Dogs parks look like so much fun. The idea of a large fenced area for off-leash fun is very appealing!
There are times when it’s appropriate to take your Great Dane to a dog park and times when it is not.
Read on for more information about dog parks, Great Danes, and when and if your dog is ready to participate.
No dog under the age of 4 or 5 months should be visiting a dog park.
Dog parks can harbor parasites and disease that may be harmful to your puppy, especially considering that your dog is not likely to be fully vaccinated yet.
Additionally, dog parks are not good places for socializing young puppies. As a matter of fact, one bad experience can ruin a puppy for life.
Do you want your puppy to grow up to be a ‘dog park’ dog, or to like other dogs?
Don’t ruin this opportunity with forced exposure.
Taking your puppy to a dog park and keeping him on a leash for ‘safety’ so he ‘learns’ is how you may actually cause leash reactivity, fear of other dogs and aggression.
Focus your young puppy time on positive experiences, calm engagement with you, and basic obedience.
Good ‘Dog Park Dogs’ are well socialized, confident, calm and have excellent social skills.
They also know LEAVE IT and COME.
Many of those skills can actually be learned in a well-run obedience training and puppy socialization class.
A dog that has good social skills is more likely to walk away from conflict, rather than into it:
They are confident in new situations.
They are not fearful of puppies, dogs or people and have no history of aggression towards any of them.
They know how to respect other dogs signals and body language.
Dog parks are hotbeds for aggression and rude interactions between dogs. Even a docile, well socialized and otherwise calm dog may find himself in a tense, escalating situation and will react accordingly.
Many dog owners are unaware of the difference between healthy play and behaviors that may lead to tension or a fight. This is the reason that dog parks in general get a bad name.
TENSION AT THE DOG PARK
If you see any of these signs or situations from your dog or a dog you meet, say ‘Let’s Go’ and walk your dog away from the situation.
- Stiff tail wags and stiff bodies paired with hackles and possibly bared teeth while greeting.
- One dog standing over the other and baring teeth, growling or snapping at the other.
- One dog with a toy or treat that is stiff, baring teeth and/or growling
- Dogs coming into the gate that are extremely wound up: screaming, barking, howling.
- Dogs on leashes inside of the dog park.
- A dog that corners, chases, rolls, shoves, or pins another dog when not part of mutual play.
- A group of dogs that are ‘ganging up’ on others.
Don’t mistake chasing, rolling, cornering, shoving, humping, or other pushy behaviors as ‘cute’ or ‘friendly’.
If your dog is subjected to this, and especially if your dog is clearly afraid (tail tucked, trying to escape, hiding, snapping) get your dog OUT of that situation.
Move on, no matter what the owner of the other dog says about their dog being ‘friendly’ and ‘just saying hi’.
On the flip side, do not allow your dog to be the rude pushy one either. This kind of behavior is extremely inappropriate and can lead to snapping, fights, injury and poor socialization experiences.
HEALTHY DOG PLAY SIGNALS
These are the signs that your dog, and that other dogs nearby and having fun at the dog park:
- Loose, wiggly bodies (free of tension)
- Indifference (calmly walking away from conflict, not towards it or engaging it)
- Loose waving tail (not stiff or tucked)
- Neutral ears (not pinned back)
- Play bows (bum up)
- Bouncing, exaggerated movements
- Shake off and occasional breaks
- Body to body slamming
- Taking turns (you bite me, I bite you, you chase me, I chase you).
- Self-handicap (gentle with smaller dogs)
SOCIALIZING THE AGGRESSIVE DOG
I was recently at a very large dog park attending a Great Dane meetup.
A person walked by with a huge Great Dane on a gentle leader. This dog was extremely anxious and on edge, ready to hurt somebody or another dog.
He was lunging, snarling and snapping. It was all his owner could do to keep him in control.
I suspect the owner was there attempting to ‘socialize’ his dog, but he was actually making the problem worse.
Doing this is extremely unfair to the polite, well socialized dogs and puppies that should otherwise feel safe in that environment, and extremely unfair to his anxious dog who needed respect, training, guidance, and appropriate behavior modification under the guidance of a professional.
If your dog is aggressive, anxious, unpredictable and hard to control you should NOT be visiting dog parks.
SIGNS YOUR DOG SHOULD LEAVE THE DOG PARK
- Humping (sign of overstimulation).
- Lunging/screaming at the gate to get in or out.
- Harassing others (cornering, chasing).
- Chasing, cornering & pinning others (when not part of a mutual game).
- Barking, lunging, grabbing and pouncing on dogs that have not engaged in play.
- Tail tucked, shaking, scared, running away.
- Running off, ignoring your requests to ‘LEAVE IT’ and ‘COME’.
- Standing over dogs and baring teeth or growling.
- Nipping, lunging, snapping and other similar warnings to others.
- Aggression (biting, intent to harm).
Great Danes are giant breed dogs that can be intimidating to children and other dogs, even when you know that they are as gentle as can be.
Respect the fact that others may not see your Great Dane the same way that you do, and make sure that your Great Dane gives people and dogs space when it’s clear they need it.
One of the best things we can do as Great Dane owners to change the perception others may have about Giant Breed dogs is to train them, socialize them, and make sure that they truly are the calm, benevolent Apollo of dogs.