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The Ruff Report: A fun place for dogs where fighting often erupts

One moment, it is a fun place where your friendly dog enjoys playing, socializing and exercising; the next moment, it becomes an arena where your pet and another canine are clawing, biting and viciously brawling about treats and toys.


Welcome to the neighborhood dog park - or play area - and it is the perfect setting for fighting to suddenly erupt between normally well-mannered pets, a behavioral expert warns.

Dogs are territorial and will fight over treats and toys or when they become nervous or frightened, so pet parents need to recognize the signs to stop a brawl before it erupts, according to Liam Crowe, a dog behavioral therapist for Bark Busters USA, a national dog training company.

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"Dog parks are a great place to enjoy the outdoors with your four-legged friend but can also be unsafe if proper measures aren't taken," Mr. Crowe states in a media release.

Two of the bigger mistakes pet parents make are taking food and toys to a play area or keeping a dog on a leash around others dogs that are running free, Crowe said.

Barkbusters advises letting your dog off its leash as soon as you enter unleashed areas, because mixing leashed and unleashed dogs can create a hostile atmosphere. Leashed dogs and their owners often display body language and behavior that unleashed dogs find threatening, encouraging them to be aggressive and defensive in return. A leashed dog is unable make the choice his natural instinct tells him of "fight or flight," so if he cannot take flight, he may have to fight.

Pet parents should avoid bringing food or toys to a play area since most parks are already littered with balls and toys that other people have brought, Crowe said. Rewarding your dog with treats or giving him toys in front of other dogs can create jealousy and aggression.

Barkbusters offers the following tips to help make dog parks and play areas safe:
  • First visit the park without your dog. Familiarize yourself with the park and the dogs that play there. Watching the other dogs and how they interact. If they seem too rough, come back at different time or try a different park. On the next visit, bring your dog and sit with him outside the park to observe he reacts to seeing the other dogs. 
  • Leave children at home. You will be unable to safely watch kids and your dog at the same time. Many dogs have not been socialized to children. Both frighten and excite easily - and react differently - creating a dangerous atmosphere for a child to get hurt.
  • Leave puppies at home. Puppies less than 4 months old are vulnerable to being traumatized by another dog's aggressive behavior. They also have yet to be fully immunized and are at higher risk of contracting diseases.
  • Know your dog's tendencies. Some dogs dislike meeting new pets and get overwhelmed by meeting too many at once. Test your dog in a controlled environment before going into a dog park by introducing him to a friend's dog that you know interacts well with other dogs.
  • Start slowly during less busy times. The first few visits to the dog park should be short, no longer than 15 minutes. Increase the length of visits as your dog becomes more comfortable with the atmosphere. Acquaint your dog with the dog park when the park is less crowded. Weekday evenings are peak, high-traffic times at parks, and weekends and holidays tend to be busy all day long.
  • Closely supervise your dog. Keep an eye on your dog at all times to make sure his interactions with other pets are safe. Watch his body language to help you avoid any trouble before it begins. Educate yourself about dog body language and communication signals so you can tell the difference between fear, play and anger.
  • Know when to leave. You should remove a dog from the park if he is being threatened or bullied and seems fearful; displays aggressive behavior by becoming overexcited or threatening toward other dogs; pants heavily; seems overly tired.
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  • Never physically intervene in a dog fight. Squirt the dogs in the face with a water bottle or try to distract them by throwing something near them, but never reach in to break up fighting dogs.
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The Ruff Report is a column that appears on MySetterSam.com, a blog written by Joseph A. Reppucci, a retired editor from The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Massachusetts. Mr. Reppucci worked as a reporter and editor on major daily newspapers in the Boston area for more than 30 years. He is the author of the book, The Hunt of Her Life, a heartwarming story about his once-in-a-lifetime rescue dog. Find it on Createspace.com and Amazon.com.

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