The Coastal Star

Paws Up For Pets: Interpreting dog body language at dog parks

By Arden Moore

Just like us, not every dog wants to be best pals with every dog he meets. Sure, some form friendships at the speed of a tail wag. Others occur after the perfunctory sniffing and a mutual short romp. But accept the fact that not all dogs dig all dogs.

In canine introductions, consistency reigns. Dogs don’t lie. They don’t disguise their feelings. Problems arise when people misread canine communication — or intercede too quickly and then a yap turns into a snap. 


Here are tips to set your dog up for success —  and safety —  at the dog park:

Assess your dog’s attitude. Some crave canine companionship. Others focus solely on shagging tennis balls and could not care less if there are other dogs in the park. Some prefer hanging out with people.

Enter the dog park with confidence. Remember, our dogs are masters at reading our emotions — and often feed off our moods. If you are fearful or angry or unsure, they know it. Time your dog’s entrance when there are not a lot of dogs hovering at the gate. Bunched-up dogs in a tight space triggers the fight-or-flight response. Speak in an upbeat tone as you encourage your dog to “go play.”

Watch in silence as your dog mingles. Don’t panic if one dog puts his head over the back of another. They are just determining who is top dog. Don’t gasp or shriek if one dog’s hackles are raised. In some breeds, like Siberian huskies, raised hair on the back happens automatically whenever they are stimulated. Some dogs like to yap during an intro, especially vocal breeds like schnauzers or beagles. There may be a quick verbal exchange in what I describe as “canine air guitar.” Often, it ends quickly and the two will play or choose to go in different directions. If you sense an escalated exchange, direct your dog to join you in another area of the park.

Keep your dog’s leash draped around your neck in case a meet-and-greet erupts into a brawl. Act quickly. Speak in a low, commanding tone to both dogs to “knock it off!” or “leave it!” Resist the temptation to grab your dog’s collar because you risk being bitten. Instead, loop of the leash over your dog’s chest and pull the dogs apart. Assess for any injuries and leave, allowing your dog to calm down. 

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