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Dog park aggression: Is it preventable?

Keeping all this in mind, here are seven things to consider at dog parks for your own dog’s safety, since you cannot control it if some idiot brings his aggressive dog into the park.

How to prevent aggression at the dog park

Springer spaniel sniffs submissive cairn terrier puppy

1. Find out what law enforcement will actually enforce in your area.

Maybe your police department has its act together a little better than Fargo’s finest. Find out what the laws are and how they are enforced. Don’t be afraid to report questionable dogs and owners.

2. Keep your dog in the appropriate area for her size.

Most dog parks are divided into at least two sections, based on the size of the dogs. I am guilty. On quiet days when there are only a few dogs at the park, we will all bring our dogs to one side. I do always ask the little dog owners if it’s OK first, but it’s not OK.

Certain dogs do see small animals as prey. My mutt chases squirrels and rabbits all the time, for example. Really, could you blame a lab mix for mistaking a Chihuahua for a rodent?

3. If a dog is questionable, be safe and leave the park.

If there is a dog I don’t trust, or a human who is irresponsible, I make the choice to leave the park with my dog. It’s not worth it to stay and risk a bite or a fight.

4. Do what you can to control your own dog.

I don’t do this often enough, but it is a good idea to walk my dog before we go to the dog park. If you walk your dog for a half-hour before you go to the park, she can get rid of pent up energy.

The dogs that enter the dog park in an excited state of mind are the ones most likely to be challenged by a dominant dog. Practice entering and exiting the park with your dog under control and practice the recall so your dog will come in all situations.

5. Do what you can to control your own dog.

Most of the time when dogs appear to be fighting, they are just playing roughly or working out who is the dominant one. It usually sounds worse than it is and neither dog gets hurt. But if a dog is possessive of its owner and attacks your dog, what will you do?

Dog trainer Jeff Millman over at Watch and Train suggests making a loud noise by hitting a garbage can or yelling to distract the dogs. He also said to try throwing toys at the dogs, spraying them with water or covering their heads with jackets. Another option is to pull the dogs apart, but know there is a high chance the dogs will bite you.

6. Have veterinary emergency information handy for your dog such as a shot record.

Save your dog’s vet number into your phone. Know the hours of the vet’s office and where the local animal ER is located. You never know when an emergency will occur.

7. Remember all animals are unpredictable.

I wish I could trust Ace 100 percent. I don’t think he would ever bite another dog because he is very submissive, but how do I know he wouldn’t? I don’t. Animals don’t just bite out of aggression. They bite if they are scared or excited, too. Like I said, Ace is normally a submissive dog, but there are a few dogs he will bark and growl at. Behavior like this is often what stirs up a fight.

Aggressive behavior at the dog park cannot be avoided completely. Going to the dog park is always a risk. Dog whisperer Cesar Millan and author Jon Katz  say dog parks are disasters waiting to happen.

There are just too many unbalanced, nervous, excited dogs together. A few months back, I wrote a post on 10 things to consider at the dog park. But most of that post included tips only you can control.

What happens when someone doesn’t follow the dog park rules? The dog parks in Fargo are managed by the park district. None of the rules are enforced. Even if a possessive dog attacks another dog, animal control does nothing. Law enforcement only gets involved if a human is the victim.

Have you seen any fights at the dog park? What did you do? Do you think dog parks are safe?

(Image is of my parents’ dog, Sophie, and my uncle’s dog, Radar.)

sue K

Monday 14th of July 2014

Help me out here. I have a rotty/dobbie cross. He absolutely loves the off leash dog park - complete with lake swimming. He is amazing with little dogs - loves them all and thinks he is one of them. He's not. He's a big boy. Out of the blue - he will be playing with all the dogs and then I can see him zero in on one bigger dog - doesn't matter who - and he decides he's the alpha male. He will actually get aggressive enough to start the fight (by bullying and getting right in the other dogs face). Some days he loves them all and then....yik he'll just pick on one. WHAT do I do to stop this bad behavior? I'm to the point that I won't take him anymore and its his favorite place in the world.

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 14th of July 2014

Hi Sue. How frustrating!

If only there were an easy answer ...

One thing I would suggest is to really work on his overall obedience skills. I'm sure he's already pretty good, but if you can get him to always come when called, sit on command and look at you on command - "watch me!" - you will have an easier time controlling him in these situations. So, I would find ways to slowly build his skills around distractions.

