Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dog Park Adventures - Fight!

Went to the dog park again yesterday - sorry, no pictures ... we were running late. We generally go every week now. At the point where we are in training (or re-training?) our Flat-Coat, he needs all the time we can get with other dogs. We go as often as our busy schedule allows which turns into about once or twice a week (don't forget it's a 45 minute drive each way and both my husband and I work full-time).

Anyway, we went yesterday evening with some friends to the dog park. The park I go to is a nice hike through some trees and over a hill - it's actually quite nice (aside from the fact that there is no water available for the dogs and it's pretty dusty on the dry days!).

All was going well until a boxer and husky we were walking with decided to get into a fight. I'm actually impressed at how often we don't have fights at the dog park - most dogs that go are quite friendly and well socialized. What started out as "catch me if you can" turned into grappling and mouthing which turned from honest fun to dead serious in the blink of an eye - amazing to see.

According to the owners, both dogs are under 3 years old. Both came with two owners (but one dog) - an unusual sight in our dog park ... generally the dogs outnumber the humans. The boxer had never been in a fight previously (to the owner's knowledge) though he was pretty pushy and rough with all the other dogs. The husky had been in a few fights before. The one owner of the husky made a comment that "at least this time he doesn't need any stitches".

Remember that both breeds are difficult to read and if the dogs aren't used to playing with that breed, it is difficult for them to understand what they see (the boxer has a docked tail and short fur so is harder to read; whereas the husky has the curly tail that is always raised which could be misread as assertiveness). Dogs learn through experience - they can't pick up a book and look at a picture to show them the difference between the tail positions for curled/docked or the difference for short/long fur.

The fight began right in front of my husband and I so we got a pretty clear picture of what happened. The husky didn't even know what hit him. The worrisome thing is that at the end, the husky had rolled on the ground and was not fighting back (not even to defend himself) but the boxer was still grabbing at the husky's throat and trying to do some serious damage.

All dogs can fight and every dog has a right to defend him or herself. When the boxer first arrived at the dog park, he dragged his owners down the hill and when he got inside the fence and off leash, he charged at all the other dogs and was pushing them around with his body. Some people might read that as an over-exuberant greeting but it looked like bullying to me.

The boxer owners weren't even aware their dog was in a fight until the end - they didn't rush in to help but rather hung back. I hung back also because someone had to keep all the other dogs out of the way - that was my job. Now, here is where I would like to remind everyone of a few things when you witness a dog fight or when your own dog is in a fight.

DO NOT scream. (Husky owner did this)
DO yell loudly in a deep pitch (the rest of us did this)
DO NOT pick up your dog after a fight (unless he's severely injured and shouldn't walk)
DO put your dog in a time out (both owners tried to do this but failed)
DO NOT coo to your dog after a fight (both owners did this)
DO show him you are very angry (the silent treatment works really well for this)
DO NOT pet your dog after it has been in a fight (both owners did this)
DO have someone keep the other dogs in check (this keeps all others safe)
DO NOT ignore all the other dogs and hope they won't get in on the fight (there are triggers that will instinctively encourage even the most laid back dog to join a fight ... like screaming)


mytwh said...

Great post. I had a friend ask me a good question, that would be perfect for you. Say your dog is playing at the dog park with another dog or two. The playing is going well, but it starts to escalate. You start to wonder if this is getting to be more than just playing. What is the best way to end intereaction with those other dogs, to avoid a fight?

GoLightly said...

Great post.
It can switch in a blink. I watched a GSD do that to my old red dog, suddenly, pinned her and tried to rip at her throat. Old dog yelled for help, and I rescued her. Scared the heck out of me.

My Flip scares new dog owners, because she hackles up.
For her, it's excitement.
They ALL have their own way of saying things...

Thoughts said...

Interesting post here. Its true-a great dog can turn aggressive in the blink of an eye, but I dont necessarily agree with all the tips you posted about what to do after a fight. Actually, using a loud stern voice once helped me break up a dog fight...


Dog_geek said...

Exactly why I am not a big fan of dog parks. Too many iffy dogs, and too many people like the boxer's owners, who don't know the difference between bullying and exuberance. One more tip - if there has been a serious fight, all the dogs in the vicinity are likely amped up, and additional fights are now more likely. If your dog was involved in the fight, definitely leave with your dog after the situation has been controlled and damage assessed. Don't stick around and insist that it is important that the dogs work out their differences and make nice. They are now more likely to get into it than they were to begin with. And I would leave even if my dog wasn't involved. A gaggle of juiced-up dogs running around in the forced togetherness of a dog park just isn't a good idea.

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

mytwh ...

What about a time out? It would depend on the dog, but if you separate the dogs and redirect their attention elsewhere until they are calm again, they could continue playing at a later time when they aren't as excited.

GoLightly ...

Doesn't take long. Our Aussie/BC mix uses her hackles more than any other dog I've met. She'll have that fur from her neck down to her tail up. You're right - it freaks out the other owners. As for the other dogs - they don't seem to worry as much as their people.

Thoughts ...

I think you misread - I recommend a loud yell but never a scream. The yell can help break it up but it depends on the dogs involved.

Dog_Geek ...

Yes, you never know what you're walking into. However for an average dog owner I think the benefits are worth it.

In the eleven times we've been so far, we've only witnessed one real fight (yesterday) and two scuffles (lasting only seconds and resolved immediately without interference of people)

Good tip regarding the adrenaline and the likelihood of more fights increasing.

The call for whether on not to leave immediately if your dog was NOT involved would depend on the dog ... for ours, they shrug it off and go along their merry way like nothing even happened. A few others were much more affected by the fight and should have been taken home.

The owner is also a factor in this - if the owner is all rattled and upset by the fight then their dogs reflect this.

LilliGirl said...

Awesome post. I've been and Sprout does fine but Layla worries constantly looking to me for guidance...I'm glad she looks to me for how to behave but worry about her causing a fight. We actually don't go often and only go during off-peak hours. I have sen a few fights and it can be scary when the owners don't know what to do. For me, I've decided the risk isn't reallly worth it most of the time.

I'd love to hear your thoughts though as I've amped up her "re-training" again to try and get her over her fear of stangers (dogs and people).

Viatecio said...

Great post, but I wouldn't really recommend a time-out, even as a redirection. I agree with Dog_Geek...just make sure everything is OK and peace out, since there are going to be feelings going every which way and I'd rather be the one who says "I'd like to care for my dog now" instead of "So, how does this make everyone feel?". Dogs are not children that see everyone as a potential friend like many owners think, and I know I'm not the only one irked by people who chirrup "Oh, go see your friend!" or "Don't snip at him, he's a friend!" Because Fred Friendship worked out *so* well with Umberto Unity & Gang at Jingleheimer Junction... :P

And then no more off-leash play until I either find local dogs with whom I can form a mini-playgroup in a structured environment (like my backyard) or we do some remedial training.

Maria@Conversations with Moms said...

These are great points. I'm the type to panic and not know how to react.

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

Viateco ...

If you wouldn't use a time out as the play begins to escalate, what would you do?

mytwh said "You start to wonder if this is getting to be more than just playing" ... so if it's merely rough play, then would you leave?

LilliGirl ...

Many things you can do for fear issues. Has she bitten anyone / any dog? Does she growl or bark? The problem with fear issues is that they can go either way when you begin to build up their confidence. You have to watch your timing on all rewards and ensure you don't encourage behaviour that is inappropriate.

Your biggest thing will be to increase her confidence (slowly). Don't rush her but you should see slow and gradual changes.

Maria ...

The best thing is to figure out what you would do before you're in that situation. This way you can draw strength from it.

LilliGirl said...

Hi. She would growl and bark if I don't stay on my toes. She has never bitten anyone, but I do believe that without work it would become a possibility.

I hit a milestone taking her out to the Farmer's Market last weekend and walking through the crowd...I did not shop or visit with anyone. She just got to experience walking near a crowd.

Football starts next week for my son so she will go to practice with me. In those 2 hours a couple times a week she will get a long walk and then practice being near folks..No petting, but being in the vicinity seems to be helping her calm down and figure out how to cope...After that's good I hope to have strangers give her treats.

She's also going on regular practice walks with her bud Sprout and with the fosters that come through. She's making good progress in this space too and hasn't snapped at any. She won't fuss when they are new anymore and will take verbal re-direction if paying too much attention.

I hope to be able to get her further and someday be able to trust her with strangers so long as supervised.

Flo said...

Excellent post, as usual. When I take my guys to the dog park we tend to go when there's not as many dogs. During peak times there can be upwards of 100 dogs, that's just too many for the size of our park. It's funny, the one time I had problem with my dog it was with a boxer and another lady had a problem with a boxer. Could it be boxers??

Viatecio said...

I would step in and correct my dog if I saw signs that he were the aggressor and he was indeed becoming too rough. Then he would be allowed to go back to playing. However, I'd look at WHY he's getting rough with the other dog and temper/eliminate my correction with that reasoning: is it because the other dog is trying to bully him, or is it because the other dog is being annoying, or is it something else? I would allow my dog to correct another one if needed (after all, aren't dogs better trainers than us?), but if it goes overboard, then I step in and say "Enough." If he chooses to be aggressive after that, then he forfeits the time at the park and we leave, so that I can then focus on HIS behavior problems. One might say that I do a "time out" in a nontraditional sense, by not allowing him to pay attention to other dogs and only focusing on me to do some obedience exercises. But I do not agree with the "time out" concept in which it's believed that the dog sits there and thinks "oh darn, I shouldn't have done that, what else could I have done"...because they don't think like that. Nor do I allow a "time out" to settle down only to go back into play and rev right back up. When I say Down with the intent to calm or settle, the game is over, and it's not fair to do that in an area that has so much excitement and activity attached to it, like a dog park.

Then again, this is all theoretical since I do not go to dog parks. My dog is not yet fully controllable off-leash and even the local playgroups I avoid, not because the dogs (including mine) aren't sociable and playful, but because there is a lack of control from and respect for their owners. I even avoid off-leash hours because other owners don't seem to understand that I don't want their unleashed dogs approaching mine unasked, and they don't have the control to stop them anyway.

Am I a Nazi with my dog? Some might say yes, but I do it for her benefit, and so that she may eventually have that freedom when she learns to listen and obey any command the first time around any distraction. Training is a lifelong process, but there is a point where we have to shut out everything else in order to work on basics and specifics. We are at that point right now.