Whether it is your dog who needs protection or your dog who is causing the problems, knowing how to read what is ‘play’ and what is not may make all the difference. Never truer than a dog park environment where dog-strangers meet, and ‘play’ is often misunderstood by new or misguided dog owners.. By reading signals during play means you can turn a potentially lethal situation into a simple intervention.
Take this quiz and see how savvy you are about these situations that can occur between dogs in a dog park:
1. You observe your dog is chasing another dog, and the dog in the lead has its tail between its legs and is running low to the ground. You decide to direct the lead dog to you to protect it (Right or Wrong).
2. A yelp is heard but neither dog stops their activity. You decide not to stop their play (Right or Wrong).
3. Dogs are playing when one steps away from the play and gives a full body shake. The other dog does not notice and starts a playful charge. You decide to intervene to stop the charge (Right or Wrong).
4. One dog is playing with another dog, when suddenly it sits or lies down. The other dog jumps on top of her and begins tugging her fur to get her back into play. You decide to stop their play (Right or Wrong).
5. One dog growls and moves away from another dog who is play-bowing. You decide not to intervene and let them work it out (Right or Wrong).
6. You observe your dog looking at you, with its head angled away from a dog trying to engage in play. You decide to encourage your dog to make friends (Right or Wrong).
7. Two dogs have been playing well. Then you notice one dog is actively biting the legs of another dog, full teeth exposed and snarling, and the other dog has it head turned facing the other dog, air-snapping and trying to bite the other dog. Vocalization of growling can be heard loudly. You encourage the play to continue (Right or Wrong).
8. One dog is on its back and another dog is on top. The dog on the bottom is air-snapping (meaning snapping its teeth together but not biting anything) and grabbing onto the top one’s harness, with its back legs flailing in the air. The dog on the top is biting the cheek of the dog on the ground. There is no noise, outside of panting and soft growls. You decide to stop their play (Right or Wrong).
9. Two large dogs, who are part of a sibling group, are chasing a small dog they have just met. You decide to remove the small dog and stop their play (Right or Wrong).
10. Two dogs are meeting, and one dog will not allow other dogs to sniff it’s back-end (doggie-polite greeting), has its ears back and a low growl can be heard. You decide to intervene and stop the introduction (Right or Wrong).
There are many more situations like this that must be monitored at the dog park. Staying attentive and being knowledgeable on dog signals at play can save the life of your dog and others. Never let a good conversation, or listening to music, stop your attention to dogs at ‘play.’ Your dog is counting on you to see and understand what is happening and to protect him/her.
Here are the answers: 1. R, 2. W, 3. R, 4. R, 5. W, 6. W, 7. R, 8. W, 9. R, 10. R.
Please let me know how many you got right, and which surprised you. I will respond with the details and why the answers are the way they are.
All the best,
'Sparky' Smith is a Canine Behaviorist and Practioner, educated through the International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour, earning her ISCP.DIP.CANINE.PRAC.