still for a second)
  • Lifting a front paw
  • Shaking off (as if wet)
  • Sneezing
  • Yawning
  • Showing “whale eye” (showing lots of whites of the eyes)

WHEN THE FUR IS FLYING: HOW TO BREAK UP A DOG PARK FIGHT

When a fight breaks out in a dog park, especially one that involves your own dog, emotions run high. A person’s natural instinct is to grab the feuding dogs by their collars, scream, and yank. Such tactics can actually increase the severity of a situation and put one at higher risk of being bitten. Here are some smart ways to break up a dogfight if you ever find yourself caught in one.

If your dog isn’t the one fighting:

  • Do not get involved, as much as you’d like to help. Concentrate on calling your own dog away and leashing him up. Leave the park.
  • If your dog is loose in the park and you jump in to help break up the fight, he may take it as a cue from you to join in.
  • Keep your dog’s leash with you at all times. It comes in handy for emergency moments when you need to leash your dog up quickly.

If your dog is the one fighting:

  • Remain calm and avoid shouting. Screaming may increase your dog’s arousal level and make the situation worse.

Use the following tactics to break up the fight:

  • Use a loud, startling noise. Carry a whistle around. Other options include tossing a trashcan to the ground, banging a large object against the metal railing of the enclosure, or blowing an air horn.
  • If your park has a water hose, spray the fighting dogs down. If a hose isn’t available, but you have a large bottle of drinking water, dump the contents on them.
  • Use Direct Stop(TM) or Spray Shield(TM), a high concentration citronella spray meant to deter aggressive dogs. Aim for the dogs’ faces. The smell, the spraying sensation, and the loud hissing noise from the canister can help to interrupt fighting.
  • If none of the above work, you may have to get physical. DO NOT grab the dogs by their collars. This puts your hands in a vulnerable area and increases your chance of getting bitten. DO NOT grab hold of each dog and yank. This may cause puncture wounds to turn into large skin tears. DO grab the dogs by the hind legs as if you were holding onto a wheelbarrow. This will throw them off balance helping to release their grip on one another.
  • As mentioned above, always have your dog’s leash with you. When fighting ends, immediately leash the dogs up and separate them.
  • Be aware that no matter what tactic you try, there’s always a chance of getting bitten when breaking up a dogfight. These strategies are meant to help minimize, not eliminate, your risk.

The Aftermath:

  • After all dogs are leashed, bring them to separate areas to check for injuries.
  • If needed, exchange important information with the other owner, including contact and vaccination information.
  • Continue to remain calm.
  • Regardless of whether or not a dog was involved in the fight, all park goers should leave. There is increased tension in the area and most likely between all dogs. If dogs are released to continue playing, another fight may very well break out.

WHAT EVERY OFF-LEASH DOG SHOULD KNOW:

If you and your dog frequent the park, you should have multiple ways of getting your dog to focus on you. Here are some cues you should teach your dog so that he’s more manageable. All of these behaviors can be taught using positive techniques such as clicker training.

  • Name Recognition: Getting your dog to answer to his name means you can get his attention and therefore follow through with further instructions.
  • Hand Targeting: Teaching your dog to place his nose on your hand as if it were a big bulls-eye provides you with a way to move him from one space into another without the use of a leash.
  • Recall: Teaching your dog that coming when called is fun means your dog will have a better chance of coming to you when it really counts.
  • Sit and Stay: A stationary dog is easier to handle than one who is constantly on the move.
  • Leave It: This is for the moments when your dog is tempted by items such garbage left on the ground.

Now that I’ve put out all this information on how to break up dog fights, I’m sure that we can all agree that we can go without ever witnessing or being part of one ever again. More important than knowing how to safely separate two battling dogs is knowing how to read your dog so that you can prevent altercations from happening in the first place. It all comes back to my initial point. Additionally, be honest with yourself. Just because they’re dogs doesn’t mean that every one of them is suitable for off-leash play or enjoys the dog park.

Here are some great internet resources for learning about canine body language:

How to Tell When Your Dog Is Stressed : The Dog Trainer :: Quick and Dirty Tips ™

Canine Body Language from the ASPCA

The ASPCA Virtual Behaviorist: Canine Body Language

If you have a question about training or need help with a behavior problem, come visit me at Give Paw Dog Training. I’d love to chat with you about your dog!

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