He Was Not Having Fun

It was tough. At home mom with a military contracted spouse who travelled a lot.  Three younger children and a puppy.  Mom wanted the puppy to help teach the kids responsibility and such.  However, Mom also described her children as spirited and fun-loving.  She encouraged them to express themselves creatively.  The problem was the children were allowed to have fun and express themselves creatively in ways the puppy did not find fun.

The client was out of my travel range but I took the family on as a favor to a friend who was an animal professional.  She knew I did child/dog safety work.

When I entered the house I saw the puppy’s crate (large crate for a puppy that would grow to be a large dog) decked out and made into a play platform.  A child was sitting on the crate singing and kicking.   Another child was running around the puppy while the critter was trying to eat.  When the puppy nipped another child would run up and yell NONONO!  Then the children proceeded to host a show – on top of the “crate stage.”  Then a child tried to get the puppy involved in the play.  This all went down while I was trying to take a history.

Mom was upset because the children only wanted to have fun with the puppy.  The puppy was described as a nasty brat.

The puppy was trying to survive.  The children were allowed to play inappropriately with him because Mom assumed a dog should learn to tolerate anything a child does.  If a child wants to have fun, the dog should accept it.

Here is the flaw with that – what the child thinks is fun the dog may find threatening.  It does not matter what the child’s intentions or parental assumption is if the dog is not having fun.  Humans do not determine what is fun for the dog – that is personal to the dog.

This pup was not having fun. The kids wanted to play but the pup needed security and respect.  Just because you and your child thinks the crate is a great play area and a stage does not mean the puppy will feel the same.  No, crates are supposed to be a safe place.  Puppies and dogs should be able to eat and chew toys in peace.  When I pointed out all the stress signals the pup was giving preceding a nip, Mom was shocked.  However, she was still loathe to teach her children different ways to play because they were spirited and she did not want to break that.

Over the weeks, I tried to show her how the kids and pup could have fun.  I encouraged and outlined safer games.  I tried to make the pup’s crate a quiet zone where he could retreat and be given breaks from the kids.  We worked on self-control exercises for the puppy and kids.  We rearranged things so the puppy and children could have fun together in a more appropriate way.

Here came the issues though – Mom felt the kids should dictate what they did for fun and not the pup.  She was not going to intervene and stop them because that would squash their creativity.  So I brought my daughter to show her how well children and pups could do with boundaries – boundaries are needed for safety.  My daughter was younger than her children.  We all went for a nice walk, we showed how much fun they could still have with set safety boundaries.  Mom’s only comment was “Well I am not a dog trainer and my children need to express themselves. My kids must have fun.”

The puppy was having fun with my child, she was properly guided and given boundaries.  The puppy was encouraged to take breaks and given needed breaks.  This was nothing the mother could not do if she wanted.




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Be Our Guest – Hotel Etiquette with Dogs

The more I travel with dogs, the more I see an increasing number of hotels and motels are becoming less pet friendly. Some complaints I hear from dog owners include hotels they used to love no longer allowing pets and hotels seriously increasing pet fees.  When I talk to hotel managers, it is easy to see why there are problems with allowing dogs and why they charge what they do.  As dog owners, we are to blame for higher fees and bans.  How we act at hotels will play a big role in how hotel management views how they handle allowing pets.


2009 – Sarah and Ravyn bedding down for the night while at the ASSA National in Perry, GA.  – picture by Karen Peak

In order to have good canine guests at hotels, we start with training and socializing. Some behaviors I want include: ignoring various sounds in the hall, relaxation when inside (yes this can be taught), good leash manners, sitting or waiting at doors, not lunging at people, etc.  My dogs need to quietly ride elevators or walk nicely up stairs.  They need to pass other guests, housekeeping carts and room service trays left in the hall.  They will need to handle the numerous sounds at a hotel without barking at every little noise.  We have stayed at hotels near airports and less than 100 yards from commuter rail tracks. What seems like an easy thing for us can be overwhelming for our dogs.  Now, we cannot stay at hotels to work on training and socializing but getting our dogs out and teaching what we need will go a long way.  Teach them to be in small areas with you to help prepare for riding elevators.  Some places like Bass Pro Shop are dog friendly and have elevators.  We would go there often for socializing and elevator work.  There is a lot we can do at home to prepare our dogs for hotel stays.

