Dog Park Blues

January 13, 2010

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.


New Year, New Dog!

January 1, 2010

It’s the first day of a new decade, and I’m looking down at the sweetest furry face you’ll ever see. Sitting by my side as I type, she gently rests a paw on my lap and asks with soulful eyes for her chest to be rubbed… But wait, let me start at the beginning. As some of you know, we were left dogless last year. It was a long year of too much quiet and not enough dog hair. Still, I didn’t want to rush into anything, and so months of scouring shelters and humane societies had ensued. Finally, on the 18th of December (coincidentally, my soul dog Mojo’s birthday) I found new love at a southern California county shelter.

Sierra, as I’ve named her, had been brought in as a stray two days before I spotted her online. Because she was wearing a collar with county tags, she was put on a 10-day hold in order to give the owners time to claim their dog. A volunteer allowed us to spend time with Sierra in the getting-to-know-you area, and she seemed extremely gentle and affectionate. In that first visit, I knew I had found my dog. I filled out a “contract to adopt” should the owners not show. The next day I brought my husband to the shelter. Sierra turned on the charm, wagging happily, jumping up and planting kisses all over his face. Good girl! And so we waited. When no one came for her by the 30th, we were able to take her to her new forever home.

I’m sure you’re wondering what mix of breeds Sierra is—well, I’m wondering too! My best guess is collie or miniature collie mixed with maybe German Shepherd and Samoyed or some other northern breed. Most folks who see her say she looks like a miniature wolf, and many have already asked whether she is actually part wolf. I seriously doubt it, but I do find it ironic, after working and living with wolfdogs all these years and making a conscious decision not to get another one. Sierra only weighs about 40-45 pounds, which is completely alien to us, as our dogs have always weighed in between 90 and 120 pounds. It’s actually quite nice to have a dog I can actually lift for a change! As to age, judging from her teeth, she’s only about a year old.

The shelter had told me Sierra had been brought in and then adopted out this past September. When we got her home, I figured out pretty quickly why that might have been. The first thing she did when let out into our back fenced area was to walk the perimeter checking out spaces between gates and posts, and gazing thoughtfully at the top of the chain link. Although our fencing is high and our other dogs never would have jumped it, we’re not taking any chances. Next week, the fencing guy arrives to attach lean-ins and maybe a bit more height.

As to temperament, Sierra is an absolute love bug. Her mission in life seems to be to spend as much time possible being cuddled and petted. I happen to love that, and she’ll find no shortage of affection here. She also loves to run, and when I took her to an enclosed park yesterday, she proved herself to be part rocket! I believe she’s even faster than my German Shepherd Soko was, which is saying something. I’m also happy to say that she seems to like every dog she’s met so far.

Another bonus is that Siera is already housebroken. Of course she needs training, and that will start today. I expect there will be behavioral challenges along the way, especially as she’s only been here two days. I’m already taking steps to prevent separation anxiety, which I see as a potential issue. She panics in a crate, which we’ll need to work on. But for now, the first morning minutes of 2010 were spent cuddling with a sweet, gentle, gorgeous dog on her plush, comfy bed. I can’t think of a more joyous way to begin the year.

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