Dog Park Etiquette

We have worked hard to create a wonderful place to hang out with your friends, while you enjoy watching your dogs socialize, swim and play!  Our Barktenders are there to assist you with anything you may need.  That said, we need your help in keeping The Local Bark Park fun for everyone--dogs and humans alike!  We are asking that you read this informational guide to dog park etiquette .  We rely on all who attend to have read and to understand the information found here.  Please ask questions during your orientation if there is anything here you are unsure of.  This will serve as a guide on how you and your dog can have a positive experience at The Local Bark Park!

First, Some Basic Guidelines:

Not all dogs are dog park dogs! If your dog has a history of aggression toward any other dogs or humans, becomes stressed in a group of dogs, or guards things that are of high value to him (toys, sticks), he may not be the best candidate for dog park socialization.

Be present at the dog park.

When you are at the park, always have your eyes on your dog! Watching for signs of stress or bullying, giving your dog leash breaks if they are becoming overstimulated, and knowing when to go home for the day all come from keeping a close eye on your dog at the park. Sure, you can still socialize with all of your new dog people friends, but remember to keep one eye on your pooch at all times!

Mind your comings and goings!

Entering and exiting the dog park can be hot buttons for many dogs. Leashed dogs, when surrounded by loose dogs, can feel threatened and vulnerable and may lash out. Practice proper entrance and exit techniques by utilizing our double-gate policy.  Spend plenty of time in our “greeting pen” in order to dissipate the excitement level.  Ask for assistance from a Barktender if you’d like an even slower integration into the yard.  

Be proactive!

We know, we know.  Your dog is an angel ;-)  But even if your dog is not the instigator, if you think your dog is in danger of having a bad experience at the park, be proactive about the situation. Always talk to people respectfully, and know when to ask for the assistance of a Barktender to prevent bad experiences for your dog.

What’s What at the Dog Park

When at the dog park, it is important to understand basic canine body language. The following will help you recognize what is ok and what might lead to trouble.

Dog Behavior 101

Healthy Play

Dogs nip while they play, chase, slam each other with their shoulders and hips, lie on top of each other, mount each other, and “fence” with their teeth. It can look scary and confusing to human beings, but it is how dogs have fun.

The same behaviors, however, can be carried to the point of rudeness and bullying. The following questions can help dog owners sort good, healthy fun from abusive or bullying play:

If the play is not balanced, comfortable, and clearly happy for all parties, you will need to redirect the dogs’ activities.  The offending dogs may need to settle down with a break from play (preferably outside the off-leash area).

Appropriate Behavior - You're Ok!

Calming Signals - Meant to Diffuse Tension, Recognize and React Appropriately.

Aggression vs. Correction

There are times when a dog will correct another dog for something he deems inappropriate. This is totally normal, nonaggressive, and is actually good for teaching young dogs important lessons about canine social structure and body language. Appropriate corrections generally escalate in severity and result in no harm being done to the correctee. If your dog is over-correcting, it may be time to give a time out.  Here are examples of acceptable corrections given by a dog:

Unhealthy Play

Inappropriate or Rude - Time for a Leash Break or Maybe Time to Go!

Mounting

Mounting is a form of dog play that can be especially volatile, even if the dogs are well matched in size and physical condition. Mounting is not necessarily about reproduction or dominance, but can be a request for attention, an invitation to play, or a way for an overexcited dog to discharge energy. The problem is that some dogs are intolerant of mounting, and so it can trigger fights. Because mounted dogs often react to an innocent dog standing in front of them rather than to the one on top, the behavior can pose risks for surrounding dogs.

If your dog tends to mount, teach an “off” cue and intervene. Better yet, learn to see the behavior coming and redirect your dog before another one is stressed by it.

Stress Signals

Depending on context, some perfectly mundane dog behaviors can also indicate stress. Some of these behaviors discharge energy that is building up, and some signal that “I’m not looking for trouble!” If you see combinations of the following in social situations, look for what may be stressing your dog. If the stressors do not shift and you cannot positively influence your dog’s experience, take your dog out of the park.

Signals that may indicate stress, discomfort, or an effort to avoid conflict include:

Signals that request or demand greater distance from another dog include:

Again, many of these behaviors have multiple meanings, and so the trick is to know your dog and read the whole dog in context. If Daisy has one paw raised and her ears back, and she glances away from a dog approaching her, then she’s probably feeling uneasy. If she has one paw raised and her ears forward as you head to the cookie jar, then she’s probably thinking, “You rock, Mom, and I’ll do anything for a cookie!”

If you think Daisy is expressing discomfort at the dog park but then her body language loosens up and she goes back to playing freely, no problem—but if she keeps expressing stress or a need for space, it’s probably time to give her a break.

Resource Guarding

Some dogs are very protective of objects they value. The resources a dog may guard can be food (including training treats), toys, their owners (“my hunter, my driver, my ball thrower,” etc.), doorways, and more—even feces or holes! Early signs of resource guarding could include hovering in a particular space or over a toy, lip licking (indicating stress), flared whiskers, curling the lip, and freezing as another dog approaches.

If your dog appears to be resource guarding, remove the resource, if possible. If that is not possible or does not help, take him/her out of the park before they begin lunging at others or a fight erupts.  Because we provide toys for dogs to play with, it is possible this environment is not right for your dog.  Work with a trainer at The Local Bark or Animal Den to see if this behavior can be resolved.  If your dog is resource guarding YOU, the best way to discourage this is to move around.  Staying in one spot, particularly sitting, can enable this behavior.

If someone else’s dog is resource guarding, please kindly point out the behavior to a Barktender.

Snarks and Scuffles

Just as tempers flare on a playground or basketball court, so can they in a dog park. When a dog nips or bumps too hard, another dog may respond by saying, “Hey, you jerk! That hurt!” That is the meaning of a “snark,” - a vocalization that sounds like a combined snarl and bark. A “scuffle,” sounds like a fight but ends just as quickly as it started.

If your dog has just had a scuffle, a break may be advisable.  A Barktender will assist in determining if either dog needs to be excused.  Often, a simple separation and redirection will suffice.

Fights

If handlers and Barktenders are on the ball, they will preempt rude play or bullying before fights break out. What do you do, though, if a fight erupts?

If you feel compelled to intervene in a serious fight, here are some options, listed in descending order of safety:

Anyone interfering in a fight is at risk of being bitten. Highly aroused dogs do not always know what they are biting. If a person restrains one dog, the other dog might continue aggressing, provoking the restrained dog to bite the person holding him. Screaming or shouting can escalate tensions and bring more dogs into the fray.  Children need to remain clear of any fighting dogs.

After a Fight

Put each of the dogs involved in the fight on leash, check them for injuries, and assess whether veterinary care is appropriate.

As after a car accident, calmly exchange relevant information with the other dog owner(s), especially if there is an injury.

Remove the dogs from the park, one at a time. Even dogs that did not join the fight are likely to be extremely aroused.  Pay close attention to individuals to assess how they were affected.

It is our goal to prevent any and all serious fights, but we must realize dogs will sometimes act out, occasionally with little to no warning.  If your dog was involved in a fight, management will reach out to you to discuss future plans.  Any dog who causes injury to another dog will be permanently excluded from future park use.

When it’s time to go!

An important part of being a member of the dog park is recognizing when it is time for your dog to end their dog park session for the day. If your dog is exhibiting any of the following behaviors, it may be time to leave the park and come back later: