How to Take Care of Your Dog at the Dog Park

Walking with your dogs is not just good for you. It’s also good for them. And when there is an opportunity to be off-leash to run, play, or fetch the ball, that’s even better! But what if your walk and play time turns into a nightmare? What if someone else’s dog comes running over and harasses your dog?

Recently I was at the dog park, playing ball with my dogs Sugar, the yellow lab, and rescue littermates Rosie and Scooter. My neighbors were also at the same park with their two dogs, Tailer and Cindy, and a third one, Jet, that they were temporarily fostering. Our dogs are used to each other and have played together with no problems. But the new foster dog had not earned his place in the “pack” yet.

Scooter had already growled and snapped at him once during the walk for getting in his face. At the park while playing ball, Jet started chasing Rosie every time she went to get the ball. After a few minutes of this chasing game, Rosie, who is half the size of Jet, decided she had enough and growled at him to get away. I threw the ball again for her and same thing happened. Jet was running right next to her and she growled at him to get away. After she had growled at him a third time, I should not have thrown the ball for her again. As Jet chased her, she dropped the ball, whirled around and grabbed him by the neck. Jet squealed and Scooter went to join his littermate. Jet was squealing his apology but Rosie would have none of it and would not let go. Scooter eventually did and came running back to me.

At this point most of you dog savvy people will be shaking your heads. Yes, I realize now how foolish I was to keep throwing the ball. I just kept waiting for Jet’s foster parents to stop him from chasing and harassing my Rosie. I kept waiting for them to intervene and take their dog away. After all, did they not hear Rosie growling at him also?  Did they not see he is twice as big as she is and that he was almost on top of her?

Fortunately we were able to separate the dogs before any terrible damage was done. This made me realize that we get too complacent and we don’t always pay enough attention. Our dogs have always played so well together with no incidents ever. But the picture was different this time because there was a new dog. I basically let down my dog. Rosie tried to voice her discomfort of being chased by a larger dog and I did nothing to stop it. I thought they would just keep playing chase. I expected the other dog’s parents to intervene. I expected the other dog to back off in response to my dog’s growls of displeasure. I expected my dog could handle it.

No! I am supposed to be the leader she looks up to and I failed her! I was rattled by the dogfight and called my trainer. She let me have it. Why did I not stop the game at the first negative sign? Rosie wasn’t growling because she was happy. She obviously was annoyed. Why did I wait for the other people to do something about their dog when they obviously were not paying attention either? What was I thinking?! She said that instead of me focusing on the wrongs of others, I should be the one to take the lead in doing what is right for my dog. I was getting ready for her to give me a list of suggestions of what to tell the other people what to do with their dog. Was it humbling and an eye opener to be told that I should have been the one to take charge by either (1) stopping the game, (2) getting the owners attention, and/or (3), leaving altogether.

So the lesson here is to never mind the wrongs of others. You do what is right for your dog. Be a good leader of your pack.

Elena Flyer is a Californian owner and lover of animals: horses, dogs, birds – you name it! She is actively involved in the community whether through therapeutic dog visits to healthcare facilities, or volunteering at Labrador Rescuers.  

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