Friday, November 30, 2012

The Dog Park Police

I had to go into the office an hour early yesterday, so I was able to leave an hour earlier than usual and take Margot to the dog park while it was still sunny outside.  Yay!  The poor little thing was feeling rather pent up from not being able to go to the dog park for two whole days.  I decided we would walk to the dog park rather than drive because I’m trying to burn some calories these days.  I took the long way around the perimeter of Ritter Park, which is a route Margot isn’t familiar with, so she mostly kept her head down, sniffing at the ground as we walked.  As soon as we started up the hill beside the tennis courts, though, which Margot has walked several times on our way up to the dog park, it was obvious that she knew were we were headed.  She would actually turn around and look at me periodically with this funny little open-mouth smile that she does when she gets really excited, as if to say, “Do you mean it?  Are we really going to the dog park?!?”  She even picked up her pace and started letting out excited little yelps as soon as the dog park came into view.  I couldn’t help but grin.  I just love how much she loves that place.

As much as Margot and I love going to the dog park, though, I’d like to take a minute to vent about a trend that I’ve been noticing lately that bothers me.  It seems that some dog owners have been taking it upon themselves to act as the Dog Park Police whenever they come to the dog park, and it isn’t just one certain dog owner who always acts like an expert on dog behavior and training, either (although, I will admit that Dog Park Police is the nickname I have given one particular dog park patron).   I have witnessed a few incidents when certain owners have scolded or physically handled other people’s dogs or had words with other dog owners about their dog’s behavior.   

Now, in the Dog Park Police’s defense, I will say that there are some people who bring their poorly behaved and/or aggressive dogs into the dog park who do not always step in to control their dog’s behavior when necessary, and I believe that those people deserve to be scolded, especially if their dog hurts another dog or person.   I don’t have a problem with that.  What bothers me is when the Dog Park Police monitor all of the dogs, including the dogs that aren’t theirs, make comments about how each dog is behaving, and then take it upon themselves to step in whenever they feel that “a problem” MIGHT be developing, or if they simply do not like a certain dog’s behavior. 

Here is a prime example for you:  A few weeks ago, Justin and I were at the dog park, sitting at the top of the hill.  A couple was sitting on the bench close to us, watching their Australian Sheppard mix play with a group of dogs at the bottom of the hill.   A couple of Dog Park Policemen were also standing at the bottom of the hill watching the dogs play.  The Aussie mix was barking a lot at a Great Dane, to the point that her owners started calling her name from the top of the hill and telling her to settle down.   Mind you, the dog wasn’t being aggressive in any way;  she was merely barking and running around the Great Dane.  After a few minutes, we heard the Dog Park Police call this couple’s Aussie mix by name, telling her to calm down. 

When the dog continued to bark, one of the policemen actually took this couple’s dog by the collar and started walking her up the hill toward her owners, saying something like, “Your dog seems to be having some trouble.”   

The owners, who were obviously offended, replied, “Could you please let go of our dog?”

From the bottom of the hill, one of the other policemen yelled, “She’s giving the Great Dane some trouble,” and the policeman who had taken the Aussie mix by the collar added, “She keeps barking in my ear.”   (Note:  the Great Dane did not even belong to these policemen.)

The male owner of the Aussie mix replied, “She’s a herding breed.  She thinks the Great Dane is a horse.  She’s doing what she’s supposed to do.”

At that point, the one policeman let go of the Aussie’s collar and re-joined her fellow policeman at the bottom of the hill, but a minute later her partner yelled up to the owners, “It’s not the barking that concerned us.  It was the growling.” 

The female owner then repeated, “She’s a herding dog.  She is not aggressive.” 

The whole incident was, of course, witnessed by everyone else who happened to be at the dog park that day, and the tension became palpable after that exchange.   You could hear the other dog owners whispering about whom they felt was “right” in the situation, and the offended owners of the Aussie mix even made sarcastic comments about their dog’s “aggressive behavior” the rest of the time they were there.  It was just extremely uncomfortable and ruined what could have been a very pleasant afternoon watching Margot play with her dog park buddies. 

Another example:  Just this week, I watched as an aggressive dog made it difficult for one owner and her dog to even enter the gate of the dog park, and then proceeded to harass several other dogs by growling, humping, and barking.  The owner of the aggressive dog did nothing to control her dog’s behavior, but finally decided to leave when it became clear that the other dog owners were getting upset.   She put her dog on his leash, left the fenced-in dog park, and was walking down the street towards home when one of the offended owners decided to yell after her, “Way to watch your dog!  Yeah, that’s some great dog handling there!” 

Now, as I mentioned above, I have no problem with someone scolding another dog owner for not controlling their dog’s aggressive behavior.   The problem I had in this particular situation was the fact that this guy chose to wait until the owner of the aggressive dog was practically out of earshot before passive-aggressively yelling at her.  It was extremely immature and, once again, made everyone a little uncomfortable.   

Those are just a couple of several examples I could give, but I think you get the picture.  It’s just such a same that certain dog owners have managed to ruin what could be fun dog park experiences for me and possibly others.   Now, even if the owners aren’t fighting with each other, I’m still uncomfortable listening to the Dog Park Police analyze everyone else’s dogs’ behavior, as if they think they’re Cesar Milan. 

“Oh, that wasn’t an ‘I’m playing’ growl; that was an ‘I mean business’ growl.  We should probably take the stick away from that dog before he causes trouble.” 

Yesterday, the Dog Park Police decided that Margot was starting to upset a smaller dog she had been playing with because they felt she was playing a little too rough with the smaller dog.  Even though the smaller dog never showed any indication of becoming upset with Margot, and the dog’s actual owner had assured me that Margot was not playing too rough when I asked her earlier if it was okay, I decided to just bite my tongue and move Margot to another area anyway, mostly to get her away from the Dog Park Police.   Thankfully, they never really say too much about Margot’s behavior, or else I would probably turn into one of those crazy, screaming, offended dog park owners, too.   In a heartbeat.

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