I make it a point to talk to managers when I stay at hotels. The complaints management have about what dog owners do (or not) and permit are lengthy.  Here are a few. Not cleaning up poop from hotel and surrounding grounds is a major problem.  It is disgusting how many owners to not clean up after their dogs.  This is not only unsightly but a health issue.  Many things we do not want can be transmitted through dog poop.  Always have a poop bag on hand.  If you forget one,  the bags used to line ice buckets work great as do the bags in your room’s trash cans.

Out of control dogs who are not managed in rooms is another concern.  One hotel manager told me about a severely damaged guest room. A dog was allowed to chew holes in walls, destroy a handicapped shower bench, relieve himself over the carpets, etc.  The damage was done in one night (owner was with the dog).  The owner completely ignored what the dog was doing.  The damage cost thousands of dollars and a room for disabled guests had to be taken out of service for a week for repairs.

Another manager said dogs who are allowed to bark all day and night is a major complaint of guests.  Some guests treat hotels and boarding kennels – leave the dog all day alone in the room.  The dogs bark and disturb people.  When the manager calls owners to return to the room, many cannot be reached.  Yes sometimes we will have to leave dogs in the rooms while we run to get breakfast (please bring it to your room) but leaving for a 6 – 12 hour day to see the sights and leaving your dog in the room is irresponsible.

Another complaint came from a manager at a hotel where people were staying for dog shows.  I was not at this show but knew club members who were contacted by the hotel management after. One group left the rooms they booked a disaster as they decided to do a full show grooming on their dogs and not clean up after they were done. They were all friends and all the same breed.  These exhibitors were banned from all shows hosted by this club.  Luckily the club did a lot of damage control to keep good relations with the hotel!  I have been at shows where announcements were made letting exhibitors know just what will happen if they are irresponsible at the host hotels.

Crates are important for the safety of your dog. All it takes is one housekeeper or maintenance man to open the door for your dog to escape.  I never rely on “do not disturb” or “dog in room” signs to keep people out.  All it takes is the owner not to be in the room and a housekeeper or maintenance person to enter and the dog to sneak out.  We often stay at hotels with kitchenettes so we have the option of cooking meals.  It is not uncommon for there to be various cleaning agents left in lower cabinets. I have dogs who can open cabinets.  A dog who is comfortable and likes a crate is safer in hotel rooms.

Along the same idea is make sure your dogs do not dash out open doors.  It is frightening to be coming down the hall, see a door open and watch a dog come barreling out with an owner screaming for the dog to get back.  If your dog cannot maintain a wait while a door is opened, crate him or leash him before opening the door. One hotel trip we had this happen (the dog was on an extending leash, dashed out of the door and pulled down the hall, the owner made no move to stop him).  We were close enough for him to get at our dogs.  Luckily I was able to get them into the door as the owner began to realize there was going to be a problem.

Do not walk your dogs on extending or long leads in the building or on the grounds. Short leashes are safer.  One recent trip (May 2017) we had to wait ten minutes before an owner acknowledged her dog (not a nice one either) was blocking the lobby doors.   His lead was extended across the entire doorway. He was roaming around while his owner stood and smoked, texted, etc.)  People could neither enter nor exit.  The owner saw people waiting.  She chose to be rude. Extending leads have no place in a hotel or on their grounds.  Because of the body language I saw in the dog I was not going to attempt to pass him.

