Having recently adopted a young, active dog, I fully appreciate the opportunity our local dog park provides for her to run in a safe, enclosed area and play with other dogs. Of course, not all dogs are good candidates for the park, and I am hyper-vigilant about supervising Sierra. Her play style is generally well accepted by other dogs, and if she seems to be getting overbearing, I intervene. (The photo shows her playing with a 150-lb. newfie, and the two of them were having a ball.) Most of the other dog owners are vigilant as well, although some…not so much.
There are those owners who either aren’t watching their dogs at all, preferring to chat on their cell phones or socialize with others. And then there are the ones whose dogs repeatedly get into skirmishes with other dogs. One man in particular has distinguished himself in this category in the short two weeks Sierra and I have been visiting the park. Every time his dog gets into it, he just says, “Oh, sorry” to the offended owner. Yesterday, after his dog got snarky with Sierra and she inadvertently got her teeth on my arm as I was grabbing Sierra away, he left. (That might have had something to do with my shared opinion regarding his dog’s behavior.) Another owner told me his dog gets into fights constantly. So why bring the dog to the park to let him practice the behavior and put others at risk?
What really upset me, though, was the girl who stood just outside the chain link fence with her large male pit bull. The dog was wearing two huge pinch collars. Sierra, who has deemed herself Park Greeter, ran over to say hello through the fence. The pit started whining, his back legs began pawing the dirt, and just as I called out to the girl, he exploded. A second later, as I calmly maneuvered Sierra away, the girl jerked the pinch collar and at the same time sprayed something from a canister (most likely citronella or air) in the dog’s face and yelled at him. After redirecting Sierra to go play with some other dogs, I went back and chatted with the girl. I asked whether she was trying to get her dog used to other dogs, which of course I knew she was. I explained about association and how the jerking and spraying might actually be making things worse. I gave her some ideas, and instead of selling my own services, I offered to give her the name of a friend who specializes in training pit bulls—this was a huge, crop-eared, muscle-bound pit, and sometimes owners like to have someone who specializes in their breed. “But I already spent so much money with (insert name of international franchise here).” That’s unfortunate, but would you keep using a medication that didn’t work just because it had been expensive? We chatted a bit more and I ended up giving her my business card as well. She left soon after.
Two women who’d seen me talking with the girl told me she’s there often, using the same techniques I’d seen. One volunteered that what the girl really needed to do was exercise the dog to the point that he was really tired, then put a muzzle on him and bring him into the park. The other woman agreed. Obviously, they watch the same television show. I wasn’t inclined to get into another conversation about behavior.
There are trainers who are vehemently against dog parks. I’m not one of them. The park affords the opportunity for my dog to run, and she needs it, as do many of the dogs there. This particular park has separate areas for small and large dogs, and a double-gated entry system for each area. For the most part, the dogs who go there are friendly, and the owners are responsible. As for the others, sometimes a friendly chat leads to a chance to do some education, and that’s not a bad thing, either.