Friday, November 21, 2008

Dog Park RoolZ and RegoolashunZ

While I am at camp, I thought I would have Momma do a post about polite rules for the dog park because my BrrMont dog park may be opening up soon (!!!!) and because she and some of her friends (both real life and dogblog) have had some interesting WTF incidents lately.

Meanwhile I will work on some more haikuvasz as I contemplate the great outdoors here at camp.
The basic rules at any public NYC dog park: 

  • Dogs may not be left unattended.
  • The dog run is NOT a playground. Children under the age of 12 must be accompanied by an adult and should be closely supervised.
  • Entry and use of the dog run is at your own risk.
  • Skateboards, bicycles, scooters and strollers must be left outside the dog run.
  • Clean up after your dog. Animal waste must be promptly removed and properly disposed of.
  • Dogs must be licensed and have all shots and tags.
  • Not Permitted
    --Spike or Pinch Collars
    --Aggressive Dogs
    --Female dogs in heat
    --Food and glass bottles

The private runs in the city - where you pay an annual fee and provide proof of vaccinations and a dog license in exchange for a key to the run - are usually a little cleaner and well-maintained. The one we use, for example, has a little rain shelter, some tables, chairs and benches, more trees, and two hoses). They can sometimes be a little more restrictive, too - again, requiring proof of license and shots, though the public runs sometimes get spot-checked by NYC Parks people. 

But in both private and public runs, there are strange, STRANGE dog owners and dysfunctional, poorly socialized dogs. WTFs abound. Here are some additional unspoken rules/thoughts we wish people would keep in mind at the dog run: 

Monitor your dog's activity.
If you're reading the paper or talking on the phone, chances are you won't see your dog going poop (or eating poop, or stepping in poop) off on the other side of the run. You also won't see if your dog's being aggressive to another dog, jumping on people or getting pushed around by another dog. Rough play can quickly cross the line to aggression, and being a strong leader for your dog means being able to intervene immediately whether your dog is the victim or the aggressor. Also, if you have a dog who tends to run into people, you owe to the other dog owners to at least give a holler if your dog is careening into them from behind. No one likes being knocked over by a dog. 

Learn to read dog body language
Dogs have a huge range of vocal and non-vocal communication. I studied animal behavior in graduate school, so I love watching dogs at play and trying to figure out what they're saying to each other - but you don't need an advanced degree to follow basic dog body language. Before an incident the dogs are usually exchanging a series of escalating signals, and a lot of incidents could be avoided if the humans had noticed these signals earlier. Tail Talk is a great book that shows you what to look for in clear pictures of puppies and adults of many breeds. 

Socialize your dog / Let your dog socialize
If your dog has issues around people or other dogs, you might want to work up to the dog run slowly rather than dragging a fearful dog in. Walk him around the outside and let him see the dogs playing, and let him sniff a little first, if your dog is not comfortable going into the run. Or start by going when the run only has 1 or 2 other friendly dogs in it. By the same token, DON'T keep your dog leashed in the run (unless he's on a time out) and DON'T carry your dog in the run. Many dogs are more fearful when they're on a leash. If you carry a dog in over other dogs' heads, some of them perceive that as a dominant gesture, and they will jump up on you and the dog. 

Another pet peeve of mine is when dog owners come in and sit on a bench and make their dogs sit next to them or on their laps and don't let them play. Again, this seems to happen a lot with the little dogs, and it teaches little dogs to be afraid of bigger dogs. Let your dog meet, greet, sniff and play with dogs of all sizes - big dogs will learn to be careful where they put their paws, and little ones will learn how to play. Confident little pups know just how to let everyone know they're there!

Size isn't everything
See above - it drives me nuts when I come into the run and some wee dog owners pick up their little purse pooches and huffily walk out of the run. They never even give Biggie a chance to show how gentle he is with little dogs! Sometimes age and energy level are a better guide to how your dogs will get along, and sometimes some dogs just hit it off while others don't. And even so, sometimes some dogs will not get along the first time they meet, and then fall in love the second or third time. You can't always force it, and you can't always generalize by breed (unless your dog had a really bad experience with a particular breed the first time she met them). 

Dogs are not people
Repeat after me: Dogs are not people! They WILL smell each other's butts. And poop. And pee. They WILL hump each other. Not all humping is sexual or dominant, sometimes it's playing. Talking to your dog in a reproachful tone of voice or telling them they are supposed to "share" won't get you anywhere. Most of the time the dogs work out their issues on their own, sometimes after some snarling and posturing, but other times they don't. You can't force your dog to play nice with another dog she hates, though you sometimes can manage behavior so they can peacefully coexist in the run. We've even worked out a detente with R-----, the intact yellow lab. Biggie doesn't really like intact males, and had gone after R----- twice (no injuries, though some flying fur and loud crying by R-----), but once it became clear that R----- was not going to challenge Biggie for status,* everything worked out magically: thye sniff each other cordially and then play with their friends. They won't play with each other (yet), but they're comfortable enough to play while the other one is in the run. You can't impose your view of the dog hierarchy on the dogs themselves - and a dominant dog is not a bully (though there were times with R----- that I was embarrassed with Biggie) - usually once they work out who fits where, everybody is happier. More problems tend to happen when you have 2 or more dogs that think they are alpha. 