When in hotels we have to address physical activity. Be considerate when you play with your dogs in your rooms.  The noise may disturb others.  I have heard dog games sound like they were playing fetch in rooms near us – really loud, raucous games.  Not fun when you are trying to sleep.  To help burn off energy (if the dogs are not tired from an event) we will find a back staircase and jog up and walk down a few flights. Stairs are great ways to work out your if you are careful and your dog physically healthy. Walk your dog around the halls if they are well-mannered.  Start at the bottom floor and work up to the top.  We use stair cases at the ends of the halls.  If the area around the hotel is nice we will do laps outside.  We may look for areas we can explore.  If there is an open field then we can use a long line in a safer manner if no one is around.  Alternatively we tell the dog to go sniff and we follow the dog around as she does dog things.  Last summer we drove into Colonial Williamsburg after a dog show and walked around.   The dogs enjoyed sniffing around and checking things out. We have walked the dogs in New York City when at Westminster.  Scatter feeding your dog will help too and is a quiet game.  Take his kibble and scatter it around the room.  He has to be active to find his food.  Then give him a Kong or similar toy stuffed with food in his crate (to help keep the floors clean) for quieter activities.

As dog owners, we determine how pet-friendly places will remain. Being able to be at a hotel with pets is a privilege I want to continue to enjoy.  Sadly too many people are irresponsible and are making it increasingly difficult for hotel staff to stay dog friendly.

Lastly, please do not lie and state your pet is a service dog so you can gain access with him to a hotel that has a no-dog policy.  This is a growing problem.  If your dog is a pet he is a pet.  If you choose to fake a service dog and certain behaviors happen, the management can have the dog removed and the law will be on his side. If you are in a hotel and you see someone with a service dog, keep your dog well away and under control.  It is not fair to working dogs to be tormented by your pet.  Move down the hall and let the handler and dog get to their room before you proceed.  Give them respect and a wide berth so they can do their work.

This is a greatly extended version of a piece submitted to Northern Virginia Today’s print edition for publication shortly.  – Karen Peak, West Wind Dog Training.

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Giving a Choice – may I touch?

Expanded version of pieces written for Northern Virginia Today and published in May 2017.  These are sister articles regarding touch and our dogs.  The same applies to cats!


Would you race up to a total stranger and give a big bear hug? Probably not because it is rude and not safe; you have no idea what the recipient will do.  Yet every day we force ourselves on animals without their consent.  We give animals no choice regarding being patted simple because we want to pat the dog.  I have had clients think it is fine to allow everyone to handle a pet because the owners felt the pet should do it.  These same owners were outraged when the pet said “No” his way.  I worked with a boy who was encouraged by a relative to run up and greet all dogs with a big hug and kiss.  When he did this to another relative’s dog, the child was seriously mauled.  I was called in to help his parents learn how to teach him self-control and better behaviors with dogs.

Never assume an animal who does not want to be touched will move away. He may choose not to and give body language indicating he wants you to back off.   Think of the cat sunning himself on the back of the couch.  You pat him and he smacks your hand. If you are lucky he has his nails sheathed.  You were invading his space and giving attention he did not want at that moment.

As you approach the critter, check body language. Is the animal indicating he is interested?  Is he moving into your area?  Does he move under your hand when it is by your side?  Does he look relaxed?  Does he try to initiate more when you stop?  Does he lean against you?  Or, when you go to pat him is he leaning away?  Does he tense?  Does his face look tight? Is he giving you the whale eye (whites of eye showing)?  Is he stiff and looking away?  Cowering?  Growling?  Each species has different signals indicating they are not happy with something going on

When my pets want to be scratched or patted, they will let me know. When I see one approach I will put my hand down.  If the critter wants to be patted, they will move under my hand.  If not, they move away.  One of my dog likes being shown and does not mind judges touching him. He is fine at the vet too. When he wants to be touched, he will let you know.  He is very particular about being handled outside shows.  He can go days without wanting to be handled.  It is all his choice.  We ask many times a day if he wants a pat or scratch, he is allowed to say “No thank you” and walk away.  He will hang out with us, sleep at my feet when I am typing, join Sarah on the couch where he may or may not cuddle.  It is all his choice unless it is a time when touch is a must.

Foster Best Jr Handler

Foster is an awesome little Juniors dog for my daughter, but when out of the ring, he is particular about being touched – picture from Hunter Run and property of Karen Peak


I have other critters that are very eager for attention and will ask for scritches and scratches many times a day.  However, I have taught them to ask in a polite manner.

