Friday, April 8, 2011

Dog Park Etiquette

 Another visit to the Civic Center dog park, late-ish in the afternoon on a perfect, 70+-degree day with a few lazy white clouds punctuating the sky.
Gizmo wanted to dash into the park, but I held him back, shortening the leash and indicating that it was time to heel.  The result: Gizmo obeyed until we were through the gate and inside the big, steel fence, with only one more gate between him and the freedom to run with other dogs without a leash.  It was too much of a temptation for him and he pulled and panted.  And I gave in: if something that wonderful was almost directly in front of me and I was leashed, I would probably pull on it as well.
We went to the under-35-pound dog area, where tiny Chihuahuas and Shih Tzu’s and miniature whippets were forming packs and/or alliances.
As soon as Gizmo entered, he went through the required newcomer’s dance: They smell him while he stands still.  Then he smells them while they are at approximately attention.  Then, after Gizmo signals that he wants to play by putting both front paws down, bowing slightly, tail wagging, it is time for a romp, a full-out run through the dog park, with other tiny dogs trailing Gizmo and his chosen play date.
Then, in a round-alay that I did not understand, Gizmo would peal off, find another partner, run over to him or her and, if the new partner didn’t immediately join in the romp, Gizmo would run through the new partner, charging over their shoulders or rumps, and running ahead, looking back in the evident hope that they would follow.
Dogs’ play was a mystery to me.  At one point, a huge boxer in the large-dog section of the park began barking at the little dogs.  The smaller ones, protected (it seemed) by a fence with ¾-inch steel bars, began yapping back at the boxer, who then ran along his side of the fence.
This caused the small pack of tiny dogs to run along-side the boxer on their side of the fence.  The big boxer was barking and growling in terrible low tones as if to warn the little ones that he would wreak havoc with them if he could ever get his teeth around them.
After less than three minutes of running back and forth, the boxer seemed tired, the small dogs were barking and walking just because it was expected of them and they also seemed pooped.  Then the boxer’s owner came along and fastened a leash to the dog, cutting down on its freedom of movement (or to have barked.)
While this was going on, I was standing near the fire hydrant that the city had thoughtfully put up in the park, although I hadn’t seen any dogs using it when I visiting the park before and I assumed it was put up as a knowing wink-wink-nod-nod to the adult owners of the dogs: see this park is so complete that we even provide a fire hydrant for the dogs.  What do you want to bet that it will never be used?
Well, this time a tiny, long-haired dachshund, looking like a small messy peacock that is too close to the ground, ran over to the hydrant and used it.  So much for my unresearched theories of pissing in dog parks.
After a short time of watching Gizmo chase dogs far smaller than he was, I decided to visit the Big Dog Dog Park, reserved for hounds over 35 pounds.
We entered, Gizmo participated in the greeting ritual (you can sniff my ass, if I can sniff yours) and then it was off to play.  Gizmo got along very well with dogs considerably bigger and taller than he was. 
There were only a half a dozen rottweilers, yellow labs, boxers and black labs there, and most of them were lying down on the ground, panting from whatever exertion has been afflicted on them from our bottoms.
Gizmo continued to want to play.  He went from dog to dog until he found one that had a little energy left.  Then it was off to the races, with the large hound running away and Gizmo happily chasing him.
I kept an eye on Gizmo to make sure that playing with the Big Boys wasn’t going to hurt him.  That was not a problem: the big dogs accepted Gizmo as one of their own and he proceeded as if it was a level playing field.
His running joy, his sniffing, checking, playing, running total involvement in both sides of the dog park was something for which I was not so secretly cheering: a dog like Gizmo, so often confined to our home or walked with a leash, became über Gizmo when freed of that restraint and when with others of his species.  He was FREE!!  He was in the realm of the possible.  He had escaped while being protected under the watchful eyes of his careful, cautious owner.  And he was increasing his vocabulary of doggie language, communicating when it was time to play and to rest to others.
And again, I was learning from my dog: about the rules of play, about the psychology of the temporary pack (when the tiny dogs were all yapping at the huge boxer on the other side of the fence) and about the pure enjoyment of life. 

"If your dog is fat, you aren't getting enough exercise"   -- Unknown

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