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

But when Alice and Clemmie gang up on Bill at the dog park, it’s a different story.

Supervise Your Dog!

The dog park is not a supervision-free zone – at least, it shouldn’t be! – so hopefully you’re keeping an eye on your girls all along.  That’s regardless of whether they’ve ever had any conflict with another dog. In the scenario where Clemmie and Alice are chasing Bill, you check out Bill’s body language and notice the signs I pointed out above – his tail is tucked and in general he looks less like he’s playing and more like he’s trying to escape.

Intervene Right Away

Ideally, you act before Bill turns and goes on the offensive or drops to the ground to show his belly and signal “stop.” Of course, you and your dogs have practiced the skill of coming when called to the point where they’ll make a U-turn as fast as they physically can, as soon as they hear your cue. Right? So call Alice and Clemmie and reward them lavishly for coming to you. Food treats may be a no-no at your dog park, because they can elicit conflict among the dogs. If you can’t give food, then praise your dogs warmly. Either way, keep them busy with play and happy talk till they’ve forgotten about Bill. At that point you can give them the okay to play again. And if they go back to harassing Bill, it’s your cue to leave for the day.

If Your Dog Doesn’t Come When Called

Oops, you say – Clemmie and Alice do come when called, most of the time, but this isn’t one of those times. In that case, step in as soon as you can. No yelling or general agitation – it may interrupt your dogs’ behavior, or it may just amp everybody up further and turn an edgy situation into outright aggression. Take your dogs gently by the collar and remove them from Bill, then leash them and walk away. Same goes if only one of the harassing dogs belongs to you – with her co-conspirator out of the picture, the other dog may leave Bill alone. Or Bill may experience the situation as less threatening and happily return to play.

Keep your dog or dogs busy for a minute or two, then give them the okay to play. As before, if they go back to bothering poor Bill, that’s it for your dog park outing today.

If Your Dog Is Being Harassed

What if Bill is your dog, and Alice and Clemmie’s guardian isn’t removing them? Unfortunately, many people will miss Bill’s “Quit it!” signals to the other dogs, or perceive him as the instigator if he turns back to face his pursuers and shows his teeth or snaps at them. It’s so tempting in this situation to yell at Alice and Clemmie or the oblivious humans attached to them, but yelling at the humans is probably unproductive for the same reason yelling at the dogs would be – it increases the potential for serious conflict.


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).