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.
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.
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.