As pet owners, it is OK to advocate for your pet and say “No, he does not want to be touched.”   Touch needs to be with consent.  When we force situations on our pets when they do not want it, we can create trouble for our critters.  If you want to pat someone’s pet and are told “No” it is your duty to respect that.  No matter what you think, not all animals love you or want your attention.

The more we respect our pets, the happier they will be.

obviously I am an advocate of allowing pets decide when and if they want to be touched – especially by a stranger when we are out somewhere.  However, there are times handling is a must: home checks for lumps, bumps or parasites; grooming by owner or professional; veterinary exams; canine events where a physical exam is needed; etc.

Before I continue, if your pet is tough to handle, if he bites or scratches, is fearful, showing stress, etc., it is a good idea to contact a good trainer or a veterinary behaviorist to help you get on the right track.

Teaching pets to enjoy handling begins with the source of your animal. This means the breeder or rescue group with the babies must start the foundation.  Failing to do this work puts the new owner at a disadvantage.  It is important that the little ones learn hands are good and to be touched all over.  If you are a breeder or work in rescue there can be no excuse for not doing the early work to set the foundation.  If you are not willing to do the work and do it well, then you should rethink what you are doing when it comes to placing dogs.  Owners builds upon what you do, please make sure they have a solid foundation!


Foster is being shown and he happily accepts handling by strangers here because it is his job.  He was taught this is a time when touch is must.  Picture by Karen Peak – West Wind Dog Training


Be aware of how your hands are used. How can I teach an animal to trust my hands f I am using them to hurt or intimidate? This means I should not be hitting, scruffing, alpha rolling, etc., as part of my training.  It is easier to start off right than it is to retrain and regain trust later. Feeding while touching, licking peanut butter from a spoon or a unit like the Chase and Chomp Sticky Bone I can fill with things for my dog to work on while I begin handling lessons can all help my pet associate my touch with good things. If my pet begins to stress, I will ease up, take a break and try again later.

I will add gentle grooming to my handling work. It is easiest to teach grooming before your pet actually needs it.  Waiting until he is shedding or has tangles that need removing is not recommended.  As I am fighting with knots and heavily shedding coat, it is harder for me to make this a positive experience for my pet.  I cannot make grooming pleasant when I am trying to yank out fur.  I will start gently – soft bristle brush or wiping with a cloth.  I will work up to whatever I need to get the job done with my pets.  With clippers, I will not immediately clipper the pet. I will have the dog see the clippers.  I will make the clippers great in his eye.  Then I will touch him with the clippers but they will be OFF.  When the dog likes this, I will start having the dog listen to the clippers and give positive associations.  Then I will move to gentle touch so the dog feels the vibration and eventually to clippering for breeds that this is part of grooming for show.


Sarah at age 4 learning to groom. D’Argo was way too big for show and no amount of grooming would bring his size down.   But he learned from a young age to enjoy grooming.  Sarah was taught from a young age how to gently groom.

Please, as a pet owner, no matter what species, take the time and work to get your animal able to be handled. There are times it is a must.  This is a safety thing for your pet and people who need to handle him.  Remember, this is not the same as every Tom, Dick and Mary wanting to pat your dog while you are out.  This training is for when touch has to be done.

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Stop That Begging!

Yes, another piece from Northern Virginia Today I expanded for here.


“My dog won’t stop begging,” is a common owner complaint. You are eating or cooking, Sparky comes over to investigate what you are doing. This is normal.  My dogs do it all the time.  However, my dogs are not rude beggars.  Why?  What did you do to stop these behaviors?  The answer is not “why my dogs are not rude beggar” but WHAT I did to get better behaviors.  What you do when Sparky comes to check out that great smell determines what Sparky will do next.  Will he become a rude beggar or a patient waiter?


Uhura as a puppy at an outdoor café.  What do you not see?  Rude begging while we were eating.  Why?  Training!


