Ganging Up at the Dog Park

Learn what to do when two dogs gang up on a third one.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #169

You’ve probably seen it happen at the dog park plenty of times: Two dogs are merrily playing “Catch me if you can!” Then another dog joins the chase – and all of a sudden it looks an awful lot as if the two chasers are ganging up on the chase-ee. Are they? Or is the dog in the lead still running for fun, not running away? This week, I’ll explain how to tell when two-on-one chase games turn into ganging up, and what to do about it.

How to Tell Play from Ganging Up

Your best guide to whether two-on-one play is really play? Watch that “one.” Say Alice and Bill are chasing Clemmie. Clemmie drops to the ground and rolls to show her belly, Alice and Bill immediately back off, and Clemmie springs up and starts chasing one of them in return. Or she gives a play-bow – front end down, rear end in the air, smiley face – and takes off running with her friends in hot pursuit. All’s good in Clemmie’s world!

Is two-on-one dog play going well? Watch the body language of that “one” – it’ll tell you.

Now let’s say we’ve got Clemmie and Alice chasing Bill. You notice that Bill’s tail is tucked between his legs and he’s running full tilt in a straight line, making as much distance between himself and his pursuers as he can. Clemmie and Alice catch up to him and he turns to face them, teeth bared, but they stand and bark in his face instead of backing off. You can see that Bill’s muscles are tense overall. Or maybe Bill drops to the ground much as Clemmie did in our first scenario, but again, Clemmie and Alice don’t back off; they dart in and out toward Bill, as if poking him. In both of these scenarios, Bill is not having fun.

Should Dogs Settle Their Own Disputes?

There’s a popular myth that dogs should be left to settle their own disputes. It wouldn’t be a myth if all dogs had excellent social skills, but they don’t. How to respond to dogs’ behavior toward each other depends on what the behavior is, where you are, and who the dogs belong to. Suppose Alice and Clemmie are yours, and you are hanging out at home with them. Clemmie has a chew toy, Alice sidles up to it, Clemmie curls a quick lip, and Alice backs off and goes to lie down. Assuming the dogs get along well in general and episodes like this don’t escalate, there’s no call for you to step in.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).