A day out at the dog beach or park with your dog can be a lot of fun for you both. However, it is important to understand that dog beaches and parks tend to have an increased risk of dog attacks and accidents.
With many people and dogs contained in a small space, coupled with excited dogs, dogs of all sizes and ages playing together and even some owners not teaching their dogs good manners, it can pose a risk to both people and their dogs. Particularly, if you’re visiting new areas and aren’t familiar with the other dogs and their owners.
I see a lot of problems start because owners just aren’t reading the signs right and, what starts as play, can quickly escalate into a fight. So, here’s some tips to keep in mind to help when you are heading to a dog beach or park with your pooch.
The good signs to look for
- A play bow from one dog to another, this is a inviting your dog to play. You’ll see a dog put its front legs down like a bow with its butt in the air.
- A tag and run request. Not to be confused with a dog coming up to nip at your dog but rather when dogs are interacting nicely and one bounces up to give a bit of a ‘tag’ then runs away inviting your dog to chase. If your dog shies away or growls, then they are clearly not up for the invitation, so try to block the other dog from any further attempts or ask the owner nicely to just keep them away as your dog is feeling a little unsure or anxious, which can lead to fear-based aggression. Look for the signs here.
- Mimicking each other’s behaviour. The best type of dog play is when each dog takes turns in leading the play. Even if the dogs like to jump all over each other, nip at each other gently, or do things we might interpret ourselves as aggressive, if they are actually both doing it lightly and no intent to hurt (think of how puppies play with each other) with no aggression and are taking turns (ie: one might be jumping all over the other on top in a ‘rumble’ but then naturally allows the other to do the same to them and they repeatedly keep swapping) then this is okay. Just make sure their adrenaline doesn’t start to rise too much and they start getting over excited as that can quickly lead to a spat. When things start getting a bit out of control it is a good idea just to call them off to take some time out.
- If they have worked themselves up and have gotten a bit over excited, or one gives a yelp after the play has intensified a bit, a good sign to see is both dogs stop and shake themselves off. This is how the ‘reset’ themselves so is a good sign if both do it.
What to watch out for
- One dog is constantly on top of the other or dominating the play. See above regarding mimicking play being idea.
- A larger dog nipping or grabbing at a smaller dog or puppy’s neck, legs or body.
- I also try to be very careful about letting two very strong dog breeds play too rough and bite each other too much, even if in play, as it can quickly escalate. See my last point above about this.
- Likewise watch the play between a number of dogs carefully because if one starts to feel threatened or anxious and acts out aggressively to protect itself, you want to be able to quickly remove all dogs calmly from the situation and not allow an all-out war break out.
- One dog is constantly chasing another and nipping at their heels. (This is different to a tag & chase as described above). You might see this with working dogs chasing smaller dogs around the park, so you need to be careful it doesn’t start to get intimidating for the dog being chased so they feel harassed or threatened, or the instigator doesn’t start to get over excited and up the biting levels.
- One dog pouncing on another dog to get a game of wrestle going that is clearly showing signs they aren’t comfortable.
- Mounting – there are many reasons why dogs hump and it isn’t always dominance or sexual, but it isn’t great manners or can hurt another dog and set off a fight if an older dog has bad legs or the other dog feels threatened.
- Be extra careful if there are small and large dogs playing together as the risk can be much higher.
Children at the dog beach or park
Firstly, if you do not have a dog and want to go for a picnic or peaceful swim. I strongly suggest that taking your family to a dog friendly beach or park is something you should re-think. There are not a lot of places where dogs can run around with other dogs and just have fun, so let them have run of the areas that they are actually allowed in and go find an alternative place where dogs are not allowed or must be on leash. Even I have rolled my eyes when I see a person sitting at a dog beach getting grumpy with a dog running up to say a friendly hi. Just find somewhere else.
If you take both your dog and children along to a dog beach or park it’s important that they don’t run around, that is inviting a dog to jump and chase them. Should a dog run at them, they should turn their back and fold their arms. A good firm ‘no’ can also help, along with quick intervention from an adult or the dog’s owner. Please tell them not to run away screaming as the dog will think this is a great invitation to play and it will make matters worse.
Proof your dog’s recall
If it is your dog that tends to run and jump up to children or even other dogs, then you must work on your recall so you can stop them in their chase and call them back to you.
Recall skills is the most important obedience training that every owner should do as early as possible for the safety of all dogs and people. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a good recall with your dog.
If you don’t have a strong recall on your dog, even when they are under high distraction, it is time to stop blaming the dog and start working on your own leadership and training techniques. There are a few articles and videos on this website to help with improving your dog’s recall so do a search and get practising.
Keep yourself and your dog moving
Keeping an eye on your dog at all times when at a dog beach or park is also a top priority, not a conversation with others or checking your mobile phone. This is when things can quickly escalate with over excited dogs when owners aren’t paying attention to the signs. So, rather than standing around and chatting keep you and your dog moving.
If you do see a dog fight, don’t rush in to grab them or you could be bitten. When dogs are in a frenzied state they aren’t thinking straight and they may redirect their bite at you if you try to grab them or intervene.
Instead, try a loud and assertive ‘stop’ or throw a lead or some water in to break their attention (not to hurt them as again they could turn on you or make the situation worse). This is an effort to try to ‘snap’ them out of it. Usually that will work with dogs that are just a bit hot under the collar.
Both owners should put their dogs immediately on lead and move them far enough away from each that they are not reacting, but ideally you will let them calm down in front of one another so that it finishes on a calm positive note to avoid reinforcing any fear from future interactions.
If you are having trouble with recall or any other behaviour issues, then don’t wait for it to improve or for them to grow out of it. Dogs grow into behaviour problems so seek out the services of a local dog trainer to help with the NDTF.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is co-Host of Pooches at Play and has completed a Certificate III in Dog Behaviour & Training with the National Dog Trainers Federation. Lara also runs her own dog training, minding and walking business in Melbourne’s Bayside area.