Dogs do what works for them. While you are eating, Sparky approaches and poked you.  You toss Sparky food thinking he will go away.  Sparky starts these behaviors again.  Once again, you give him something to make him go away.  In reality you have reinforced these begging behaviors.  You showed Sparky what he was doing gets him what he wants.  Sparky comes up, he pokes you, you feed him.  If you do not feed him, Sparky tries harder. He is not being rude; he is simply giving the behaviors you have reinforced.  Now what? Do you yell at him?  Do you give him more hoping he will go away once satisfied?  Every time you do this you are teaching Sparky these behaviors will work to get him food.  You have taught Sparky to become a rude beggar.

I feed my dogs from my plates or from the counter as I am cooking.  YES!  I DO. Feeding your dog from your plate does NOT create a rude, begging dog.  Tossing your dog food from the counter as you cook will NOT create a dog who counter surfs.  Dogs will counter surf even if we do not feed them from the counter.  Dogs smell stuff and they will investigate it if they can get to it.  They are dogs.  So what is the trick to getting a dog that does not beg while you are eating or cooking?  Here is the trick – it is not a trick really – decide what you want from your dog and train for it.

DoG street grill lettuce

I want a dog who waits politely.  This is what I work towards.  Give your dog a mat and teach him to remain there while you eat or cook.  While he is remaining there, toss him things.  This reinforces “If I stay here, I will get food!”  If you toss your dog food while he is doing something you do not like (rude begging) that is what he will continue to do.   Again, decide what you want and train for it.  Now, you have done this and the behaviors keep falling apart.  What could be happening?

It is easy for the desired behaviors to be undermined.  Great Aunt Edna comes for a visit.  You have explained the rules for when humans eat and how Sparky can only get things when he is in his place.  Since Edna is a newer person, Sparky may not give the behaviors to her that he does you.   If Edna gives Sparky a snack from her plate while he is not giving desired behaviors, your work has been compromised.  This is where management and showing visitors what needs to be done to keep your training going. Assuming you can retrain the dog after is not fair.  It is confusing to the dog.  If you are worried visitors will not respect your work, keep Sparky away while they are eating.

For those who cringe at giving dogs “people food,” many are safe for dogs. It is easier to make a list of things to avoid than it is to list all the people food dogs can have.  Avoid: chocolate, anything in the onion and garlic family, avocado, caffeinated things, macadamia nuts, citrus (the peels, leaves and stems contain oils), coconut and coconut oil in large amounts, grapes and raisins, anything with Xylitol, and a few other foods.  Also, make sure meat is lean and no bones from your plate.  An internet search will provide good lists of foods to avoid and foods that are safe.

Begging need not be a problem if you are willing to decide what behaviors you want from your dog and train for them.

Karen Peak is the owner of West Wind Dog Training in Northern Virginia and The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project.

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Oh Go Stuff It!

Another piece I wrote for Northern Virginia Today expanded for here.

Toys we can stuff with food! Freezable holders of canine goodies!  Where would I be without my Kongs and other food stuffing toys! Kongs and toys like Wal-Mart’s Sumo, etc., are wonderful ways to help alleviate boredom, give your dogs things to do when you leave the house, replacements for food bowls, etc.   These toys are meant to be filled with goopy things for the dog to lick out.

Before I continue, check labels for Xylitol.  This artificial sweetener is very toxic to dogs even in small amounts. It is found in some brands of peanut butter, other nut butters, reduced sugar yogurts and even some brands of honey. Also avoid other artificial ingredients like aspartame, etc. 

When you begin using one of these toys make it easy to start. Loose kibble, a little canned dog food, etc.  If the toy is packed too tightly the dog may frustrate and lose interest – even if hungry.  Once your dog gets the hang of the toy, you can make things a little more challenging.  I will take peanut butter or squirt cheese and smear some on the walls of the toy.  I will add some kibble or treats.  Some will get stuck to the walls and other pieces are easy to get out.   It will not take long for your dog to get the hang of these toys.  Soon you will be able to make things a little harder and longer lasting.  However, continue to watch for signs your dog is getting frustrated.  Even experienced dogs may stop using these toys if they cannot get the goodies out.

