Dog park etiquette: understanding your dog’s body language

With the snow melted and a stretch of dry weather, dog parks have a variety of pups running around them. Although the experience can be fun for some, not every dog is good at the dog park. 

According to Perfectly Imperfect Anarchist Dog Trainer Brit Birdhouse, there are signs of positive play, such as dogs respecting each other’s boundaries, taking turns, and having equal play styles. Body language, such as loose, wiggly bodies and loose ears and face, indicate that a dog is comfortable in its environment. 

There are, however, signs to look out for such as stiff posture, a dog’s coat standing up without warning, and multiple dogs chasing one. Some dogs tend to be the instigator at the dog park. 

“A dog that’s a little bit of a problem, is one that doesn’t take signals well from other dogs. So the other dogs are maybe showing stress signals like they’re cowering, they’re licking their lips, they’re yawning excessively. They’re kind of sniffing around and avoiding the other dog, not trying to engage or they’re always trying to leave the situation, and the instigator is not giving them that space,” explained Birdhouse. “They don’t necessarily even have to be physically touching another dog, although that happens a lot. You have dogs that slam and other dogs, they jump on them, they bite their legs or they grab their collars, but they can also just be like getting in there in their space. They could be constantly corralling them, cutting them off from play with other dogs or trying to play without kind of giving the other dog a time like time to catch up.”

Birdhouse said that a dog that will listen to its owner and stop instigating is okay, but they get worried when a dog will not stop bothering others. 

“A lot of those dogs, the worst offenders, aren’t even being aggressive. They’re just obnoxious,” said Birdhouse. “No one wants anyone up in their face unless they’re inviting it.”

Other dog park etiquette includes only bringing vaccinated dogs, picking up poop, and not bringing dogs that are too young. 

“I think a lot of people think that dog parks are where you bring your dog to socialize, and it is in fact the opposite of that dog park should be where dogs that are already socialized and have really good skills come to hang out,” explained Birdhouse. “You shouldn’t bring your puppy to come learn how to be a dog here. You’re going to set them up for failure and have behavior problems and have to call me to help you with it later.”

Growling is not bad behavior at a dog park- it is your dog’s way of establishing boundaries. 

“Don’t tell them not to. People get really mad about dogs that are expressing their boundaries. I would so much rather have a dog that growls than one that just bites or tackles another dog,” said Birdhouse.