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trainer nicole larocco decodes dog park body language

When at the dog park, it’s important to understand basic canine body language so you can assess whether a situation could lead to trouble. This blog post will help you recognize what kind of behaviors are ok and which ones signal that it’s time to intervene.

Appropriate- You're Ok!

Butt sniffing and loose tail and body language

Wide, circular tail wagging

Play Bows

Butt Bumps

Playful Vocalization

Brief, fair, and harmless disagreements or corrections

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

Averting eye contact

Lip-licking, chewing

Submissive urination

Going Belly Up

Tail between the legs

Inappropriate or Rude- Time for a Time Out -or- Maybe Time to Go!

Hard Stares and Face-Offs

One individual chasing, pinning, targeting, or not letting up on another dog

A group of dogs mobbing an individual


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. Here are some examples of healthy correcting:

  • Stiff body posturing and pilo-erection or whale eye (hair on shoulders and butt stands up and you see the whites of eyes)
  • Loud woofs or snarks directed at an individual
  • Muzzle punching or lunging resulting in no harm being done to the dog being corrected
  • Normally done once and the argument is over

Appropriate corrections generally escalate in severity but result in no harm being done to the dog being corrected.  If your dog is over-correcting, it may be time to give a time out.

When it’s time to go! 

An important part of being a member of the dog park is recognizing when it’s 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:

  • Stiff body posturing and pilo-erection (hair on shoulders and butt standing straight up)
  • Repeated correcting of other dogs, sometimes over very benign instances
  • Targeting, bullying, or stalking individual dogs
  • Fearfulness which doesn’t subside
  • Prey drive

How to Break Up a Dog Fight

Dog fights happen!  It’s important when in a dog park to keep your cool if a fight breaks out so as not to escalate the situation. Here are some do’s and don’ts for how to do it:

  • Collect loose dogs who are not part of the fight to prevent mobbing.
  • Start by making a loud noise like clapping your hands or shouting ‘No!’ or do something disruptive like dumping a bucket of water on the fighting dogs.
  • Do not grab dogs by collars or necks/faces to avoid a redirected bite.
  • One person should grab each dog from the hips, pinching the loose skin between their belly and legs, and pull out of the fight, wheelbarrow-style (remember, 1 person per dog!).
  • Remove fighting dogs from the park for the day. 

In a future post, I’ll talk more about the different types of dogs you typically see at the park – from the humper to the resource guarder – and tell you more about how to identify which type your dog is and what to do about it. In the meantime, happy playing!

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Posted by Ellen Escarcega
on September 24 2015 15:37

I am the Chair of a non-profit that runs Seattle's dog parks, and we are working on a promotional/educational piece for users of the dog park. I'm wondering if I can have permission to loosely quote from this piece of yours -- no idea how much or little we might use, but we can link to your site from the credits of the piece? Ellen

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