4.5 weeks grated surface work (1)

4 1/2 week puppy walking on a grated surface – the Kong toys and bone were also stuffed with canned food.  I used Kongs as part of my socializing for puppies and to get them seeking things from these toys.

You can use a multitude of foods in these toys: mashed banana, plain yogurt, berries, applesauce, pureed pumpkin or squash, rice, ground cooked meat, canned dog food, etc. Layer these foods with kibble so they have to lick and work at some layers and others are easier.

Did you know you can freeze Kongs? Frozen Kongs are a great summer treat and they last longer.  As they thaw, the stuff inside becomes easier to get out. Plug the small hole with peanut butter or something similar.  Put the Kong large hole up in a plastic cup or container.  Layer things until the toys are about three-quarters of the way filled.   Before you give the toy to your dog, put something not frozen at the opening.  This way your dog has something easy to get out to encourage him then he can work on the harder stuff.

When you leave the house, give your dog a stuffed Kong in his crate.  If he can have unsupervised house freedoms, hide a couple for him to find.  If you have a dog walker come in, leave a stuffed Kong to be left when the walker leaves.  When it is yucky out and the dogs are restless, food stuffed toys are a big help with boredom.  It is important that dogs learn to settle and be quiet, Kongs can help give a quieter activity.  They are great for use in hotels, in crates in the vehicle, etc.  I bring prepackaged squeeze pouches of dog meal enhancements (pureed meats, fruits and veggies) and squish some into each toy.  Combined with social skills and travel lessons, Kongs help relax my dogs when we are in hotels.

To save time, buy a week’s worth of toys.  Take fifteen minutes on a Sunday evening to prep and freeze.  Each evening, rinse the used toys and wash on the top rack of your dishwasher or swirl a bottle brush with hot, soapy water around the inside and rinse.  It takes me less than fifteen minutes to get all my dogs’ Kongs stuffed and in the freezer.   If you have kids, helping prepare Kongs is a great job for them!  Even little kids are able to help fill Kongs.

Instead of feeding your dog from a bowl, use Kongs and other toys. Through measuring the size toys I have, I learned they hold half to all of a meal ration per dog for each of my dogs.  I use food to enrich my dog’s environment and encourage activities.  Each morning my dogs get part of their ration in a bowl.  I scatter a handful of kibble in the yard to encourage them to use their noses.  Before I leave, they get food stuffed toys with the rest of their meals.  Used wisely, these toys will not “Make my dog fat.”  Mix the kibble ration with canned food or pureed vegetables and there is the meal.

If you do not have any of these toys, go get some and get stuffing!

Karen Peak is the owner of West Wind Dog Training and The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project in Northern Virginia.

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Dog Parks: Green lights and Red flags

In an earlier blog this month I discussed dogs who should not be at dog parks. You have owned your dog for a good time and watched his behaviors in a variety of situations.  You have decided your dog may be a good candidate for a dog park and you want to visit one. However, your dog is not the only dog you need to worry about. No matter how well your dog would do at a dog park, there are other dogs to consider. Before you enter the park observe dogs and humans closely.

Good play, or green lights, will include dogs that look relaxed and “loose.” Do you see dogs exchanging roles during play?  (Not all dogs may exchange roles but if they are giving each other a chance to stop and determine if they want to keep going as they are, that is OK).  There may be play bows, air pawing and a general relaxed look to everyone.  Are tails held relatively level with the back (dog build allowing – some breeds have tails that are set higher, over the back) and wagging loosely?  If a dog signals he does not want to play, are the other dogs respecting his space?  Are dogs taking time to stop playing and relax?  Do the faces look relaxed?  Is the mouth open and soft with teeth covered?  These are all positive signs.  It does not mean things will not change if something happens but these are good signs.