I would also learn to recognize the very subtle hints that he might be about to pick on a certain dog. Maybe his hair goes up or his ears go straight up. Maybe he starts to stare or whatever it might be. Then, call him to you and reward him. Sometimes just that little distraction is enough to ease up on the tension and prevent a fight.

Obviously I'm just brainstorming here. I'm hoping this will help you think of some ideas as you know your own dog best.

Have you considered hiring a trainer to come observe him? Sometimes even one session with a trainer can help you realize some things you just weren't noticing before.


Monday 3rd of December 2012

Sad to report that today i'm devouring all sorts of dog park fight info, because my 18 month old boy dog got into it with another male dog - and I fear I might have overreacted.

The larger dog was already at the park today when we got there (my dog loves to just run around for a few minutes). The bigger dog was chasing my dog the entire time...and I could read the body language of intensity, not just fun chase/play but a herding instinct and something else - hard to explain but we've all seen it when a dog has the head down, tail erect, and the expression on the face is not fun/play chase but something else. The owner didn't pick up the clues...but I could read them on my dog clearly - he was not happy with this other dog giving him shit.

For the record my dog plays at the park several times / week and has no aggression issues and loves to play with any dog who will give him the attention. He rolls over and ends up on the bottom just as often as he's on I don't believe he has aggression/dominance issues.

If anything - he's at that teenager stage where he doesn't read the other dog signals well...and doesn't know to back off. One thing I'm starting to learn about his personality is that he doesn't hesitate to defend himself with a quick snarl if another dog tries to mount he's not automatically submissive to other males even if he does know how to play well.

When the fight finally broke out - it sounded horrible and i stepped in and kicked my dog away and kicked the other dog away as well...all with an extremely loud roar of "knock it off you two" it worked - fight ended.

But the part i'm having 2nd thoughts over is that some old guy at the park dressed me down in front of 10 or 15 parents of dogs at the park, and stated that I should stop shouting and let them figure it out. I feel I might have overreacted with too much intensity?

But when I replied to the old man (not even the owner of the aggressor dog) "you're crazy - we cant let them continue fighting" he then proceeded to say that my dog is the pup and if he cant figure it out with older bigger dogs then he shouldn't come to the park.

I was dog was not the aggressor - but was only standing up for himself...and I feel like I did my job when I stepped in as the real alpha of the pack and said "this is not OK"

I do feel bad for kicking both dogs (i'm sure several people who saw it think i beat my dog) I apologized to his owner, and I went over and gave affection to the other dog, and then mine as well...hoping to just calm things down.

my roar of disapproval and my boot aimed at the dogs did the job...and no one was hurt. why do I feel like me and my little buddy just lost our favorite dog park?

how strong of a response is OK - and how much is too much?

Paul portland, oregon

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 4th of December 2012

You may have been harsher than necessary, but clearly the dogs are fine and it broke up the fight. I am guessing it was only the humans who overreacted, because that is what we do best! The dogs were not hurt, and they didn't hold it against you. They moved on right away, i am assuming.

I often do that type of correction - a strong HEY! and maybe clapping my hands or even nudging one or both dogs out of the way with my body. It's dangerous to reach for them, so sometimes you do have to use your foot.

I guess the question is whether or not it was necessary for you to intervene and whether or not using your voice alone would've been enough. That is hard to say, as everyone seems to have a different opinion on what level of excitement/aggression to tolerate from dogs, especially at the dog park.

One thing you can do is train your dog to have an excellent recall. That way you can always call him to you in any circumstance if the play starts to get too intense. Beyond that, it's up to the other owners to control their dogs.


