Barking at the dog park

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rekaeszter
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Joined: Mon Dec 14, 2015 4:52 pm

Barking at the dog park

Post by rekaeszter » Mon Dec 14, 2015 5:00 pm

I have a two year old rescue mutt who has been with me for a year. He is a small neutered dog (13 kg - 29 lbs) who has some history with ungentle handling and big dogs being mean to him, but no serious abuse according to the shelter. When we brought him home he was very afraid of other dogs and men, but as we have been working on his confidence it got much better and he actually has some men- and dog-friends.
When we go to the dog park he runs up to the other owners (more to men but also women) and he continuously barks at them. No growling, no snapping or attempt at bite, just stands next to them and barks and barks and barks. We have tried to distract him with toys and treats, we asked these people to give him treats (he is extremely food motivated!). As soon as he sees the treat or toy he sits down quietly and looks with the most innocent eyes (so he doesn't get reinforcement when misbehaving), but as soon as he is finished eating or brought back the ball, he starts barking again. We have stopped going altogether because it was so embarrassing.
It has started to get much worse after we came back from a 5-week holiday where we spent almost all time together. It also might be caused by the fact that it is a really small dog park (quarter of an acre) where sometimes there are 10-20 dogs, most of them are untrained. As you can imagine dog fights are everyday occurrences and blood is drawn regularly too (both dog and human).
I wouldn't mind not going anymore, but he really misses it. It's a walking distance and he always pulls towards its direction on every walk. I also have seen that he became more reactive to dogs when on a leash since we have stopped going. It is also very hard to find other places where we can safely let him off the leash as we live in a city.

Any ideas, help would be much appreciated! Thank you

JudyN
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Re: Barking at the dog park

Post by JudyN » Wed Dec 16, 2015 8:04 am

rekaeszter wrote:We have tried to distract him with toys and treats, we asked these people to give him treats (he is extremely food motivated!). As soon as he sees the treat or toy he sits down quietly and looks with the most innocent eyes (so he doesn't get reinforcement when misbehaving), but as soon as he is finished eating or brought back the ball, he starts barking again.
If I understand this right, he is actually being reinforced by the barking because the barking results in the treat or toy appearing. Do you think he's barking to get a reward, or barking because of stress & anxiety?

Assuming the latter, to me it sounds as if this dog park is a really bad environment for him. Actually, it sounds like a really bad environment for any dog! Any dog cooped up in such a small place with dog fights breaking out regularly is bound to be stressed and become more reactive. I would avoid it like the plague. His keenness to go there may be more down to a level of adrenaline at the anticipation of all that stress and excitement, like adolescents getting razzed up at the anticipation of a fist fight.

One option is to go to the dog park when no one else is there, even if it means getting up at silly o'clock or getting him a luminous collar & ball and going later at night. If this isn't possible, try to make his lead walks as fun and fulfilling as possible. Let him sniff where he wants, get a long line (attached to a harness, not a collar) to give him more freedom when not walking along roads (you might even be able to play fetch then), lay scent trails for him or chuck treats into long grass and let him find them all. Train him 'agility' and other tricks, e.g. jumping up onto tree stumps - anything to get his brain working!

You can also give him more to do at home too to occupy his brain - there's plenty of ideas here: viewtopic.php?f=6&t=1135

As for the leash reactivity, try to avoid getting closer to other dogs than he can cope with, e.g. by crossing the road when necessary, and give him treats when he can see the other dog but isn't reacting. Have a read of Jacksdad's posts for more on this - here is a good starting point: viewtopic.php?f=21&t=5910

Hope that helps!
Jasper, lurcher, born December 2009

rekaeszter
Posts: 8
Joined: Mon Dec 14, 2015 4:52 pm

Re: Barking at the dog park

Post by rekaeszter » Fri Dec 18, 2015 7:09 am

JudyN wrote:His keenness to go there may be more down to a level of adrenaline at the anticipation of all that stress and excitement, like adolescents getting razzed up at the anticipation of a fist fight.
Thanks for your answer!

I dont know whether he is getting reinforced or not - since he never gets a treat or a toy while barking - as soon as it comes out, he is silent and attentive, it is just as soon as there is a second of "down time" that he starts to bark!

We are right now bringing him when there are less dogs (2-3 maximum), but he doesn't seem to play with them anymore.

Thank you for all the suggestions - I will try to incorporate more of these into our life :)

JudyN
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Re: Barking at the dog park

Post by JudyN » Fri Dec 18, 2015 12:47 pm

rekaeszter wrote:We are right now bringing him when there are less dogs (2-3 maximum), but he doesn't seem to play with them anymore.
That's no bad thing. A lot of dog play is really about sizing up the other dog, and again can ramp up the excitement/stress levels that are better kept low. My dog hardly ever plays with other dogs, even ones he knows and gets on with well.
Jasper, lurcher, born December 2009

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