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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Dog Park Aggression

Dog Park Fun

I have a 7 month old Black Lab mix, of whom I think of very highly. We've been to puppy pre-school and I've done my best to teach him good doggie manners. He knows it's wrong to jump on people, he lets us know it's time to go outside by ringing a bell tied to the doorknob, and he responds very well with sit, stay, lay down, speak, and roll over. He's crate trained and loves his "own special place."

However, I've noticed in the past two weeks or so that his behavior at our favorite dog park has been less than admirable. We go to the park daily, but at different times. Little Ares will find a dog in whom he's interested and follow him/ her, trying desperately to get him/her to play with him. It's as if he doesn't even know there are other dogs there! He will pester this dog until he/ she shows aggression (which I think he's interpreting as just play), then bark and bark and bark trying even harder to get this one poor dog to play with him. This morning, I heard two other owners talking about bringing their dogs to the other side because of my dog's deplorable behavior. "Oh no!" I thought to myself, "I've become 'that guy'!!" Of course, I apologized and asked the ladies to stay and enjoy the park; we would leave... which we did, in absolute embarrasment.

How can I get my little guy to stop being so aggressive in enticing other dogs to play with him? I hate the idea of someone thinking he's vicious and grabbing him away from his attempt at play while I'm over refilling the water bowls (which I seem to be the only person willing to do!). I'd like to train him to be a therapy dog at some point, and I'm concerned that his behavior is taking a turn for the absolute worst.

Jennifer, Ares (and all the other dogs at the park)

Ahh! The 7-month old Labrador puppy stage. I remember it well.

First, realize that Ares is in what's equivalent to the terrible twos in humans. It is a stage in which they forget everything you have trained them and test you (and their environment) to the limits. This is where persistent and consistent training come into play.

The first thing I recommend is that you read this article on Labrador Retriever Stages which will help you become more familiar with the stage and what you should expect. Second, you did not mention if Ares was neutered or not. If not, you may want to consider neutering him as many dog owners have reported a decrease in aggressive behaviors after surgery. If you are not familiar with neutering or have questions about it, please read the myths and facts about neutering.

Being an avid dog park enjoyer, my last recommendation is based upon a wonderful dog owner, at our local dog park, with a mixed breed male dog that displays the same aggressive play behavior. He employed the following steps and now his dog (and others) are able to enjoy the park without his aggressive behavior.

1. Your dog should be kept next to you or within close proximity at all times.

2. Your dog should have your undivided attention. No talking on cells phones or typing on your laptop while your dog runs around. (Yes, I have seen both done at dog parks!)

3. Take your dog for a long walk before going to the park. This will reinforce your alpha role before letting him off leash and also take the edge off the rocket-like energy.

4. Don't be afraid to use a fabric dog muzzle at the dog park. Make sure to bring your pup to the store and ask an associate about proper fitting. Your dog should be able to pant and drink water freely while the muzzle remains secure.

Believe it or not, the specific dog owner I mentioned does at least 1, 2, and 4 without incident. Everyone knows Chaz the dog as "Hannibal Chaz" and eagerly greets, pets, and plays with him. He has also gotten more friendly with both people and dogs. At first he would go up to everyone and nuzzle them which people thought was cute. However, his owner did tell us the truth - Chaz was rubbing the muzzle on people in the hope that it would come off. *laugh* Sure, it took him a couple of days to get used to it but he now trots around the park as if there is nothing different about him... and better yet... he has yet to try any deplorable behavior!

Don't give up hope. Both you and Ares will get through this without being "That guy!". Just remain consistent with your training.

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