It’s funny, when yo mention dog park to a dog owner, you’re only going to get one of two reactions. “MY DOG LOVES THE DOG PARK!” OR “Absolutely Not Will Ever Go To The Dog Park Again!”
Personally, I’m a huge anti dog park guy. I’ve seen way too many things happen inside the park to ever go back. However, I’m also a dog owner who has a fairly big fenced in yard, can take his dog’s off leash in fields for running, and have the liberty to meet many friends and clients with their dogs to socialize my dogs with. I understand the appeal to dog owners have to take their dog to the dog park, and honestly on paper it sounds amazing. Here is the problem with the dog park. You have to rely on other dog owners to watch, and correct their dogs behavior as needed, and that just doesn’t happen. Too many dog owners will go to the park and either sit on their phone, converse with the other owners, smoke a cig, bring Chik-fil-a inside the park, or try and take a nap instead of being an accountable dog parent. Yes, I’ve seen all of this happen, and if you’re a regular you’ve seen it too. Without this lack of accountability and oversight from owner to dog, issues are bound to flare up more frequently than they should.
The dog park should be a reward for your dog for being well behaved, but it should not be your outlet to get rid of your dogs energy in order for your dog to be well behaved. That just doesn’t work. Over and over again you’ll hear me talk about the importance of mental exercise over physical exertion. That is what Say It Once Dog Training is built on. If you are relying on purely physical means to get your dog calm, this tends to be an issue. Multiple dogs who are high strung in the same area competing for the same ball, affection, water fountain, new dog coming into the gate, will eventually lead to a mistake. Once again, a mistake isn’t the problem, how you react, or a lack of reaction to the mistake is a problem. This is where dogs get learned behaviors, and where big time problems appear. If everyone was committed to stopping their dogs ill behavior and working with their dog to be better behaved, it would be a beautiful process, but that’s not the case. Some people don’t care enough, and that’s okay! I’m just not going to put my dogs in a position where a mistake can be made.
If you are going to go to the park, that’s awesome! Let me give you some quick pointers on how to have a better behaved dog at the park.
It’s the small details that make the big picture, and that couldn’t be more true when talking about body positioning. Where your dog is sitting, or hanging out at, tells a story. If I’m having a conversation with you, and my dog positions himself directly in front of me, this is a big time problem. It seems so insignificant, because a mistake hasn’t happened, but as we know there is never a problem, until there is a problem.
You have to remember, dogs do not speak English. They speak through body language and energy. Every move is a sentence in the story. When a dog places themselves in between you and someone else, it will not always mean that my dog is trying to hurt or attack someone, far from it. However, it does put my dog in a position where they believe the can make decisions, and it puts them in a position of control. I’ve heard hundreds of stories in which this was the beginning, and the story ends with the stranger moving closer to the owner and their dog lunged and nipped. Here is the question. Why wouldn’t they? Once again, they’ve been in a position of protection and control through the entirety of your conversation with this stranger.
This doesn’t apply just to protective or aggressive dogs. Over friendly dogs are more likely to jump when standing in this position, then they would be in a heel next to their owners. Nervous dogs tend to let off low nervous growls in this position, and will absolutely nip to say back the hell off if someone comes too close. Your job, for all behavior types, but especially as the owner of a nervous dog, is to put them in a position to succeed. Put them in a position where they understand what they should and shouldn’t be doing. Where they understand that they do not have to make decisions, and you, their owner, are in complete control of not just them, but the entire environment. The more confidence your dog gets with you as a leader, the more confident they will become throughout their life.
If you are practicing putting your dog in a sit when other dogs are nearby or walking past, do so with them next to you and you closest to the other dogs. Use your body and space to your advantage.
Body positioning doesn’t only equal outside behavior. Once a week I meet dog owners who have dogs that will nip their spouse when they move to close to them in the TV room, or when they try to get next to their spouse on the couch. I ask where the dog is during this sequence of events, and the dog is on their lap. Well, he’s in a position to be protective, so why wouldn’t he? He’s off the couch, ♾.
Opening up a door for a friend and having your dog in front of you, and in between the two of you at a threshold is another big time problem. Don’t open the door for your guests with your dog in this position. “But Vinnie, how do I bring the guests in then? They will be waiting outside for hours?”
You have a few options, but this is why we PREACH the place command. Having a home base for your dog to stay on while you bring guests over is so important. However, you can always use your crate as well. Never as a punishment, and I’m not anxious or angry when putting my dog in the crate after the doorbell rings. Ill take my time, and stay as calm as a cucumber. Finally, if your dog has perfect leash skills, you’re in business. You can always use your leash, and heel them to the door and throughout the house while your guests is there.
Overview: Body positioning matters, and start to pay more attention to the minor details. Continue to work with your dog, and have a tremendous amount of fun throughout the process. Remember, “Properly Trained Humans Can Be a Dog’s Best Friend”