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Home » behavior problems » Learn some signs of stress in an old dog prior to her warning attack at the dog park.

Learn some signs of stress in an old dog prior to her warning attack at the dog park.

I will be posting videos on behavior that I think can be helpful for owners. I have several goals in mind as I think about what is useful for every pet owner to know about behavior.

1. How to understand the real meaning behind what your dog does.

2. How to prevent problems before they start.

3. How to solve behavior related problems quickly.

4. Do you really need an expert behaviorist or trainer? Can you solve behavior problems yourself?

5. How to create a more fun, more confident dog who wants to do what you ask.

6. Learn the  language of the dog. And how to use it to: develop the long lasting, strong bond that make you and your dog happy.

Of course I won’t accomplish this in one posting. But I am beginning to build a library so my readers can have the best information on how to “do it yourself”. Have fun training your dog. Methods that work almost all of the time. _____________________________________________________________________________________________

This video illustrates how quickly and dog can re-actively bite at the dog park. Warning signs of stress prior to attack

Even though the attacker gave warning signs of stress, she also should signs of indecision (ear position). This can confuse the greeting dog.  Younger dogs < 3 years, puppies and dog who missed out on enough social learning are less experienced and will make mistakes in dog to dog communication. They may not notice or ignore warnings from stranger dogs. Be aware that the dog park is both exciting for your dog and high risk for attacks by the mere usage design. From the Dog’s point of view the park is a gathering place of allot of stranger. Some strangers may want to play and some may attack.  Because dog’s are uncertain who is friendly when meeting strangers they will often be on edge. Dog’s have complex greeting rituals that allow each party a chance to slowly size each other up and decide if further interaction is OK with each dog. But often many factors speed up the greetings and cut short the ritual and some dogs will react fearfully to rushed greetings.

How will your know this is coming.

1. Your dog is geeked up in the car on the way to the park. Whining, jumping and can hardly wait to get in. Rushes over to ever dog or person, runs wildly in many directions and forgot that you exist. We have all either seen this dog, own it or have been run over by the happy greeting. Being mugged and knocked flat is just a disorienting, frightening for dogs and possibly painful whether meant as friendly or malicious.

So, the dog who is out of control when approaching the park needs to be taught to calm itself down BEFORE being allowed into the fenced area.See in  links: dogstardaily.com and go to onlinetraining- >adolescent dogs. I will write more about impulse control later.

2. A dog who freezes in it tracks, or walks stiffly with straight legs, staring directly at an approaching dog. When ears freeze in position stress is going up. I find it more helpful when watching dogs interact to think about whether they are stressed by each other or OK with happy faces when interacting.

3. Trying to decide who is dominant in order to prevent a fight can get in the way. Dominance/submission can be flexible roles that switch around within dog to dog relationships and is hard to determine at a dog park with strangers. Better to observe the dogs with the question, who is showing signs of stress v.s. happy relaxed play. Dog’s can bring stress with them just like people do and then have a bad day at the dogs at the Park.

4. Puppies and adolescent dogs- As mentioned, just don’t know manners yet. The solution is to attend either puppy socialization classes and adolescent dog training. These get the dogs used to the sight of other dogs so they are less fearful or over excited. AND teaches the basics of manners and set the stage for developing impulse control that will be needed in adult life. Dog will often give young puppies a pass on bad behavior, but this tolerance goes away after the pup is 3 to 4 months of age and especially with strangers. Remember, puppies and young dogs learn from encounters are the dog park. Supervise and remove your dog if playing with another dog  teaches you pet dangerous habits, even if they seem to be getting along playing roughly. I see this allot where adolescent become rough play buddies and then try to get every dog to play as roughly which gets them attacked by adults. It is our job as owners to expose the growing dog to situations where they can learn and practice self control. Puppies know  to bite  and play, generally one speed (full on for their age) as puppies. They spend the rest of their lives learning what is acceptable play and bite behavior to get along in dog and human society.

My one great tip is: Interrupt these playing puppy & adolescent dogs to; sit and down before they are running full speed wildly through the park. You will  teach them, later, when this “full on” play behavior is allowed. But they must earn it as well.

Warning signs of stress about social interactions.

-Hard staring at a dog or person. Often the white of the eye can show a little around the rim of the iris.

-Slow walking, with stiff legs and tail barely moving, just the tip 1/3rd of the tail.

-Dogs who are doing their own thing and get surprised by the approach of another dog. They stop what they are doing, freeze, go in slow motion, stare, lick their lips. Close their mouth, all or part of the way.

-Low volume growling, show the front teeth and canines (but no more), I call this framing the weapons, while holding still or moving stiffly.

compare to Happy relaxed dog:

Mouth fully open, all the teeth are showing with loose lips and tongue.

Tail in normal relaxed position, with relaxed, full swing, wagging.

Deferentially looks away or head to side when other dogs looks. Both dogs ideally trade off, looking away and then quiet little looks at each other.

Legs have slight bend at the joints with  natural, easy, movement, plus will lift one front foot when approaching or visa versa.

My rule of thumb for meeting dogs on the street or dog parks is: expect fearfulness that can lead to aggression unless there are numerous signs of friendliness and invitations to play.  Train your dog to look at you when in sight of another dog. Train your dog to sit quietly at your side. Train your dog to follow you calmly, with zero pulling on the leash. These are all protective behaviors. Each send a signal to the approaching stranger dog, that your dog is not interested in a challenge. These skills done by your dog, will avoid most dog attacks.


Dog Park Body Language Check list from APDT

If you decide to visit a dog park, it is important to be able to read the body language of your dog and the other dogs present. The ideal body language is playful, but dogs will exhibit a variety of behaviors as they contact new dogs and spend more time at the park. Overall you are looking for balanced play between dogs – sometimes one is on top and next time he’s on the bottom. Sometimes he’s the chaser, and next he will be the chased.

It’s always wise to leave the park if your pet shows signs of tiredness, stress or fear or if there are dogs present who seem threatening.

Playful actions to watch for:

  • Back and forth play – dogs change position – role reversals
  • Bouncy, exaggerated gestures
  • Wiggly bodies
  • Open relaxed mouth
  • Play-bows
  • Twisted leaps or jumps
  • Pawing the air

Obvious Signs of Anxiety/Higher Stress:

  • Fast wagging low tail
  • Whining or whimpering
  • Ears may be back
  • Hiding behind objects or people

Signs of Fear:

  • Dog will try to look small
  • Tail tucked
  • Hunched over, head down
  • Tense
  • May urinate submissively

Red Flags that Require Intervention:

  • Excessive mounting
  • Pinning (holding another dog down and standing stiffly over them)
  • Shadowing another dog (following) incessantly
  • Bullying: repeatedly bothering another dog that does not want to interact
  • Fast non-stop running with a group – high arousal situation
  • Full-speed body slams
  • Putting head repeatedly onto another dog’s neck or back
  • Staring with a fixed gaze directly at another dog
  • Snarling or raised lips
  • Showing teeth
  • Hackles up at the shoulders

Signs of Potential Illness – While not necessarily related to behavior, you will want to remove your dog from a park where dogs are showing the following symptoms:

  • Coughing or gagging
  • Vomiting
  • Sneezing
  • Diarrhea

In theory, dog parks are a wonderful way for dogs to socialize with other friendly dogs. It is important that owners who frequent dog parks know the limitations of their pets and act accordingly to keep playgroups interacting in a safe and responsible manner


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