The Learning Curve

by Houndstooth on

I mentioned that last week Bunny, Flattery and I had an impromptu visit to the dog park.  I used to frequent dog parks with our dogs a lot more often, but I’m a bit more cautious these days.  I don’t want to put any of our dogs in a dangerous situation, either for them or for other dogs.  If we go by one of our favorite dog parks and a lot of little dogs are in the big dog side, I will often pass on by.  The same is true if I don’t like the looks or energy of some of the dogs already in the park.  At our favorite dog park, there was a man with a certain dog that everyone knew was trouble.  If he showed up, the park would clear out in a matter of minutes.

I consider myself pretty savvy about gauging the lay of the dog park land.  The other day, we couldn’t resist the lure of playing with other Greyhounds.  There were a couple of smaller dogs in the big dog side of the park, though, so I decided that I’d keep Flattery on a leash for a little while and see how she did.  She now recognizes small dogs as dogs and hasn’t been overly interested in them for a long time, but I wanted to be sure there would be no problems.  There wasn’t a huge group of dogs there.  Two Rotties were havin g fun playing together, enjoying some mild-mannered bitey face.  The Greyhounds were milling around together, sniffing the grass around the perimeter.  There was also a little white Boxer or Boxer mix and a small long-haired Chihuahua.

The Dog Park Rumblers -- Tales and Tails

The Dog Park Rumblers

This Chihuahua was not a particularly well-socialized creature and she would not leave the Boxer alone.  The Boxer gave her plenty of chances, but the learning curve for this Chihuahua was pretty flat.  The Boxer tried walking away, and was trying to socialize with a couple of other dogs close to her size.  The Chihuahua would not relent. She followed after barking her head off and nipping at the Boxer’s heels.  The Boxer’s owners tried to subtly diffuse the situation by calling her over to them.  Sadly, the Chihuahua’s owner was as clueless as she was.

Finally, something happened and I didn’t see exactly what precipitated it.  The Boxer had enough, though and pushed the Chihuahua away or something like that.  The next thing I knew, the Chihuahua was screaming her head off and the owner was running over to scoop her up and hold her like a baby.  Honest to Pete, she asked the dog, “Why do you have to do that?  Why do you have to play like that?”  Her reaction made it pretty clear that this was not the Chihuahua’s first misbehavior with other dogs.

When the Chihuahua started screaming and carrying on, I immediately looked around for Flattery, but she was oblivious.  Bunny, however, was drawn to the commotion and I decided it was time for us to go.  The other Greyhounds were getting ready to leave, too, so I thought that was another sign that it was time to make our exit.  I called to Bunny, who had already had a chance to show everyone there that she was the fastest dog in the park and she came over to me pretty willingly.  Then she decided she was going to follow the other group of Greyhounds out the door.  I convinced her to wait and started back across the park to get Flattery.  I’m not going to lie, when I called Flattery from across the dog park and she looked up at me with a smile before trotting right over to me, I wished I had a steak in my pocket to reward her with.  In any event, both of the girls had really enjoyed themselves and were more than ready to go to the car, get a good drink and head home to snooze on the couch.

Looks Like Fun -- Tales and Tails

Looks Like Fun

As we started back to the gate again, with both girls on leash and sauntering along with lolling tongues, the Chihuahua decided to engage the Boxer yet again.  This time, the Chihuahua was again picked up and babied while the woman scolded her in a sing song voice that didn’t sound like she meant a word she said, even if the dog could understand all the gibberish she was spouting.  This time she threatened the Chihuahua that they would leave if she didn’t play nice.

To my horror, she out the dog down yet again.  The warning bells were going off in my head.  Clearly, the woman had no idea when to call it a day or to use any shred of common sense and put her dog in the small dog side of the park.  For her part, the Boxer began to linger closer to her owners instead of sniffing around and trying to engage the other mid-sized dogs in the park.  I don’t think she was having much fun anymore at that point and I felt a little bad for her owners because I sensed they were trying to figure out a diplomatic way to leave, although tact wouldn’t have been my concern at that point.

Sure enough, as I was pouring water for Bunny and Flattery in the car, another skirmish broke out between the Boxer and the Chihuahua, and this time, the Boxer was letting the little dog know that she meant business.  There was a bit of barking followed by a lot of screaming, both by the Chihuahua and the owner.  The owners of the Boxer asked the woman if her dog was okay, and I think she told them that she thought so.  To my surprise, the woman grabbed another dog that I hadn’t realized was also hers, leashed it and carried the ill-mannered Chi out of the park in tears.  I could see her in her car, sitting there crying with the dog licking her face.

