By Los Alamos resident, seasoned dog owner and park frequenter, veteran
After recent events at a popular gathering area for dogs and their owners here in Los Alamos, which resulted in two women who did not understand the dynamic of public dog socializing areas to leave the park angrily and a friendly puppy nearly harmed in the process, it was made apparent that insight on the subject was needed.
This situation was such a shame as well informed owners and their dogs can have a great time together at local parks.
In order to prevent future recurrences, here are a few general thoughts (several of them regarding recent events) about public dog socializing areas for anyone to consider before they:
- Bring food or treats. Training in a new environment is a great tool to reinforce commands but if other dogs are around, don’t be upset (or surprised) when you are relentlessly swarmed.
- Bring toys. Expect the toy to be drooled on, chewed up, stolen, or destroyed by other dogs. It may also result in the start of a fight between dogs. If you want only your dog to play with the toy, consider moving on to a vacant park or leaving it at home.
- Bring children. Even adults become injured in the wake of healthy dogs’ play.
- Keep their dog leashed when others are running off leash. This will make the leashed dog territorial, limit his exercise and play ability with other dogs, and will increase the likelihood of entangling and injuring the owner. The whole point of having a fenced-in area is to allow your dog to exercise and interact freely with other dogs in a safe space. If a peaceful leashed walk is what is desired without dealing with the interaction of other dogs, this town offers miles of sidewalks and unlimited trails to enjoy with your dog on your own.
- Become hysterical and scream at another dog’s owner while walking away. This lets the recipient know right away they are dealing with an unstable person. A hostile offensive move immediately elicits a hostile defensive one and will end communication on the spot as well as any possibility of resolution. If a behavior of a dog or owner upsets you; stay calm, walk over to the intended, and gently describe your grievance and offer a solution. This is a communication must in all walks of life if you want to get something done.
- Kick someone else’s dog, especially if you are unable to recognize the difference between healthy curiosity and natural play from injurious behavior. This comparable to hitting someone else’s child in front of them and just as intolerable. Cut to Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side. It is also a good way to get yourself bit by the dog (or his owner). Dogs are attracted to each other like magnets. Greeting, sniffing, and enticing play are all normal behaviors. Growling, snapping, or biting are signs that the offending dog should be promptly removed from the park. It is easy for new dog owners to guard their pup as they would an infant and overreact to the actions of normal play. Consider separating yourself from the situation by leaving the fenced area and observing the other dogs at play to better evaluate what is or is not normal. Chasing, wrestling, and tumbling are of the stuff dogs delight in and you will see them running back for more. In the event of a dog fight, physically intervening usually results in injuries to both the dogs and the intervener, creating a distraction has been recommended as the best way to disrupt a fight between dogs. Ask your local trainer about techniques to stop a dog fight.
- Bring a fearful, skittish, or very young dog to the park. Stable dogs do not react well to dogs or owners who are not. Talk to your vet or trainer about the best way to begin socializing your timid or young dog. If your dog is quite small or fragile, East Park offers the luxury of having a divided dog park where smaller dogs can play with smaller dogs and larger dogs with each other as well.
- Dole out criticism or unsolicited advice to someone on how to raise or handle their dog. This is usually as welcome as telling someone how to raise their child.
- Assume an owner did not pick up after their dog on purpose. Guess what, while you were complaining to me about an irresponsible owner, your dog later pooped when your head was turned. Gently make the owner aware. Or bring extra bags and pick it up yourself (gasp). I do this all the time when I am walking around the park while my dogs are playing, I figure it makes up for rare times when I missed it. Let’s all try to support each other.
- Start yelling at a stranger. You might just be yelling at the person who spent a good portion of her life defending your freedom to yell at her.
If ever in doubt, ask! Ask an owner if their dog is friendly, let the dogs sniff each other though the fence and observe for wagging tails or growling and raised fur. In an unofficial dog area, consider a first come, first serve situation. If you were the “first comer” whose dog/s may not play well with others and have been there thirty minutes or more, offer to wrap up your dog’s play in the next five minutes and allow the next owner their turn. If a crowd is present, majority usually rules. It is hard to turn down a reasonable request and most dog owners are very friendly (when they are not being verbally attacked) and will go out of their way to help you introduce your dog to a social way of life.
And yes, this contemplation was catalyzed by two older women’s blown out of proportion misinterpretations of an enthusiastic friendly puppy running over to greet them and their leashed dogs.