Recently I received an email from one of our readers telling me that her Corgi loved to go to the dog park. However, every time that they are there her dog becomes very pushy with the other dogs which causes the other dogs to become aggressive towards her dog. And because of this she often has to leave the dog park or a fight will break out so she wanted to know if there was a way to calm her dog down so that it respects the other dogs spaces.
This type of behavior is often seen in dog parks. Usually the pushy dog doesn't understand the body language of the other dog. Even when they do find a playmate the pushy dog continues to be pushy which will cause tension between the two dogs which will put them at risk for an altercation.
The Difference Between Aggression and Play
Dogs that are pushy at the dog park are often adolescent or young adult dogs that have an abundance of energy. These are the types of dogs that do not get enough exercise or mental stimulation at home. So by the time they reach the dog park they are just ready to bust out with little or no restraint on themselves.
Many dog owners do not realize that there is a fine line between aggressive behavior and pushiness at the dog park. If the young dog has a relaxed face and body movement, displays playful bows and a bouncing movement to entice the other dog to play then this is good playful behavior. But this behavior can go too far if the other dog doesn't want to play with it.
Both dogs must want to play together. There has to be a common desire here from both dogs. If one dog does not want to play it will become stressed out by the aggressiveness for play from the young dog. This is usually when aggression from the older dog is most likely to happen.
Commands to Control the Pushy Dog
Pushy dogs tend to lack experience in recognizing the normal back-off cues and breaks from other dogs. Providing reward-based training can teach the younger dog better manners. Until you have provided proper training you should avoid taking the young dog to the dog park.
The first thing that all dogs should have absolute understanding and obedience to is the "come when called" command. If your dog comes when called you should immediately reward him. Once rewarded you should immediately release him back to his activity. This will teach your dog that activities do not end when he obeys the order to come to you. This needs to be practiced over and over again so that he will come to you no matter what distractions are around.
Once your dog has mastered the basic "come when called" command it is now time to invite an older, laid-back dog for a play date. Have the young dog wear a head halter and a drag line and let the two dogs play together. Again practice the "come when called" command until your dog comes when called. If you dog doesn't come right away you can use the drag line to gently pull your dog towards you. This part of the training should be repeated until your dog comes without any hesitation or assistance from the drag line. As soon as your dog is by your side he should be rewarded and then released back to play with the other dog.
Clicker training can be a great help in the training process. This can be used to momentarily get your dog's attention. You should use the clicker at the moment the dog shows the desired behavior. For instance, you should click whenever your dog sniffs the ground, looks away from the other dog, or turns its head away from the other dog. Just remember to give a reward for the correct type of behavior. This type of clicker training works best when you have a variety of dogs playing with your dog.
Eventually you should wean your dog off the drag line before taking him to the dog park to continue its training.
Getting Ready for the Dog Park
It is important that you have a consistent training schedule. Also providing other activities such as food puzzles and meet and greet activities are a great way to channel your dog's energy. Also provide vigorous exercise to help tire out your dog before heading to the dog park is also a good idea. Such activities should help to calm your dog down before interacting with other dogs.
If you are unable to provide adequate training or distractions it is probably not a good idea to take your dog to the dog park. His overactive pushiness may cause undue stress with the other dogs in the dog park.
Also keep in mind that not all dogs are able to go to the dog park. Some dogs just never lose the pushiness and would do better have occasional play dates with dogs that it knows at your place.