Even though my dogs had a good time at the dog park, the experience highlighted a lot of things for me.  The Chihuahua didn’t belong in the dog park and the woman got a lot of memos that it wasn’t a good idea.  She never truly intervened to stop the behavior, and she was reinforcing it by coddling the dog and fussing over it after each time it was checked for being rude.  I found myself really frustrated with both sides.  As a dog owner, you have to be your dog’s advocate and you have to make the decisions.  If the Boxer had hurt the Chihuahua, she would have been at risk for being labeled a dangerous dog, because, let’s face it, society doesn’t hold little dogs to the same behavior standards as bigger dogs.  Even though the Boxer wasn’t in the wrong, if it were my dog, we’d have left before the little dog could have provoked such a strong reaction.  My suspicion in watching the way things were playing out was that the Boxer’s owners weren’t used to having that kind of problem and were mainly suffering from indecision and uncertainty.  The Chihuahua’s owner was so incredibly clueless that I’m not sure anything anybody said would have made a difference.

This has been on my mind for several days and I guess this is my long-winded way of saying something simple.  Don’t be afraid to advocate for your dog.  If you sense that things are going wrong somewhere and your dog needs to cool off, take them out of that situation and don’t worry about other people looking at you funny.  Don’t assume that other dog owners will always act wisely or are in tune with their dogs.  Before anything else, you have to look out for that furry face at the other end of your leash, even if it means making a difficult or unpopular decision.

Getting My Sniff On -- Tales and Tails

Getting My Sniff On

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23 Responses to "The Learning Curve"
  1. Sue Dyer says:

    That Chi was so lucky.

    Hope the owners of the Boxer didn’t tell it off.

    Hope you have a good day. Sue, Polly & Honey

  2. SGilbert says:

    Very well said! I am not a fan of dog parks! Where we live there is only 1 park. It is for big and little dogs. I drive by and if the park is empty we will stop for Schooner and Skipper to run. First car that pulls up I am calling the dogs so we can leave. In walking I always cross over to the other side of the street/sidewalk when other dogs are coming our way. You never know how the dog coming is going to act. I would rather be safe than sorry!

  3. This is such a frustrating situation. The more I read about dog parks in the US, the more surprised I am that a) people continue to take their little dogs into the big dogs’ enclosure, and b), if something happens to the little dog, nobody (in the legal sense) seems ever to say ‘but it’s your fault, s/he wasn’t supposed to be in that side. If you ignore the rules, you suffer the consequences. Big dog side should be big dogs only, end of story. It should be a safe place to let big dogs who aren’t small-dog safe have a nice run. If someone chooses to take their little dog in, they should take responsibility for doing so and no legal penalty should be forthcoming for the big dog or his/her owner.

    I’m so tired of today’s attitude that we all have to bend over backwards for the least intelligent and the least responsible. And in this case, perfectly well-behaved dogs who might have certain special needs have paid with their lives. This is wrong.

  4. Missy Nergard says:

    Wonderful discussion – thank you for your patient and thoughtful observations. I hope this finds it way to the owners of the dogs…

  5. GeoFizz says:

    You know… that is a great example of why I don’t take my greys to the dog park. You’re right, little dogs aren’t held to the same standards as big dogs and poor behavior is not only tolerated, in many cases allowed.

    Also, I have trouble with little dogs being in the Big Dog side. My Jenny is small creature aggressive. I once had her kill a kitten in front of me before I could stop it… you know, stuffie with animatronics.

    Now… when we’re at the vet ( where there are a lot of dogs going in and out of all sizes ) I be sure to tell owners of small dogs that Jenny is small animal aggressive, that they just look too much like that bunny she used to chase at the track. Every single one of them has been very understanding and have retracted the leash on their dog. Of course, it’s also the first time they’ve seen a greyhound in the real, which helps I’ve found because greys are such a novelty.

    But back on point, until there is a way to have 3 areas: Big Dogs only, Big Dogs Little Dogs, Little Dogs only, I won’t be taking my greys to a dog park as it’s just too likely for trouble to come find us.

  6. Emma says:

    We go to dog parks several times a year, but we always go on a weekday when it is not busy and we go to the larger parks where people are mostly there to walk and we walk as well as play with each other, maybe meet another dog. We are there for a new place to be and to be off leash, not to interact with other dogs. The small ones where people just stand around waiting for dogs to play are the worst.

