Dear Julie,

At the dog park I ran into a situation where one of the dogs was aggressively picking on some of the other dogs, including mine.  The owner insisted on letting the dog’s sort things out for themselves, even though his dog started 3 fights within 15 minutes and refused to remove his dog.  Should owners intervene when play between two dogs becomes too rough?  When should an owner remove their dog from the dog park?


Dog Park Lover

Dear; Dog Park Lover,

This question can raise a lot of controversy.  Some feel that dog interaction should be micro managed, some share the views of the dog owner you ran into, and others, like myself, are somewhere in the middle.  There are positive and negative points to each opinion. When you evaluate the possible side effects and impact that each possess, it appears that a combination of management and allowing the dogs to sort out minor issues themselves encourages the development of appropriate play skills the best.

In the case of a rude adolescent or puppy that jumps on dogs with no warning, being told off by another dog can help them learn less offensive greeting behaviours.  Watching your dog being ‘told off’ by another dog can cause your heart to skip a beat, especially if you’re not use to seeing a dog squabble (often a lot of noise, growling, spitting and barking involved) but more often then not, both dogs remain uninjured.  Most dogs use some degree of acquired bite inhibition (they control the strength of their bite to refrain from causing serious damage) when sorting out disagreements.  This is a wonderful evolutionary skill developed to keep a pack from depleting their numbers when fighting over important resources.  This kind of feedback from other dogs is vital for the development of well rounded social behaviours, which in the long run, will help your dog avoid starting a real fight with their rude behaviours.

On the other side of the spectrum, in the case of a true bullying incident (when the victim dog can not get away from the harasser), failing to intervene can cause the victim to develop any number of issues including; low self esteem, fears, phobias and even dog aggression.  Allowing this behaviour to continue also negatively effects the aggressor by reinforcing poor social skills, which will likely lead to a real dog fight later down the road.  If your dog is not playing fair, not allowing the other dog to get away, or causing the other dog to display signs of fear and stress, the responsible thing to do is call him off and make him take a break.  If your dog consistently bullies other dogs, be fair to the other dogs in the park and remove him all together.  These types of dogs often do well in doggy play dates with confidant dogs they can play well with rather then mingling with the general dog population.