Dog parks can be stages for good and bad scenes.
Baxter and I recently had an experience that could have been bad, but ended up being good.
There were two lessons:
1. Let dogs be dogs.
2. Know your dog and step in when needed.
I will explain.
When Baxter and I arrived at the park, two puppies were there playing and wrestling. A new dog was huge excitement for two already excited puppies.
They bounced around Baxter, mouthing at his face and jumping on him. Bax tolerated them for a time and then tried to move on. The puppies weren’t having it. They had a new toy. Eventually, Mr. B lost patience. There was a lip curl, a growl, then a snarl.
No one freaked out. Not the dogs, not the puppies’ owners, not me.
We knew Baxter wasn’t attacking the puppies. He was saying, “Hey kid, you’re being rude. Back off.”
The puppies’ owners knew their puppies were being obnoxious. They knew their puppies needed to be corrected, and dogs can teach that lesson to each other better than humans. Let dogs be dogs.
However, one of the puppies just did not get the message.
He kept hassling Baxter, and Baxter was getting more and more annoyed. I believe that my job is to always put my dog first and help him if he’s in an uncomfortable situation. We had let dogs be dogs, but now it was time for the humans to interrupt.
I put B up on a picnic table and blocked the puppy from climbing up after him. The owners distracted their puppies and moved to another area of the park.
Bax and I headed in the opposite direction. Our two groups were each able to make our circuits of the park and keep out of each other’s way.
Eventually we did meet up again, and the puppies’ exuberance and Baxter’s patience were still at opposite ends of the spectrum. The one puppy did do a submissive down—for about a second. But I could see Baxter’s patience was at an end.
We left the park—Baxter’s joy at leaving was obvious—and went for a walk along a local creek instead. We even met two other dogs that were a bit more reasonable energy, so Bax got some socializing, which he loves and is why we go to the dog park.
Even though we ended up leaving the park, the incident was a good experience because all of the owners had the same perspective on the situation.
Instead of yelling at me and accusing Baxter of attacking the puppies, the owners saw what he was doing and why. When the dogs didn’t work things out themselves, we each stepped in and removed our dogs from the situation. To me, that is how educated responsible dog owners should act.
Lessons learned at the dog park
1. Let dogs be dogs. In my experience in most situations dogs can sort things out between themselves. A snarl is not the same as an attack.
2. Be real about your dog’s attitude. Are you the owner of an exuberant puppy? Not all dogs (or people) will be enthused about being jumped and chewed. If, like me, you have an older dog who prefers a quiet walk to an energetic game of tag, don’t force your dog to do something he’s not interested in.
3. Be prepared to step in. The first step is to let dogs be dogs. But if they can’t work it out, it’s up to me to do what’s best for my dog. If the puppies’ owners hadn’t taken their dogs away from Baxter, I could have politely suggested that we each go in opposite directions to give the dogs a break from each other.
4. Remove your dog from the situation if necessary. Sometimes the best thing to do is walk away. As much as Baxter loves to socialize, the dog park was just not the place to be on that particular day.
Do the rest of you have any examples of when you've “let dogs be dogs” or when you've chosen to step in?
Let us know in the comments!
Julia Thomson is a regular writer for That Mutt. Visit her blog Home on 129 Acres.
Related post: Should kids be allowed in dog parks?