What about behaviors to use caution around? Stressed dogs are ones I would not want my dogs around.  Pinning ears, lowered tails, cowering and trying to look smaller, dogs are things I do not like to see.  Dogs who are lip licking, showing the whites of the eyes and yawning when not tired are displaying stress. Look for hyper-vigilance or as I call it “Looking like a cheerleader in a slasher movie.” Do you see dogs frequently rolling over and exposing their bellies?  Are there dogs pacing or looking for escape and avoiding people and other dogs?  Stressed dogs are more likely to end up in trouble.  Their tolerance levels are low and they are afraid.  If you see stressed dogs in a dog park, it may be prudent to rethink visiting that day.  If you begin to see these behaviors, I would seriously consider leaving – honestly, when I went to dog parks if I saw this happening, I left. Now let’s look at dog park red flags.

When you see dogs mounting each other this is not necessarily dominance. Mounting is also done when a dog is confused or stressed. This behavior can become problematic. A pack of dogs chasing a smaller dog is very worrisome.  If I see dogs giving hard stares, using stiff body language, repeatedly laying the head across the shoulder of another dog and tails up high (when not part of their normal build or dogs whose tails are naturally up high due to breed now held low), I am going to leave. Dogs that are hovering and pouncing on entering dogs, guarding water bowls or people, etc., are things I do not like to see at dog parks.  Do I see bullying in play: dogs not respecting requests to back off from other dogs, lots of body checks and harassment, constant slamming other dogs to the ground?  It can be a short step from rude play to an all out fight. Do I see owners punishing stress behaviors instead of removing the dogs from the park?  Punishing stress increases stress and the chance of something happening.  I would not enter a dog park or I would immediately leave if I see these things occurring.

Other red flags I will leave if I see are dog walkers/trainers bringing their dogs to parks or if I hear people talking about bringing newly adopted dogs to parks.

If the overall behavioral environment at a dog park is good, then for the right dog, carefully used dog parks can be beneficial. However, when the atmosphere turns, dog parks become riskier.  Be vigilant as what looks like a fun time can turn fast to not so much fun.

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Dogs Who Should Not Bet At Dog Parks

Not too long ago a story came across my social media account regarding a dog badly hurt at a dog park in Prince William County.

Several years ago I had a client dog severely maul a goofy pup at a dog park in Fairfax County.  The person walking the dog midday was given explicit instructions to avoid dog parks with this dog.  The dog walker felt she knew best and ignored the client’s instructions.

Though many dog owners think dog parks are the best thing out there, many dogs brought to dog parks should have alternative methods of exercising used.  I would like to look at dogs that should not be at dog parks.

