Unless you want to start a feeding frenzy and potentially trigger a possessive dog’s aggression, leave the treats in the car or save them for the walk home.
3 Commonly Asked Dog Park Questions
Here are a few dog park etiquette questions that give many owners pause. Our experts weighed in with some very helpful insights.
1. Can I reprimand someone else’s dog?
When it comes to reprimanding someone else’s dog for bad behavior, Reed encourages folks to respond with the best intentions of the dogs involved. If you feel comfortable speaking to the owner, go for it. Whenever possible, ask the pet parent how they prefer you handle something. For instance, some people use commands like “Stop,” “Down,” or “Wait.” If you’re not sure whose dog is misbehaving, Dr. Richter says, “It’s best just to leave the scene and play with other dogs.”
2. What do I do if my dog was bullied or attacked?
As wild as it may seem, Dr. Richter recommends going back to the park soon after a negative experience. “Avoidance may lead to them being more uncomfortable in that environment later. All that said, take the dog back to the park when it is relatively quiet, and the dog can have a better experience. We don't want to put them right back in the situation that turned out badly before.” Reed advises smaller play dates before a full dog park adventure. “Have a playdate with another dog that they are familiar with and watch their behavior to determine if they are ready or not,” she says. “If your dog has increased their reaction towards other dogs when out on walks, like lunging and barking, since the traumatic event, this is a sign that they will not feel safe or comfortable around other dogs.”
3. What do I do if my dog is the bully?
In the moment, things can feel chaotic. Reed says, “It’s important to respond as confidently and calmly as possible. Your energy and emotions will affect the situation and you don’t want to escalate the behavior by yelling or being upset with your dog.” (The no-yelling request was echoed by several real-life dog owners we spoke to.) As soon as possible, leash your dog and high tail it out of the dog park. However, if possible, try to apologize to other dog owners on your way out or once your pup is removed from the chaos. Mike, who adopted a rescue named Piper during the pandemic, says, “If you don’t apologize for anything bad your dog does, I’m giving you eye lasers.” A little acknowledgement goes a long way.
Then, invest in a few sessions with an experienced dog trainer. “People should realize that most of us don't intuitively know how to train a dog,” Dr. Richter says. “Many people, in an attempt to correct bad behavior, actually reinforce the behavior they are trying to stop…The large majority of dogs respond [well] to positive reinforcement training.”
Look back on the situation from your dog’s perspective. According to Reed, chances are your dog behaved in such a way because they didn’t understand boundaries, couldn’t read signals from other pups, or felt anxious and responded the only way dogs know how, “by exhibiting their feelings physically.” Again, this just means they need some guidance when it comes to socialization.