Tuesday, March 3, 2015

5 dog park behaviors to watch for

pug and Boston terrier on the grass
On Saturday, these two cuties will head to Tigard to romp around with a pack of pugs in an open dog park. Years ago, I took Liam to these things monthly. But now, it's rare for the dogs to go. And I figured I should prepare by brushing up on my dog-park monitoring skills.

After looking through my notes and doing a little comparative reading, I've come up with five behaviors I'll be looking for at the park. If I see any of them, I'll know it's time to intervene.

Here goes!

1. Humping. 

Yep, it happens. When a group of dogs come together, it's not at all unusual for them to figure out issues of rank through the use of humping. The dog on top is the dominant force, while the one on the bottom is not.

Some dogs react pretty cheerfully to humping. They recognize that they're not at the top of the ladder, and they go on about the rest of the play session without comment. But, I often find that humping leads to other nasty behaviors, like growling and chasing and fighting. That's why I intervene with humping, either by removing my dog from that part of the playground or speaking to the owner of the humper. A little proactive action goes a long way toward preventing problems.

2. Chasing. 

Liam loves both to chase and to be chased, and at 24 pounds, he's big enough to handle that kind of behavior from his fellow pugs. But Sinead is so much smaller at 7 pounds, and she runs the risk of being trampled if she's chased by pugs. Plus, Sinead gets worried while she's being chased, and that sense of fear can make a game turn serious in a hurry.

So if Liam chooses to do some chasing things, I won't say a word. But if Sinead joins in, I'll probably give her an in-the-arms time-out until the action settles down a little.

3. Guarding. 

Even though there are specific rules about toys at dog parks, it's not unusual for families to bring favorite toys for their pets. And sometimes, dogs get pretty snarky when their toys are interesting to other dogs. I've seen pups go into full smackdown mode over something really simple, like a ball or a stuffie.

Guarding behavior is really easy to spot, as it involves a high tail, a lot of barking and a great deal of growling. If I see behavior like that, off to another area of the dog park we will go.

4. Menacing. 

The park we're headed to is split into areas for big dogs and areas for little dogs. I like that, as it allows for much more safety for our wee dogs. But, there have been times when people choose to disregard the rules, and they bring big dogs into the little dog area, and those big dogs choose to get ugly.

There's a moment of menace that happens before a brawl. Lips curl, muscles tense and time slows down. That's the moment at which I call Liam to me, and we high-tail it outta there. Liam is 100 percent accurate in his recall in these situations, so I can get him out fast. But I remain on alert for that hint of violence, so I can step in just as soon as I need to do so.

5. Muzzle punching. 

Since we'll be surrounded by pugs, it's unlikely that we'll see a lot of exuberant dog-to-dog behavior. Pugs seem to have the same play style, and it involves a lot of running and play bowing. But, there are some dogs that punctuate a play bow with a muzzle smack. They hold their lips tightly closed, clench their jaws, and pop the other dog with that tube-like weapon.

Liam is absolutely intolerant of muzzle punches. I have no idea why, but he will flip his lid if he's punched more than once like this. He shows his irritation my coming to me and asking to leave. He is dead serious about this.

So I watch the crowd for the punchers. If I see them, I try to keep Liam away from them. That allows us to stay longer at the park. But if the punchers appear and he wants to go, of course, we will go. This is supposed to be fun for him, and if he's not enjoying it, we will head on out, ASAP!

So wish us luck at our pug adventure! And if you're at this Portland pug meetup, do come up and say hello. I'd love to chit-chat!

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