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Real Life Dog Park Problems and How to Fix Them

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The dog park can be a great place for dogs to socialize with other mutts, retrieve a ball and blow off some energy by running back and forth across a grassy plain. But it can also be the location of some unforeseen disasters.

We surveyed several dog owners to hear their most embarrassing dog park moments and, after getting a good laugh from some of these (the others were a tad cringe-worthy), asked dog trainer and author Victoria Schade and Move That Tail founder Brandy Diaz to weigh in on how these types of situations can be properly handled and avoided in the future.

Unwanted Humping

Two Australian Shepherds play together outdoors

“I was in the small dog park with Stitch (a 10 lb. Maltese) and he started humping a little Chihuahua. The owner tried to pick up her dog to get it away from Stitch and Stitch was holding on so tight that he went up in the air, too. I guess he really clings! It was embarrassing, since the other girl was definitely trying to stop it, but also hilarious.” – Lisa Beebe

Victoria’s advice: A dog that resorts to humping is likely feeling stress, excitement or anxiety. It’s important to understand that humping behavior from spayed or neutered dogs has nothing to do with reproduction (particularly because female dogs hump too!). To curb this embarrassing behavior at the dog park, try to interrupt it before it begins. You can either walk between your dog and his potential victim or you can call him to you and stroll to a different part of the park. If the humping is relentless, try taking your dog to the park during off-peak hours, as having fewer buddies might decrease his excitement level.

Marking “Their” Property

Dogs walking on the beach

“While on an off leash dog beach, Eddie ran over and took a wiz on someone’s bag while she was sitting right next to it!” – Sara Lawrence

Brandy’s advice:I see this happen a lot at dog beaches. One of the things people forget is that a dog is still a dog. Males have territories they keep up with. Even my boy Jax, who was neutered, started doing this. At home they mark the yard and on walks they mark the bushes and trees. When you go to a new place, your dog starts sniffing around to find his “new territory.”

To help with this, I recommend you start by keeping him on his leash for now. Start by teaching him a good recall. I see lots of dogs that have very little to no recall when going to the park or beaches. Another is “leave it.” Once you have your dog coming to you from any distraction and your “leave it” command is spot on, I would try the beach with a 10 foot lead and work up to off-leash. Remember, a well trained dog is a happy dog and a happy owner.

An Anti-Social Dog

Dog resting on park bench

“My boy Joey would never play with other dogs. Instead, he used his time at the dog park to lap hop from person to person.” – Sarah Netter

Victoria’s advice: It’s a fact that’s hard for pet parents to acknowledge: some dogs don’t enjoy playing with other dogs. I happen to have two dogs who opted out of the beautiful community dog park that I helped build (all that work for nothing!). We made three attempts, meeting up with dogs that were wonderful potential playmates and each time my dogs preferred to sniff and explore rather than engage in paw-to-paw combat. And you know what? That’s okay. We let our membership expire, and now we have mini-play dates with dog buddies in our yard or at friends’ homes and they enjoy it a little more. If you have an anti-social pup, listen to what he’s telling you and try a different form of canine interaction.

Having Food in the Park

Cute dog begging

“Our dog park occasionally has cookouts. One Thursday someone brought pastries. Tessie (she’s usually the troublemaker) sniped one out of someone’s hand. She tried to do the same to me, but I saw her coming and defended my croissant.” – Clair Evans

Brandy’s advice:One of the rules of a dog park is no food or treats—for this reason! If you are going to do a get-together, I recommend doing this at a normal park where dogs are on leashes and controlled. Food doesn’t belong in parks because, as you learned, it brings out bad behaviors. And some dogs have food aggression, so this will make those behaviors worse and someone can get seriously hurt.

A Serious Injury

Funny dog running in park

At the dog park, I didn’t move quickly enough to get out of the running path of a (very large) Boxer, who knocked me off my feet in one of those cartoonish, flipped upside down moments. I cracked a rib and had to take painkillers for about six weeks, couldn’t laugh too hard or sleep easy while it healed. Laugh-ouch-loud.” – Elizabeth Rushe

Victoria’s advice: When you’re at the dog park you need be plugged into the action on the field, for your dog’s safety as well as your own. Dog play is incredibly fast-paced and can shift within seconds, so always watching the scrum will allow you to intervene if your dog needs an ally, and will keep you from being taken out by friendly fire. Be aware what’s going on around you at all times, and remember that a simple side-step can mean the difference between getting taken down by the pack and watching the dog train pass you by.

Playing in the Wrong Park

Girl running in park with two dogs

“Our dog park is on one end of a park and there is a sports field next to it. Years ago my dog got loose and scored a goal in the little league soccer game we were playing in. It was pretty funny to everyone but my mother.” – Reva Lyttle

Brandy’s advice:I know if any of my animals would do that, I would be scared that they would go into the street or parking lot and get hit. To avoid this, you need to have control. When you say “come” or “here,” they should be running back to you at full speed. One of the things I tell my clients is to make sure you have a good-fitting harness. A harness will lessen the chances of accidental escapes. Dog collars are too easy to get out of and can damage the neck. You should have 100 percent control of your dog before exiting the dog park and shouldn’t remove the leash until you are in the dog park.

Swimming in the Wrong Spot

Dog playing in the mud

“Dog sitter here. A Golden just groomed by her mom was off-leash in a woodland area where dogs gather. She was subtle about walking just slightly faster than my reach and veering a little to the left. Then I saw where she was headed—to a deliciously muddy and smelly vernal pool. She was so sly. I screamed so loud the other dog moms heard me, but it was too late.” – Suzanne Carter

Brandy’s advice:I have seen many owners of Golden Retrievers, Poodles, doodles etc., go through this. I watch as they scream at their dogs not to roll and jump in the mud. One of things I tell them is a good recall and teaching the command “leave it” will work wonders. Also, these dogs are water lovers, so allowing them some water time in-between baths will make a happy pup!

People forget that dogs were bred for a purpose. Some retrieve, some guard, some hunt rodents, and some are lap dogs. I always say, if you have a German Shepherd, he needs a job. If you have a Golden Retriever, he needs a pool and dog toys for retrieval. If you have a Border Collie, you either need to own sheep or take up agility. All in all, teach them the basics and always remember that there is so much more than the basics your dog can learn. As a trainer, the training never stops.”


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Nicole Pajer is a freelance writer who lives in Los Angeles with her husband, energetic Doberman, and rat terrier.