While driving the dog to the Dog Park, I began listening to the audio CD of “Inside of a Dog,” by Alexandra Horowitz. It is subtitled “What dogs See, Smell and Know,” and her research began when she took her dog to a dog park and observed the behavior of humans and dogs. I decided to follow in her footsteps and thus the return to the dog park.
She wrote that, when a dog licks your face, it is not actually showing great love. Instead, it is imitating puppy behavior. When a pup likes his mother’s snout after she has returned from a hunt, this might convince her to regurgitate some half digested rabbit so the pup can have breakfast.
I vowed that, no matter how much I loved Gizmo and no matter how vigorously he licked my face, I would never knowingly vomit into his mouth. Of course, if I have drunk too much and then heaved on to the floor, missing the bucket or toilet to some degree, Gizmo is welcome to that offering, if he sees it as a gift of love.
Horowitz, who has studied the behavior of humans, rhinos, bonobos and dogs, also explored the issue of raincoats for dogs. We had a yellow Nor'easter slicker for our previous dog, the much-mourned Beowulf, the Shih Tzu. I thought the dog looked more than a little embarrassed when we put it on him.
(To say little about my concern when we dressed him in a brown bomber jacket with a fur collar, which somewhat matched my leather jacket sans fur. We were living in a predominantly gay neighborhood at the time. Passing gays on the street encouraged their many comments, praising the jackets and gently asking if I’d like to warm up at their apartment.)
Horowitz wrote that, if the dog reacts with excitement to the appearance of coat, jacket, vest or cape, it is less than joy at the costume and more because those items of clothing predict a nice long walk.
Furthermore, if the dog struggles against the raincoat, only to suddenly stand quite still and submit, it is not because of sudden calm. It is because, within the pack or between mother and pup, being on top of the dog is a demand for dominance. It is a way of signaling who is in charge. The coat, because it covers the back and sometimes includes a hat or hoodie, becomes an example of mommy dog telling the young one to behave or of the pack leader indicating that he is the boss.
That was why I was anxious to get back to the Dog Park and observe the dogs and owners there. The first thing that I noticed (and had missed during the previous visit) was that the park was fully equipped with a hydrant for the dogs to relieve themselves upon. Naturally, the dogs completely avoid voiding on this seductive device.
A large group of small dogs came over to sniff Gizmo. Then, after a short, but respectful time, he sniffed them. Then they began to run, tiny cockers and smaller Chihuahuas forming a pack for the purpose of running from one end of the park to the other, stopping only to urinate on trees and benches at either end.
There was a small, long-haired, black-and-white Terrier puppy that wanted to play. He and Gizmo would get down on their front legs, tails madly wagging, then they would run, Gizmo close behind. If he ran too fast and got in front of the smaller dog, it would stop. Then it would roll over on its back, indicating complete submission.
Gizmo would give the pup a quick sniff, as if acknowledging the Fine Gesture. Then the pup would flip over and return to running, finally laying down at its mistresses feet, panting. The pup was pooped.
Then, I decided to try the section of the park for the larger, over 25-pound dogs. They, of course, had a huge, fenced in field, equipped with its own, unused fire hydrant.
As soon as Gizmo entered the park and I had removed his leash, the sniffing began. He was surrounded by German Shepherds, wolf hounds, collie mixes and, oddly enough one pug who was a refugee from the small dog section. His owner explained, “He got bored over there.”
After Gizmo got accepted, the running began again. The big dogs with their longer legs covered a lot of distance rather quickly, but Gizmo, who is built much lower to the ground, merely entered some sort of doggie warp speed, his runty legs reaching out to make longer strides. He kept up with the Big Boys and often got ahead of them.
Furthermore, while they got tired rather quickly, laying down for a tongue-lolling rest after only a few minutes of running, Gizmo was ready to continue to play, jumping in front of dogs twice and more his size, encouraging them to return to The Run, even occasionally growling at them as if to say, “Come on, the fun isn’t over yet.”
The bigger dog would slowly and with dignity get to his feet and then, with no warning, would dash off in the direction that allowed for the longest possible run, Gizmo joyously on his heels, running alongside him, paws up high in the air as he enjoyed the exercise.
After about another half hour of running, Gizmo came when called, sat when told to and accepted the leash with no hesitation. Then, just as we were about to leave, another dog that looked like the results of a midnight mating between a dalmation and a sheep dog, entered the park.
Gizmo pulled on the leash and I released him. They set off on a longish run, actually dashing from one end of the park with a quick return to the new owner, who was sitting on the bench near the entrance. His dog lay down at his feet, quite content because some of his energy was spent.
Gizmo came over to me and sat down, telling me that, yes, it was time for a leash and a ride home.
When we got home, after a quick sip of water, Gizmo was ready to play again. He brought me both his squeaky toys: the football and the frog. I tossed them, he ran after them and then ran away from me – or ran towards them, but left them on the floor where I had tossed them. Clearly, his heart wasn’t in playing fetch at this time of night.
He quickly ate his dinner and then lay down and slept until it was time to sleep in his cage.
"Did you ever walk into a room and forget why you walked in? I think that's how dogs spend their lives." -- Sue Murphy