Monday 3rd of December 2012

Hi Paul,

I wouldn't worry about your response. My dog Henry has issues with all dogs under 1 year of age and may seem friendly at first but the way he "teaches" these youngsters is way too aggressive and the other dog ends up being traumatized. I've heard people say that this is how older dogs show the younger dogs what is appropriate but I think you really don't know what that dogs intention was. Many dogs just have problems with young dogs. If it was my Henry, he would have been inappropriately aggressive and your job as an owner is to make sure your dog is safe. If you don't your dog could develop a fear of certain dogs and begin to react in an aggressive way. In NYC our parks are off leash at certain hours so there are lots of dogs owners who are great but certainly somw who's dogs are out of control and / or are not clued into their dogs behavior. Unfortunately, you will always have to be alert for those people. Also in NYC there are lots of people with opinions that they LOVE to share. That person was trying to embarass you and intimidate you which was also inappropriate. He probly shouldn't be allowed at the dog park but like I said .. You have to be alert for all types! One final comment is bravo on how you handled the dog fight! I mistakenly tried to grab my dogs collar when he took a toy from a toy aggressive dog resulting in a fight. the top of my thumb was bitten off and I had reconstructive surgery . Totally my fault. I wish I had your sense. I hope this helped I have been through so much with my dog including many tears and I needed so much support (and dog training!). I like to give back if i can. Oh - and one other thing.. I don't know if this applies but I was on a board to get dog parks opened on Long Island and some of our park patrons developed little clicks and could be very mean to newcomers... Those people shouldn't be allowed either! Ha! Best of luck Paul. Christi


Sunday 8th of April 2012

I have a rescue dog, Henry, who has fear aggression issues and sometimes issues with other dogs (usually puppies or other intact males). We have had obedience classes and private behaviorist training, etc. While his issues have gotten better I feel I can never fully trust him. We go to off leash hours in a large park with almost no issue but he is familiar with all the other people and dogs because we go every day. If there are dogs I know that will be a problem I leash him immediately and leave the area or wait till the other dog walks by to let him go again. I have also tried the fenced dog parks here in NYC and sometimes he is great and there are no issues but occasionally he is not. I always walk him a bit before we go in to tire him out. If he really starts running in a pack the play (in my mind) can become aggressive and he can get overstimulated which can start a fight so I will usually not stay too long to prevent that. However, every so often he will go after another dog and I have no idea what triggers him. Maybe guarding me? He has never bitten but it sounds scary and he definitely looks aggressive too me and the other dog is usually scared. I immediately drag him out of the park sit him down till he is calm and will always check in with the other owner to make sure the other dog is fine. Then we leave. If he can't behave he can't be there. I go to dog parks less often now because I can't predict it and when this happens it is upsetting to me (and probably to the other dogs owner). I wish he could always be good but as with many rescues, I guess you never fully understand what baggage they come with.

Lindsay Stordahl

Wednesday 5th of December 2012

I'm glad he has a responsible owner like you! I am sure you have made improvements with him, even since leaving your comment in April.


Saturday 10th of March 2012

I am also wary of dog parks. Whilst trying to socialise my "rescue" adopted dog, I worry that she is not able to relax there, she does like to run with several dogs at a time. I sometimes only stay a few minutes if there is a "bad" mix of dogs there. Not sure if I am doing my dog any good by taking her to dog parks!

Lindsay Stordahl

Saturday 17th of March 2012

You could take her to an obedience class with other dogs. That is a good way to have them around other dogs in a controlled setting while working on focusing at the same time.


Friday 29th of October 2010

The benefit of dog parks is questionable. Dogs are pack animals and socialize within their pack, but if a strange dog comes along there is usually aggression until a hierarchy is worked out. At the dog park, this happens every time a new dog comes through the gate. Some dogs are naturally dominant/submissive and if you get 2 or more dogs with dominant personalities, problems can definitely erupt. We have a dog that we used to take to the dog park all the time, from 3 months old until approximately 1 1/2 years old. He's an outgoing, energetic mixed breed approximately 50 lbs. He can be boisterous, and some dogs don't like that. After a few tussles, he started to get aggressive towards other dogs. When one fight led to him being bit in the face and bleeding, we opted not to go back to dog parks. We have 3 cats in the house and he gets along fine with them. I think dog parks are more for the people who visit them than for the dogs.

Lindsay Stordahl

Friday 29th of October 2010

I agree with you. Dog parks should be used with caution. Only calm, easygoing dogs should go to the dog park. And the dog park should always be visited after a long walk. Bringing a high-energy dog into the park is a fight waiting to happen.

I bring my lab mix to the dog park on rare occasions, and honestly it's probably more for my own enjoyment! Ace is the kind of dog that will back off if any dog shows aggression or too much excitement, so I never have to worry about him. I didn't teach him to act this way. That is just his natural personality.

I'm glad you are responsible and realize the dog park is not the best place for your dog. Have you noticed how some people seem to think that just because their dog gets along with one or two other dogs they assume the dog will get along with all dogs?