Dog Park Drama

Last weekend I had a chance to hang with the homies, Ollie and Abby. That photo of Abby, conveniently enough, features Star (full name: Starzilla Wongsby), who is the other star of our tale. Saturday was a glorious day of celebration of Ollie’s birth (tres topical for the blog) and Sunday we lazed around the house with them.

However, the week had been very rainy, and Star is a dog who does not like to get wet, so she had been cooped up for a long time. The lazy hoo-mans needed to take her out. What better way to make up for a dearth in exercise than a trip to the dog park? So, off we went, we travelers five. Exeunt all.

As soon as we got to the dog park, drama was afoot. All the various gates for entry and exit were all jacked up. Typically, there is a two stage exit process, like you’re dealing with mental patients (considering the behavior of your typical canine, it’s about right). Actually, more apt, it’s like an airlock. You enter in, and close the gate to the outside world. Then you make sure everything is cool, and then open the internal gate to Dog World. However, today the outer gate was unable to be closed, as it was locked in place in an open position. Tricky.

The dogs were out in force. I’ve been to this park with Ollie and/or Abby several times and there was easily about five times as many dogs as I’ve ever seen there. It would seem everyone had the same idea we had. The dogs were of all shapes and sizes, which was another sign of trouble. Typically smaller dogs are in a secondary area, separate entirely from the big dogs. But that area was locked for some reason. So… co-mingling.

Things got off to a rocky start right away. As we approach the internal gate with Star, dogs inside are starting to lose their minds already. NEW FRIEND NEW FRIEND NEW FRIEND NEW FRIEND. They’re pacing and sniffing and being generally dog. Owners notice that we’re trying to come in and their dogs are in the way so they come over and guide them away, but this is a tricky process and not all dogs are tended to, so some remain roamers. I’m running interference and trying to block dogs from getting out, since the secondary gate preventing them from escaping can’t be closed. Things are going great until a woman behind us decides that an awesome plan, when we hand her the gate so she can guide her dog in behind us and then close it, is to throw the gate wide open. This has the effect of bursting a dam on the dogs who have been clamoring to get out. There are escapees who, after much frantic running of owners, are rounded up and brought back for playtime.

So, we’ve been there about 3 minutes and I’m already stressed. I don’t get better.

I love to watch dogs and be around (most) dogs, don’t get me wrong. I like to see the different breeds and watch the funny things they do and see how they react to people. It’s when they’re around other dogs that I get nervous. Dogs are very social animals. They love to play and sniff and test boundaries. They do inappropriate things and make noise and drool and sometimes poop. They’re basically kids.

This realization dawned on me more and more as I watched the dogs and got increasingly tense. Dogs would start out being playful and degrade into animals about to engage in very real Discovery Channel style throw-downs, with negligent owners jumping in at the last minute to sort things out. People would watch their dogs doing things that were threatening and scary and clearing being interpreted as such by other dogs and then comment to each other about how “that’s how Huskies play. And everyone’s just freaking out about it, but they don’t get that it’s just how they play,” as if of course everyone should just understand that baring teeth and biting at your face is cute. There’s more humping to try and show dominance in the dog world than in the kid world (thank god), but really all that is is Kid B doing something Kid C doesn’t like until Kid C finally snaps.

I couldn’t handle the chaos in the park. I quite literally spent every moment primed to jump and save some poor dog that was being abused and wondering out loud at how it could be that dog owners could be so clueless about how to control their pets. Things came to a head when a man showed up with his pitbull puppy for her first time at the dog park. This was a very young and thoroughly adorable little dog who was super excited to see all the other dogs. She hasn’t been inside for more than 30 seconds when an older, mid-size white dog comes up, sniffs the puppy, decides it doesn’t like something and goes immediately for its throat. What followed was a fairly epic fracas, as far as dog park drama goes. Neck scruffs were grabbed, dogs were bodily thrown through the air, and commands to control each others dogs were yelled.


I turned to Janelle. “I’m going to need to work on this.”

“What do you mean?”

“All of this. This is just like with kids. I’m going to be at a park, with kids running everywhere, holding my breath going ‘Ooooooooooooh’.”

It’s going to be tough for me to realize, but just as dogs will be dogs (the pit bull puppy was as totally unaffected by a pair of really pretty brutal attacks from something it expected to be a friend as I have ever seen a creature be), kids will be kids. I’m going to need to learn to handle a bit more chaos and a bit more behavior that I would define, for myself, as unacceptable. Rather than looking over at another parent and giving them the evil eye, I should be shrugging my shoulders and giving a shared eye roll. Otherwise, each trip to a park is going to be like ticking days off my lifespan. Not all children will get along, and not all parents will do a great job. I can’t be bothered to feel responsible for how they behave and I can’t project my notions for behavior all over the interactions of children who are entirely independent little creatures from me.

It’s a tricky proposition, though, and I’m already catching a flavor of the greatest conundrum of parenting. How am I supposed to care so much and be so careful one day… and then sit idly by the next?

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  1. #1 by Badmoodman on January 29, 2010 - 12:17 PM

    “How am I supposed to care so much and be so careful one day… and then sit idly by the next?”

    – – Some things you suspect, some things you guess at and some things you just know. These are MY words of wisdom for you, kiddo.

  2. #2 by Oliver Grigsby on January 29, 2010 - 6:34 PM

    It’s perhaps worth noting that my first several trips to the dog park were similarly fraught with stress and anxiety until eventually I got used to what was normal behavior and what was not. I also know MY dog well and have a pretty good handle on what her tolerance levels are like.

    My guess (and it’s obviously only a guess) is that things will go similarly with kids. You’ll learn what their tolerance levels are, when roughhousing is about to turn into real fighting etc.

    It’s also worth noting that that particular day at the dog park was pretty out of control and abnormal. It was pretty stressful for me too. I’m guessing there’ll be times like that as a parent too.

  3. #3 by Abby on February 2, 2010 - 3:46 PM

    I love this post! And I totally agree with Ollie- that day at the dog park was atypically stressful. And it certainly didn’t help that the genius that walked in behind us totally disregarded basic dog park rules by basically inviting everyone to make a run for it- that kind of started the whole experience out wrong. I was extremely stressed out that day so it makes sense that you and Janelle, who do not spend a ton of time in dog parks, were understandably stressed. Plus, you have a very well-developed sense of concern for others (some people lack that completely) so it makes sense that you were on the lookout for problems.

    I am sure that you will feel more comfortable when your child is in playgroups than you felt at the dog park that day. By then you will have spend lots of time with your child and will know all of his/her cues and warning signs. You will know exactly when to swoop in and remove him/her from the situation, or when to let things play out so that s/he can learn a valuable lesson in problem solving. And if you don’t know the situation is somewhere inbetween those two extremes, you will make a judgment call, and I know it will be a good one. 🙂

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