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Question
Hi I was just wondering how I can have my dog not bite as a result of defensive aggression. I have a pit bull, very well socialized with dogs and people and even lets my little neighbor practically pull his tail off and will just sit there until I stop him, so he is a very sweet dog but of course pit bulls get the bad reputation. So I want to take him to the dog park but I'm afraid that other dogs who have not been properly trained could bring out an insecurity in him and begin to nip at him and if he were to do the same I'm afraid he will get "reprimanded" for being the Pit bull. Is there anything I can do do make sure this doesn't happen.

Answer
Greetings,
Thank you for contacting All Experts. Dogs parks aren't really the best places for socialization. First and foremost, some people who go there don't really watch their dogs. Some owners seem to go there more for human socialization than dog socialization. You therefore will see some owners talking, others sending text messages and some even reading a book. To keep dogs safe, it's vitally important that dog owners monitor their dogs and intervene at the first signs of impending trouble-- hopefully their dogs have a really reliable recall!

Often we may assume dogs are having fun, but if dogs could talk they would often tell us a whole different story. Some dogs there engage in rude behaviors, bullying other dogs and acting rude. Other dogs often give them distance increasing signs but these dogs will keep at it. Often some dogs are being relentlessly chased and these dogs are fearful and trying to escape, when the owners think the dog is having fun. For more on distance increasing signs signals dogs give please read:
http://alexadry.hubpages.com/hub/-Distance-Increasing-and-Distance-Decreasing-Si


There is really no way to be totally safe at the dog park. Yes, steps can be taken to intervene swiftly, but dogs can be really fast in reacting. Also, behavior issues may worsen. If say a dog  uses growling to tell a dog to get off his space, if that dog ignores the growl, the next step is often a bite. Dogs that are being chased may also arrive to a point of biting when cornered. It's not a surprise that behavior consultants get cases of dogs who were fine at dog park initially and then made a change for the worst after thier first bad experience. Here is an article depicting effects dog parks may have on dogs:Well Socialized? No well traumatized:
http://www.whenhoundsfly.com/well-socialized-well-traumatized/

So your concerns are really very rational as defensive biting can occur if the dog's pre-bite warning signals aren't being attended to by the other dog. This happens often when dogs are reprimanded for growling (punish the growl enough, and the next thing you have is a dog who bites without warning) or when other dogs don't move away when they hear the growl. Some dogs also won't back down when there's a challenge. You can almost hear them say "oh, really, what did you just say?, come over here and let's sort things out." And contrary to what many dog park fans may think, it's not good to adhere to the philosophy to let "dogs work it out." There are chances one or both of the two parties will be traumatized and start generating a dislike of other dogs that will take months and years of work involving systematic desensitization.

You may find interesting reading about dog play and learning more about the body language of healthy play and signs of trouble.
http://alexadry.hubpages.com/hub/Understanding-Dog-Play-Behaviors
http://hubpages.com/hub/-Understanding-Dog-Play-Behaviors-Part-Two

So are all dog parks bad? No, not necessarily, but there are better options. How about taking an obedience, nose work or agility class, where your dog learns to focus on
you in the presence of other dogs? A controlled setting where your dog receives positive reinforcement training is best. This is a good way to protect our dogs from negative experiences that can set them up for failure which can have an impact on future interactions with other dogs. Another option is to organize play dates with dogs you know your dog gets along with.

So to answer your question, no, there is no way to make sure a fight doesn't happen. Yes, you can be careful, intervene as quickly as you can, but there is absolutely no way to predict the behavior of the other dogs at a park and the way your dog may react.  

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Adrienne Janet Farricelli CPDT-KA

Expertise

I can provide advice on training and behavioral problems ranging from minor issues such as potty training to serious issues such as aggression. I cannot give out veterinary advice as this is obviously out of my spectrum, but I may recommend veterinarian visits for behavioral problems that may stem from a possible health problem.

Experience

I am a published dog expert writer since 2006 and a certified dog trainer specializing in positive reinforcement training. My favorite specializations are clicker training and the sport of canine freestyle. I also attended various seminars on solving behavioral problems and am the current dog training and dog psychology channel manager for Helium.com. My bookshelves are full of books on dog training, dog breeds, dog care and dog behavior.

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CCPDT Certfication Council of Professional Dog Trainers MDSA Musical Dog Sports Association

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Suite101 National Examiner USA Today

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Certified Dog Trainer APICC Italian Association Professional Dog Trainers and Canine Consultants Certified Dog trainer CPDT-KA Certfication Council of Professional Dog Trainers Dog expert writer since 2006 Previous AAHA animal hospital employee

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Over 1100 fans and hundreds of questions answered on my dog blog.

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