Dust-Up at the Dog Park

Our German shepherd, Chrysanthemum (6 months old), has fear-aggression issues so we’ve been taking her to Bullhead Park to try socializing. There were 5-6 dogs there and she was doing her barking thing. Suddenly, some guy strode up and grabbed her by the neck, shaking her hard a couple of times before I shoved him away.  He pushed me, and Chrysanthemum jumped at him. He kicked her. He claimed he has been a trainer for 40 years. Another person told us he is a regular and has frequently caused altercations resulting in police calls.  He further traumatized my dog by his actions.

Dr. Nichol:
Canine communication is commonly misinterpreted. That self-described dog trainer may have believed Chrysanthemum was dominant or threatening when, in fact, she was scared witless.

Beyond regular exercise dogs have a strong requirement for social interactions with others of their ilk. At dog parks they can enjoy canine pleasantries like rear-end sniffing and competitive urinating. For them it’s like spring break, but not for a wallflower like Chrysanthemum.

By barking her brains out your freaked-out puppy was trying to drive off those “scary monsters” (the other dogs). Her fear of human strangers jumped to the next level when knucklehead roughed her up. Going forward you’ll want to derail the first hint of Chrysanthemum’s tension and redirect her to earning food. After leading her several steps away you can reward her for relaxing even a little. To avoid reinforcing the wrong behavior be sure to completely ignore her when she gets agitated.

Long term, a Gentle Leader head halter will be the most humane and reliable management and teaching tool. In the meantime fear-triggers like dog parks and neighborhood watch volunteers should be avoided.