Let’s talk dog park etiquette now, shall we? A few weeks ago I went to a dog park (the name of which will go unmentioned to protect the identity of the subjects herein) with Dingo, a large Lab named Timmy, and another mixed breed dog slightly smaller than Dingo named Lucy. I do not normally attend this dog park but Timmy’s owners instructed me that he was not to be trusted off-leash so I needed to find a safe place for him to run around and expel some of his pent-up Lab energy. This particular dog park is separated into a very large area for all dogs, and a smaller area for dogs under 30lbs that do not wish to socialize with the larger dogs. Given the fact that the dog’s in my care ran the gamut of pretty small to quite large, naturally we went into the larger “general admission” section of the park.
As anyone who has ever gone to a dog park with their dog knows, as soon as you approach the gate all the dogs already in the park run over to assess the “new blood” (or in the case of dogs, new butts). After some initial sniffing and posturing, everyone usually goes on their merry way. Unfortunately, on this particular day, one large dog already in the park (who we will call Daphne for the sake of the story) began harassing Dingo and her smaller counterpart as soon as we entered with a relentless barrage of what can best be described as the “pounce, pin, and nip”; in other words, the bigger dog was jumping on top of the two smaller dogs, thereby pinning them down, and then nipping at their necks. In the dog world this is a purely intimidatory act. Most good-natured dogs will modify their play when playing with dogs that are smaller than themselves, often even handicapping themselves by laying down on the ground to get on the smaller dog’s level. So even if this particular dog in question was “playing” as the owner attested, she was sending a clear message than the play was on her terms.
Daphne ignored both my requests to cease and desist and Dingo and Lucy’s pathetic squeals. I looked up to see if her owner was going to come and scold her dog or, ideally, remove her from the situation, but the owner was nowhere in sight. Finally, in utter exasperation, I yelled out, “Who’s dog is this!?”. A stranger standing close by and witnessing the melee pointed across the park to a woman sitting down drinking a coffee, seemingly oblivious to her dog’s brutish behavior. At this point, I picked up the two smaller dogs who were by now attempting to climb up my leg and yelled out again in the direction of the previously aforementioned man’s outstretched hand, “Who’s dog is this!!??”. The larger dog was, by now, jumping up and trying to nip at the two little dogs as I swaddled them in my arms. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity but was probably only a minute or two, a woman came over and stated smugly, “My dog is fine. If your dogs don’t like other dogs you shouldn’t bring them to the dog park.” At that point, I was pretty incensed but I did not want to create a scene. I stated matter-of-factly that “my dogs do like other dogs, just not bullies!” I walked away toward the opposite end of the dog park with Dingo and Lucy still in my arms and the other dog following us despite her owner’s instructions to “come” and “stop”.
Daphne did finally stop harassing Dingo and Lucy after her owner stood in front of her and physically prevented her from following us. I put Dingo and Lucy back on the ground but by then they were so nervous about being marked targets that for the remainder of our time there they just trembled at my feet, seemingly proving Daphne’s owner’s point that they do not like other dogs (I swear they do!). Daphne did come back every few minutes to attempt another onslaught but by then when I told her to leave she seemed to get the point. We left the park soon thereafter unfortunately for Teddy who seemed completely unaware that anything was amiss.
I left feeling inexplicably embarrassed. My friend who was with me that day ascertains that I did not do anything wrong and was completely justified in feeling upset, or as he put it, “If your kid went to the playground and punched another kid, and the other kid’s mother called you out on it, would you ever tell the other kid’s mother not to bring the kid to the playground if he doesn’t like other kids?”. Point taken.
Upon reflection, however, I know that I could have remained more calm in the situation. Instead of getting defensive I should have just grabbed Daphne by the collar myself and walked her over to her owner and asked, with a solicitous smile if she would just watch her dog for a moment while my own dogs get acclimated. Instead of placing blame and causing Daphne’s owner to get defensive, I should have been proactive about removing the dog myself. When you start a conversation with fire you are almost always going to get fire back. Sometimes it’s tough in the heat of the moment to remember to maintain your composure but I guess that’s just another of what I like to call my “lessons of adulthood”.
What do you think? Have you had any issues at your local dog park? If so, how did you handle them? Given that a dog park is, for the most part, self governing, it’s interesting to see how the politics play out. Nothing is ever as Utopian as we would like it to be, but the dog eat dog distopian mantra reminiscent of “The Hunger Games” or “Lord of the Flies” is no place for our domesticated four legged friends (or their owners). That’s my own humble opinion anyway (for what its worth).
Til next time….