Playing at the Dog Park

Over the last few months, our Facebook followers on the Chelmsford Dog Park Page have been provided with a series of Dog Park behavior articles, many of them submitted by Lisa Bert of Fingers and Paws Dog Training.

Lisa, along with Animal Control Officer Erik Merrill, donated their time for two days for the “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” seminars that were held at the Chelmsford Police Station in March. The goal of the seminars was to show folks how to decide whether their dog is comfortable at the Dog Park. She presented hints on dog body language and how dogs think when they meet a new dog. Lisa also stressed the importance of not being distracted by things like your cell phone and other people while at the park.

Focus on your dog so future visits are seen as good times, not as a punishment. Not all dogs are good candidates for the park, and it’s OK to introduce the park a little at a time. Similar to watching children play, if you don’t like the way some dogs are playing, then it’s probably time to leave and try it another day.  Pay attention to the weather – dogs get overheated easier than people- severe cases will require veterinary attention.

It is a good idea to keep a Dog Emergency Kit in your car which contains a copy of your dog’s license and rabies vaccination information, as well as basic first aid supplies, and perhaps a portable water bowl.  In the event of an altercation, try to stay calm, and don’t take rude comments personally. Chances are, everyone is upset. Assess your dog’s condition, and get him someplace safe, like into a nearby holding area or your car. Then, just like a car accident, get the name and contact info for all the parties involved. Information Exchange forms will be available at the Park for this purpose.  All bites that break the skin must be reported to the Animal Control Officer who can be reached at 978-256-0754. This goes for all incidents whether they happen at the park, or your home or anywhere else.

The following list, from Dog Gurus, is a brief summary of things to look for when observing dogs at the park:

If you decide to visit a dog park, it is important to be able to read the body language of your dog and the other dogs present. The ideal body language is playful, but dogs will exhibit a variety of behaviors as they contact new dogs and spend more time at the park.

Overall you are looking for balanced play between dogs. Sometimes one is on top and next time he’s on the bottom. Sometimes he’s the chaser, and next he will be the chased.
It’s always wise to leave the park if your pet shows signs of tiredness, stress or fear or if there are dogs present who seem threatening.

Playful actions to watch for:


  • Back and forth play- dogs change position or role reversals
  • Bouncy, exaggerated gestures
  • Wiggly bodies
  • Open relaxed mouth
  • Play-bows
  • Twisted leaps or jumps
  • Pawing the air

Signs of Anxiety/Stress to Monitor:


  • Fast wagging low tail
  • Whining or whimpering
  • Ears may be back
  • Hiding behind objects or people

Signs of Fear:


  • *Dog will try to look small
  • *Tail tucked
  • *Hunched over, head down
  • *Tense
  • *May urinate submissively
  • *Excessive mounting

Red Flags that Require Intervention:


  • Excessive mounting
  • Pinning (holding another dog down and standing stiffly over them)
  • Shadowing another dog (following) incessantly
  • Bullying: repeatedly bothering another dog that does not want to interact
  • Fast non-stop running with a group or high arousal situation
  • Full-speed body slams
  • Putting head  repeatedly onto another dog’s neck or back
  • Staring with a fixed gaze directly at another dog
  • Snarling or raised lips
  • Showing teeth
  • Hackles up at the shoulders

Signs of Potential Illness:


(While not necessarily related to behavior, you will want to remove your dog from a park where dogs are showing the following symptoms)

  • Coughing or gagging
  • Vomiting
  • Sneezing
  • Diarrhea

The following are links to more articles that were made available to attendees:

APDT Dog Guru info on Dog Parks/Play

Thank you, and see you at the park (maybe).

2 Responses to “Playing at the Dog Park

  • Christopher McGahan
    5 years ago

    Hello –
    I am interested in knowing how to become a member of the Chelmsford Dog Association. I have a wonderful 8-month-old Springer Spaniel-Shar Pei cross. She is beautiful, adorable (as many neutral observers have noted) and almost pathologically friendly! BUT. She needs more socialization than I can give her with random meetings on walks. We are signed up for puppy class at PatSMART, but that does not start until the 25th. In the meantime I am hoping to be able to get her into a sort of semi-organized play situation, such as a dog park, so she can acquire more of the necessary social skills. If you could direct me to the appropriate information page, I would be grateful.
    Thank you,
    Chip McGahan

  • Will Wagner
    5 years ago

    Hi Chip,

    The dog park will not actually be open until the end of the month. However, until then, PetSmart does have daytime playgroups.


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