  7. sage says:

    This is why I don’t frequent smaller sized dog parks any more. There are often too many dogs in a small space and invariably something happens. And Sage is clearly uncomfortable. Too many people don’t know their dog, or are too busy looking at their cell phones to see when something is about to happen.

  8. Dory and the Mama says:

    What a wonderful post and great!!

    Having a small dog (Arty)…who thinks he is a big dog, I stay away from dog parks (not that we have many in our area anyway)…and do the “Arty Scoop” if we ever run into a situation where there could be a confrontation with a big dog.

  9. Teh Megan says:

    Small dogs in the big dog section…. yeah.. Phil has definitely made a bad day for a family because their 2 toy puppies (no idea what breed they were) were in the big dog side. I didn’t notice at first and by the time I did, it was too late. My Pod wanted to play, and then the Roomie’s grey was interested and then Phil thought it was a group hunt and took it to the next level and there was nothing I could do (despite my attempts to pry his jaws apart and hitting/kicking him) to get him to release the puppy.

    The family took off with their dogs (I am 99% sure the one that Phil thought was a toy didn’t make it) and I will feel bad about that forever. They didn’t speak English and they didn’t stop when they left the dog park. I just kept apologizing.

  10. Learning to advocate for your dog is one of the hardest and most important things for any dog person. I hope the Boxer’s people feel more confident standing up for her/him in the future.

    But I’m glad you had such excellent success with Flattery. You should be so proud of her.

  11. jan says:

    As a small dog owner, i am often embarrassed by the behavior of small dog owners, especially Chihuahuas. They give the whole breed a bad reputation.

  12. Wilma Beverly Moore says:

    One reason I no longer frequent dog parks. It’s not the dogs, but the people in charge of them.

  13. This is my BIGGEST frustration with people who own tiny dogs and you are exactly right. They are not held to the standards that other dogs are. My dogs are not big by any means, they are both right around 30lbs but I work with them every day and they are expected to behave. I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve been attacked by smaller dogs and their owners think it’s funny. 🙁

  14. Very well said, Ms. Houndstooth!

  15. Good observations…I’m SO glad that you didn’t end with injured dogs! I’ve been around poorly behaved dogs, both large and small and their owners are as bad as they are as you told in your post!

  16. genjiscorner says:

    People who don’t have a clue as how to handle their dogs in social situations, make it a tense situation for all involved. I’m like you, if I don’t feel good about the situation, I will gather up the kids and leave before something unwanted happens.

  17. Cathy C Bennett says:

    Everything is not for everybody! That includes dogs in dog parks.

  18. Sounds so very very familiar. With Shyla, I’ve stopped going to dog parks altogether. Her meek personality seems to bring out the bullies. I am glad that you could read the dogs’ feelings so well and get out of there in time.

  19. I’ve never taken my dogs to the dog park, because I’m afraid of a bad situation erupting. If it is close quarters in the vet’s waiting room, I’ll pick Nelly up. It isn’t about the other dogs, it is about not taking unnecessary chances. She’s fine around most dogs, but if I get a the slightest negative vibe, I don’t hesitate to pick her up or move far away.

  20. Anne Beaumont says:

    What a sensible post. Thank you. Too often large dogs are blamed for small dogs (& their owners’) misdemeanors!
    Here in Victoria/Australia we don’t have the division of small/other size dogs in ‘off-leash’ areas. Either your dog is on a leash or off-leash in an designated area. We live near the sea and are lucky enough not to have had any problems – yet – although I have had friends who have changed where they let their dogs off leash because of irresponsible owners.

  21. Denise Lazenby says:

    I do wish owners had to undergo some basic training before they were allowed to licence a dog. Over indulgent twits who think of their pet as an accessory are nothing but a darn nuisance. Every dog small or large needs to have good manners. (rant over)

  22. Great Post! Everything your saying is so true! I once was an unaware dog
    mom but since I’ve started blogging and learned more and more about dog
    behavior and socialization, I am able to pick up on those negative
    vibes or signs. I also visit the dog park less frequently for those same
    reasons. If we go we will do when there isn’t a big crowd. The tiny dog
    ignorance really bothers be! And your right, when people try yo say
    something to a dog owner about their dog they either get really
    defensive or just completely ignore what you have said.

  23. MelF says:

    Gah! That kind of irresponsible dog ownership drives me crazy. Great message on advocating for your dog. I think it is a shame that the Boxer’s owners were made to feel like their dog was the aggressor when it was clearly the Chi. I have actually spoken with people like the Chi’s owner before. Sometimes they just need someone to tell them it’s okay NOT to go to the dog park with their unsocialized dog.

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