Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fun and rough play at the dog park


IF YOU'RE GOING TO take your dog to a dog park — and you might — you need to know some of the proper etiquette. These don't fall under rules and regulations; it just works.

The first two times Lady went to the park, she didn't get along. Each time, a dominant male stood over her — apparently a no-no in doggiedom — and, each time, Lady snapped at him. One woman asked, "Has your dog ever been socialized?"

Yes, she had. She'd just never been in a situation like that before.

When many dogs first go to the dog park, they spend a day or two sniffing the perimeter and staying away from people and other dogs. They're scoping out the territory. Lady did that. Other dogs jump into greeting humans and playing with other dogs.

Lady quickly figured out how to handle herself. She visits nearly every human she encounters, except for the occasional child who runs up to her to pet her; then, she runs. People she knows get a lick on the chin.

You'll quickly realize that dog owners will know the names of 30 or 40 dogs, but few people know each other's names.

ADULTS BREAK THE RULES now and then, bringing a child to the park who's under 12 years old. They assume their child's safe, not realizing that racing dogs sometimes knock adults down. They don't realize what they could do to a child. An older woman once suffered a broken leg, and an ambulance was brought in the park to retrieve her.

Other humans realize that bringing water in the winter and towels are a good idea. Occasionally, a towel is used to wipe up blood when an ear is bitten.

Of course there are humans who haven't learned proper dog-park etiquette. Once, a woman kept saying that her dog was NOT a pit bull. "It's an American Staffordshire terrier," she'd say firmly. "Looks like a pit bull," others would reply.  One day, Lady and her owner arrived at the park with two police cars out front. Two women were talking to a pair of policemen, who were keeping the women apart. Their dogs, including the non-pit bull, were looking out of car windows as their mistresses pleaded their cases to the police.

Apparently, the woman with the American Staffordshire terrier never showed up again.

Sunday, a white dog growled at Lady and jumped at her, trying to bite her on the face. Trying to keep her standing as a lady, she turned to the side and let her massive scruff protect her from being bitten. A woman grabbed her dog, admonished it and sheepishly apologized. Lady trotted off, looking for adventure.

Occasionally, she'll encounter a dog she can't handle, of course. Usually, it's two or three times her 54 pounds or so of bone, muscle and fur. Once, a white husky jumped Lady and dominated her for several minutes as I tried futilely to get him off. After what seemed like forever, a couple calmly stepped forward, grabbed their huffy husky and left the park. No apologies, how-do-you-dos or by-your-leaves. Good riddance.

Another time, she was trying to play with a big airedale named Pinot, but he was too large and too young for her. She got rolled maybe 20 times before someone got the playful Pinot away.

Other times, she's mastered the situation. One day, a young, white pit bull — or perhaps it was an American... well, you know — was bullying dogs at the park. No owner offered  to help, which is, of course, a breach of dog-park etiquette. Lady ran into the park, and the youngster immediately jumped her. Within two seconds, the white dog was on its back, and Lady had him by the throat. She didn't apply pressure; she seemed to want to let him know that he'd done a no-no.

The owner hurried to save her precious pup. They left in a huff.

Never did figure out how she got the dog — dare we say pit bull? — on his back so easily. Maybe she knows doggie kung fu — would it be kung poo?

Another time, Lady didn't use anything fancy. A big dog curled his lip, snarled and jumped her. She used her copious fur to protect herself for maybe 15 seconds before she found the perfect method of protecting herself. She bit the bully in the crotch. She didn't bite hard, but he squealed and took off toward the other corner of the five-acre field. The only thing that stopped his flight was the corner of the fence, and he ran in circles, still squealing, as his owner raced to get him.

Most of the time, disputes end peaceably. Once, a tiny black dog was on the big-dog side and was railing at Lady. She patiently waited a few seconds, reached out and licked the pushy pup on the nose. It ceased its growling, looking stunned. Another time, a tiny dog was barking, growling and making a general nuisance of himself as Ajax, a giant mastiff, towered above. After a few beats, Ajax  turned his head down and dumped a big ball of drool on the fuzzball's head. Yuck. Fortunately, about four nearby dog owners had towels, and all stepped forward.

Most dogs get along, of course. Lady likes to romp with Ajax, who weighs nearly four times as much as she does. Marcus is a favorite playmate, as is a beautiful husky with unmatched eyes.

The most beloved dog at the park may be Major, an old-but-wily golden retriever who has sorted out his priorities. He loves people and collecting toys, not necessarily in that order. When other dogs want to play, he'll ignore them and look for other sport. Often, someone will throw a ball, and four dogs will pursue it. Old Major, with a bad hip and a hitch in his giddyup, will flail along behind them, and, more often than not, he'll come back with the ball.

Apparently he knows kung poo, too.

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