Sometimes dogs do things to each other that humans find appalling, like licking each other in unmentionable places. Try not to project a human sensibility onto it. If they're getting along and there's no health or safety risk, let them do what dogs do. Biggie got his head peed on when he was a puppy and following another male just a little too close. He's also come home with giant pawprints on his head from playing really rough. And Lexi, his boxer girlfriend, humps him ALL the time. She's the only one who gets away with it. And this, with his girlfriend Zola - if they were kids I'd have told him he was being too rough on her, but she didn't seem to mind at all (note that she's stepping on his foot, so it's not clear who's got the upper paw here):

*R-----'s mom dropped some treats on the ground by accident. R----- was about to go for them but Biggie just walked in, sniffed, and ate them all while R----- just stood there. That was actually the turning point. If R-----'s mom had been like "Those are R-----'s treats!" and picked them up and given them to R-----, it would have been a bad scene. But in this instance letting the dogs be dogs meant letting the dominant dog do what dominant dogs do.


Dannan and The Girl said...

This is another excellent post! I think I will take these additional rules and post them at every dog park in the city!

It boggles my mind to see how many people take their dogs to the dog park and ignore them the whole time they are there. First, it's irresponsible (and sometimes dangerous), but they are also losing out! I love to watch dogs interact, and they are just missing all that amazing communication!

I also agree that people should learn the basics of dog body language. Body Talk is a good little book. I wish that everyone who has or is getting a dog (and everyone who will ever come into contact with a dog!) had to watch a video about dog body language. Not only would people then begin to understand the wondrous world of dog interaction, but they would also have a better idea of what is appropriate and what is not.

The world would be a much better place if everybody followed these rules!

jan said...

I'm always amazed at how many otherwise intelligent people view dogs as being potentially furry little humans instead of the butt sniffing, poop eating happy little creatures that they are.

the 4 Bs said...

that's interesting about your dog runs in the city. where we live, we have public dog parks that are all free. they are fenced and vary in size - the one we love is an entire 44 acres. it's wonderful! and big enough for all the dogs to spread out, even though they tend to congregate in some places. our mom has some pet peeves too. some dog owners are so clueless!


Amber-Mae said...

Wow! I am SO impressed with you. You talk really good sense all the time! And that's great! There are so many things that my owners don't like too about other owners & dogs(not really the dog's fault though) but when you want to help give them advice or educate them in a very nice way, they either just nod their heads like, "yeah, yeah we know," or get really pissed off! You know, you can advice & advice & advice till your saliva runs out but still, nobody gives a damn! And that's just sad...

Butt wiggles,
Solid Gold Dancer

Lindsay said...

I think the thing that annoys me the most about people at the dog park is when they notice their dog doing something inappropriate like acting too aggressive, and they just let the dog continue.

I am also annoyed by the people who freak out if a dog play fights or does something like show its teeth with no intention of hurting another dog. The people who over react just make things worse.

Finally, there are the people who get really embarrassed if their dog humps another dog or gets humped and they are constantly scolding their dog for it. I know it's not a pretty sight, but you'd think they'd be used to seeing this by now.

Mango said...

Thanks, Biggie Momma.

There was a puppy in Dexter's puppy class that was fixated on Dexter's privates. Fortunately, his parents were as understanding as momma that they were just being dogs (they even called him Dexter's butt buddy). Some of the other puppy owners were all freaking out, but, hey, we're dogs, right?


with love, Madison said...

We love this post! You know that H-Mom was a dedicated dog park visitor with Booker, and now she goes every morning with Madison. She is so proud that Madison is "getting it" ... she is learning to leave another dog's toy (snatching a tennis ball might be funny, especially if you are a puppy and very quick, but it tends to ruffle feathers both canine and human) ... she is refraining from jumping all four paws onto the top of any smaller dog ... and H-Mom is teaching her to resist the temptations of the "WTF+dog mosh pit" which, as you can guess, is a group of 12 or more WTFs drinking Starbucks and sending text messages while the dogs congregate right be the gate in a crazed, butt-sniffing-we-only-get-out-once-a-week mosh pit.

Saint Lover said...

Oh how I wish more people would pay attention to their dogs when at the dog park. Its a DOG park for goodness sakes, not a pick up bar or library. Why even have a dog if you wont interact with it?

I love our new park. There have been very few incidents there and the park is all about interacting and walking the trails with the dogs. They love it and are so happy there. But for me its all about them - I walk with them, talk to them, throw the ball and monitor everything they do. AND I pick up their poo... Dog poo everywhere is disgusting.

You are lucky you have a private run to go to there... the city ones are just gross sometimes.

You are going to have to get together with that saint in your neighborhood and post some pictures. I am dieing to see what he/she looks like. :)

Niamh said...

Hi Biggie Z,

I so agree with your dog park rules. I posted about my pet peeves at the dog park a couple of weeks ago. If the people would pay attention to their dogs, things would go much better.

Your friend,

Kari said...

I've got the same set of gripes when we visit the dog park - and often just don't go for those reasons, which just isn't fair. And I totally agree that people need to just realize that dogs are dogs and will do things that we might think are inappropriate or gross. Few things are more annoying than the overbearing owner who hovers over their pup the whole time! Marty, however, has a recurring issue when we go to the park... there is one dog who must be one a similar schedule to us, because he is often there as well. This large, intact male lab humps Marty CONSTANTLY when we are there, to the point where he can't go play with other dogs even if he tries! It got to the point where I was breaking it up every few minutes because my dog was clearly distressed (growling, crying, but just not assertive enough to stand his ground effectively). And still the owners did nothing! Do you talk to owners when their dogs are out of line? What does one say (I'm sure they were probably embarrassed too!)??