  1. Never take a newly adopted dog to a dog park – No matter when the rescue group or person you acquired the dog states, you do not have enough information about this dog.  They may stated he was OK with other dogs but this may be certain dogs he lived with.  This does not mean he will like all dogs or even tolerate the stuff all dogs will do.  A dog can be quiet friendly and at ease with a core group of other dogs.  The same dog may not want other dogs near him.  It takes time to get to know a dog and determine if the dog is one to try a dog park with or not.
  2. Dogs who are in need of socializing and social skills – Dog parks are the worst place to socialize a puppy or adult dog.  There is not enough control of the situation.  A dog can easily develop fears of other dogs based on actions at the dog park.  If he is giving signals he does not want to play and other dogs keep harassing him, instead of becoming social, your dog can quickly determine all dogs need to be kept far away.
  3. A dog with any behaviors deemed aggressive towards animals or humans, does not care for other dogs, etc – Behaviors that are things we would deem risky towards others are completely unsuited for dog parks.  They increase the risk of an incident.
  4. A dog who is fearful and hides, works to avoid things, etc – See (2) and (3).  Fearful dogs will not get over their fears if they see other dogs playing and having fun.  Our dogs determine what is fun or not, not us.  Just because we think our dogs will get over it if exposed to lots of dogs having fun does not mean it will happen.  More likely your dog’s fears will worsen.
  5. Dogs who resource guard (toys, water/food bowls, humans, etc) – If a dog does not want other dogs or people near his things is a greater risk of causing a scuffle.  I have watched dogs hover over water bowls and dog parks and drive other dogs away.  I have watched dogs attack others over balls and toys brought to parks.
  6. Dogs who cannot walk away from a possible challenge or fly into a scuffle like a drunk at a bar brawl – Scuffs will happen at dog parks.  If your dog cannot ignore them and has to get in the middle, this is not a good thing.  The more dogs that engage in a scuffle, the riskier it becomes.
  7. Dogs who repeatedly slam other dogs to the ground, rolls, pin, body check other dogs and/or intensely chases other dogs down – Rude play is risky play.  All it takes is one rudely playing dog for another dog or human to become injured.  I have been injured by rudely playing client dogs.  I have had clients bitten by dogs who rudely demand play.  Also these dogs are more likely to cause a scuffle to happen as other dogs begin to try tostop his actions.
  8. Dogs who do not respond to signals from other dogs to stop – This is very concerning to me.  Too many times I have seen dogs giving clear signals to leave him alone.  Other dogs were ignoring the signals.  The targeted dog began increasing his responses.  This is a short step to a fight.  If your dog ignores other dogs’ language, he is being a problem.
  9. Dogs who will not call away from intense chases or fights happening near them – Stuff will happen at dog parks.  Dogs who will not return when called during high stress situations are at risk or become a risk.
  10. Dogs who are not feeling well or who are seniors with aches – Dogs who are off their game are more likely to have lower tolerances.  Lower tolerance may make them quicker to respond in ways humans do not like.
  11. Younger puppies in need of good associations – Dog parks are high stress environments no matter what we do to try and make them fun.  All it takes is one bad experience for a puppy to end up with long lasting negative effects.  A carefully chosen puppy socializing class is a far better choice.  I like these and trainer organized play groups because there are professionals on hand to intervene and teach the owners what is going on.  Tossing a puppy in to a park full of dogs and expecting him to have fun is not fair.  It is also setting puppy up for failure.
  12. Client dogs if you are a dog walker or other dog professional – The liability is too high.  Dog parks are not the place to exercise client dogs.  Above I mentioned a client dog who had a dog walker do this.  The dog ended up paying with his life.  The dog was not one who was comfortable at dog parks nor comfortable in the presence of other dogs outside a few in the neighborhood they did play sessions with.  Dog parks are not the safest places to proof training at either.  Again they are too high stress. It is not fair to your client dog or to your client to do this.  If a problem happens, the liability is on you.  Are you willing to risk a lawsuit to pay for damage your client dog does?  Are you willing to explain to a client why your actions resulted in her dog being deemed dangerous after a fight occurs?  If you use a dog walker or trainer who comes to your house when you are not home, insist they do not take your dogs to dog parks.  Put it in writing.

How many of these types of dogs do we see at dog parks?  Well I have seen all of them over the years.

Dog parks are high stress areas, even if we think they should be fun. We must remember it is not what we want that is important but what the dog feels.  I used to go to dog parks. I had dogs at the time that were well suited for them.  However, I was always watching them for signs they were not happy or if they were getting too riled up and losing self-control in play.  It happens, they are dogs.  Some days were not dog park days if they were having an off day.  When this happened, we left.  If we saw dogs behaving in ways that were concerning, we left before it could negatively impact my dogs.

I stopped using dog parks because I was seeing too many dogs that did not belong in situations with that level of stress.  Dog parks were becoming stressing for my dogs.  I remember being at one park where a dog walker came with four client dogs and told people to be careful so her client dogs did not get hurt.  I was at one when a person annouced loudly she was coming in with a dog who just came out of the shelter.  She wanted to see how he acted with other dogs.  (He was not happy and highly stressed).  I watched a trainer using highly punitive training methods with client dogs at dog parks.  I was watching too many fearful dogs and bully dogs at dog parks.  I no longer felt comfortable with my easy-going dogs at dog parks.   Why?  I did not want my dogs to stop becoming easy going.

With my current dogs, I avoid dog parks unless we are the only ones there. Why?  I have put too much work into my dogs over the years to have that work set back.  Also some of my dogs are not suited for dog parks.  Yes, I will state that.  Two do not tolerate rude dogs, one is low confidence and one I do not want to risk her social skills as she is my demo dog when I do dog safety things.  My dogs do not need a dog park to be happy or to have needs met.

Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project, owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.

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