Last weekend, we brought Mochi to the dog park. He’s only been to the park a handful of times since we adopted him. His first experience was not a happy one. He was maybe six months old at the time, still unneutered. So, much to our surprise (but not to any other owner there that day), he was on every dog’s hit list!
A Day In The Park
A few things combined to make that day a living hell for our pup. One, he was the new dog in the park. Most, if not all of the dogs that were there already knew each other, had already interacted with one another at one point or another. No one knew Mochi. So, everyone and his uncle wanted a piece of the new guy.
Second, for Mochi himself, this was his first real experience with a whole bunch of unleashed animals all excited to meet him. In some cases, one or two wanted to assert their dominance over him. But the third reason, according to one owner, was the fact that he was not yet “fixed.” and that seems to excite the other dogs even more. Don’t ask me why, but according to that elder gentleman, that was why every other dog there wanted to dominate him.
Needless to say, we did not last long in the park that day.
Our next trip to the same park came about five months later, when Mochi was almost one. And he still had not been neutered. We were debating about whether to have it done or not. I personally felt bad for him. But, after an almost similar experience as the last time he was there (just about every dog wanted a piece of him), we had him fixed just short of his first birthday. So, we figured, after a few weeks, his next trip to the dog park should not be so traumatic.
Fast Forward To Last Weekend
Last weekend’s trip to the dog park was not Mochi’s first after he had his operation. He’s been there a couple of times before this last trip. Now, being a Labrador, we found that this breed was naturally friendly, and energetic. And if they are as untrained, or maybe I should say under-trained, as Mochi was, problems will arise. Couple that with the fact that he is, really, still a puppy, immature, impatient, distractible, and his human (us), were similarly untrained in how to handle a dog of his breed, then trouble did, in fact, ensue.
Apparently, labs are known as very playful, sometimes overly playful, dogs. When he’s in the park, he will run after, and loved to be chased, by other dogs. And sometimes, some rough housing can occur, where two or more dogs would get into a tussle, barking and playfully biting at each other. And Mochi was no different. But he was one of the larger dogs, in a park full of dogs of all sizes, weights, ages, and dispositions. Other, much older dogs, knew when not to participate in a brewing melee. He had no such brakes. And was beginning to develop a reputation as an instigator, a very rough animal. This is when the owners’ attitudes and dispositions reveal themselves.
Dog Owner Type
Those of you who have been to dog parks can spot the different types of owners. Most are laid back, veterans, there for their dogs, not the other way around. These mostly leave their pets alone for however long they plan to be at the park. Most of the time, you will see them congregating in one corner of the enclosure, coffee or drinks in hand, talking with other owners, many, already good acquaintances.
Then there are the loners. They bring their pets in, let them lose, sit to one corner and read a book, listen to music, or go on their social media, or be on their phone for almost the entire time of their stay. Barring any real pet riot, these owners won’t even look at their pet until it’s time to leave.
There are the teachers. Those owners who dispense wisdom to other, less experienced owners, regaling the throng with their years of experience, adventures, and advice on what to do, and not to do, with their pets. To me, these are the most interesting kinds of owners. Because often, you do pick up nuggets of wisdom in all the stories they tell. And they are generally very generous with their advice, genuinely eager to share the knowledge they have attained through years of pet ownership.
Then there are the nervous wrecks.
These owners are constantly at their pets’ back, trailing them wherever they go, noticing every single unacceptable thing that’s happening in THEIR dog park. Because, of course, they’ve been going there forever, and they do feel some sort of stewardship of the place – “there’s too many people here today;” “there are far too many rough dogs;” “the field is too muddy;” “please watch your dog, he’s very rough with mine.” They’re not that hard to miss.
More often than not, these are the owners that take offense to their pets being roughed up during a melee. Mind you, during these free-for-alls, no pet actually gets hurt to the point that blood is ever spilled, At least, not that I’ve ever witnessed. Most owners break them up, with no preference for their own pets, and let everyone, dogs and people alike, go back to what they were doing prior to the disturbance. The experienced owners even tell those owners of either the instigator dogs, or the ones being chased, that dogs will be dogs. The older dogs, they say, will teach the news ones their place, how to act and behave, and sooner or later, they will know the all important dog park etiquette and rules they need to follow while they’re in the park. Let them be. They’ll figure it out.
Bedlam At The Dog Park
Last weekend, we had an encounter with one such owner. And quite frankly, I was disappointed because, rather than make the experience better for everyone, tensions instead, ran high. This owner was constantly following her dog, yelling at our dog when Mochi showed an unusually (for him) negative reaction to her dog. To be fair, both dogs did not seem to like each other, and their fights, while still bloodless, looked very scary indeed. But it did not help when one owner was yelling at the top of her voice at our dog, at us, and running after our dog when I believe her dog gave as much as he received from Mochi. And I’m not saying this because Mochi is my pet. I actually feel embarrassed every time it would look like he started any roughhousing. But that day, despite assurances from a few other owners that those rough behaviors, from any dog, is par for the course when you’re in any dog park, and that I shouldn’t be upset, I had had enough. I did not appreciate another owner castigating my pet, and I was equally disappointed at Mochi for acting the way he did. I took my pet, my family, and walked out of that park.
So what lesson did we take away from this?
Well, first off, that there are, indeed, different sorts of owners, just as there are different sorts of pets. And you need to make allowances for both. And while there are rules governing behavior while inside these parks, one cannot account for the attitudes of some owners. Us, included. I did not have to take my dog out of the park. Mochi and I had as much right to be in that park as anyone. And despite his sometimes unruly behavior, he certainly was not the only guilty animal around. There’s always a rowdy dog. There’s always the timid pooch. And there will always be owners who can’t handle that fact. That day, rather than insist on what I felt was my, and my dog’s right, I opted to de-escalate, and be the ones to leave. Some may disagree, My wife certainly did.
Another lesson I took away from this experience is the fact that dogs, when playing, need to play with dogs of at least similar height, weight, and disposition, as your dog. I read that from Barron’s Dog Bibles – Labrador Retrievers. Which makes most dog parks inherently unacceptable. You see, while there are parks that have separate enclosures for small dogs and bigger dogs (this particular park did), there will always be those dogs who are just big enough to be disqualified from the enclosure for small dogs, but still small enough to always be the underdogs in the bigger dogs’ enclosure. As such, these parks violate that rule that suggests that pets of the same or similar size should be the ones playing together.
I also realized that perhaps larger dog parks (such as the one we frequented), is not really ideal. Too many dogs in one space, is never ideal. Not for the dogs, certainly not for some owners. Too many dogs lead to too much confusion for dogs who are trying to play.with one group, only to be interrupted by another group.
And ultimately, I now know that before exposing your pets to such a chaotic environment, a modicum of training is required to prepare your dog to socialize with other dogs, and other humans.