Category Archives: Dog Park Culture

Like the title says

Make Your Own Canine Waste Management System

Dsipenser-FenceI recently made a number of water-proof and idiot-proof (so far)  dispensers for poo bags that I hung around the dog park.

Dispenser-dirtybagsUsually, people hang bags of their used grocery bags on the fence at the park. People wind up using them as garbage bags, discarding full poo bags, cigarette butts, cans, bottles, you name it. They are open at the top, so rain falls in them. So stinking your hand into one of these bags is a serious risk, at least to your sensibilities.

Dispenser-BottomThey are simple to make. Take an empty gallon waster jug and cut a hole in the front of the bottom big enough to stick your hand in. The bags are stuffed in this hole. They will not fall out. You just reach in and gab one when you need it.

Dispenser-CapI don’t understand why, but everyone assumes that you remove the cap and pull bags out of the top. So I super-glue my caps on, write instructions, then wrap it with tape. The tape doesn’t really do anything except reinforce the idea that you aren’t supposed to remove the cap.

Dispenser-Label

Then I add instructions. to the front. Like I said, idiot-proof.

I hang them on the fence using zip-ties or string through the handle. Easy-peasy. The park maintenance guy assigned to Mount Airy forest Dog Park really likes them and they get a lot of use. Some people even load them up for me.

I am now experimenting with decorating them. This is difficult since very little sticks to the plastic for long. I will let you know if I am successful.

Playing Rough

This is a photo of two dogs experiencing the joys of canine friendship. Wiley (the one with the teeth), is in a tussle with the love of his life, Jessie.  The better two dogs know and like each other, the harder they play, to the point where it’s difficult for someone who isn’t familiar with the dogs to know it’s not an attack.

If an unfamiliar dog approached Wiley or Jessie with the same level of intense play, chances are, a fight would break out. It’s not that different with humans. Close friends may insult us freely in jest. Strangers had better not.

Just like people, some dogs have better manners than others. When you are in an environment with strange dogs, it’s up to you to be aware of your dog’s tendencies and police their behavior or protect them when needed.

In the case of play between dogs, watch for signs that your dog or the other dog is being overwhelmed. Hunched posture, tucked tail, running away, are all indicators that a dog feels intimidated. If your dog or the other dog is displaying anxiety, it’s a good idea to separate the dogs. If the anxious dog opts to return to the tussle, you can assume they are just working out some jitters. You will sometimes see this when a dog is new to a dog park.

It may take a few low key visits and some ‘time outs’ for a nervous dog to become comfortable in the park.

Exposing their belly is a sign that they are conceding dominance to the other dog, and may or may not be part of acceptable play.

Some dogs, young dogs especially, have a poor sense of boundaries and do not recognize signals from other dogs to ease up or back off. If a dog pursues a dog that is clearly trying to get away, it’s time for the owner to step in and call the dog off. If the rude dog is pursuing your dog, feel free to ask the owner to call their dog. Chances are, you’ll get a response like, “Aw, Cujo’s just playing.” In which case you can respond, “He may be, but Poopsy doesn’t like it. It’s too rough for him.”

Cujo may just be playing. But just like humans who are teased too much, Poopsy may just explode.

Note: at our park, small dogs will take shelter behind their humans or under picnic tables to get away from larger dogs in pursuit. In many instances this is part of the play. Check the small dog’s attitude. Is it sneering or cowering?

Every dog is different, and they are different with different dogs. When Shadda was a puppy, Max would drag her around the yard by the scruff of her neck or wrap her jaws around her head. Shadda allows this from Max. Any other dog who attempts to dominate her is likely to get snapped at.

Chewy has been attacked by larger dogs and gets anxious if large, strange dog gets too close to him. On the other hand, I know mastiffs that shrug off provocation. The better you know the dogs around you, the better you can anticipate problems and separate dogs before a fight happens.

Note: If you have a small dog, keep it away from larger dogs unless you are well acquainted with them. If there is a designated area for small dogs, keep your dog there. Keep small dogs close to you if there is not a designated area.

Tiny dogs are about the same size as squirrels and other prey. On very rare occasions, a small dog will stimulate a larger dog’s prey instinct, especially if the small dog is roaming about alone.

I don’t want to be alarmist, but it is important to be aware of strange dogs entering the park, and to maintain awareness of the dogs within fifty feet of yours. If you notice a strange dog “stalking” your small dog from behind, pick your dog up until you determine the nature of the dog. Play stalking is usually within eyesight of the other dog. Stalking from behind is hunting behavior.

So far, we’ve been talking about one on one behavior between dogs. That’s the safest way to have rough play. Sometimes two dogs will gang up on one in play, and it’s okay, if they know each other. But the more dogs who enter into the situation, the more likely it is that a fight will break out.

WileyJessiePlaying2Dogs are pack animals, and as a pack they are unpredictable. It’s natural for them to congregate to watch when two dogs are tussling. If you see them crowding in and/or joining the fray, it’s time to separate the dogs before play turns into true aggression.

My Dog Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly

How often have I heard those words? Especially right before sweet, friendly Poopsy, on her first visit to the dog park, lit into one of the regular mutts?

The weather has been awesome lately. The first T-shirt weather of the year, with mornings that make you want to forget you have anything to do for the rest of the week. Far cry from last winter’s record snows.

People who would never romp outside with their dog when it’s ten degrees in the sun are now waking up with the notion that it’s a great day to go to the park. There’s an influx of newbies up at Mt. Airy Dog Park, most of whom have not been to a dog park in over six months, if ever.

don't be fooled by appearances. Any dog will bite under the right circumstances. Even darling Julia.
don’t be fooled by appearances. Any dog will bite under the right circumstances. Even darling Julia.

Most people who own breeds with tough reputations know to be alert in a strange environment. Owners of Golden Retrievers and other family friendly dogs are often convinced their babies are harmless, regardless of how little socialization the dog has had.

Last week a pretty Golden/Sheltie mix showed up with her mom. It had words with one of our regular pups as soon as it came in the gate. My friend John suggested to this woman that the dog was not suitable for the park and brought his three dogs back to the rear of the park where a number of us were hanging out.

The stranger followed with her dog, about 15 yards behind. As soon as she got within 20 feet of our pack, her dog began milling in with the regular crew. When it got to the center of the pack, it went after a grey hound, then after Penny again. Whereupon John waded in, grabbed the offender by the haunches and lifted up its hind end (SOP for ending dog fights).

The dog ceased attacking Penny and bit John several times instead while her owner stood there and did nothing. The dog was wearing a pinch collar. Pinch collars are not a substitute for a regular dog collar. You can’t grab a pinch collar, so no one could haul the dog off John.  Most of us were consumed with keeping our dogs out of the fray and could not help.

John had many unkind things to say to the newcomer, which I will not repeat. I will say he was loud and his face was purple.

It doesn’t matter who your dog is. If you go to a dog park, there is a good chance your dog will get into a fight at least once.

Sometimes a dog just doesn’t have the temperament for social behavior. Sometimes two dogs that get along well with everyone else, despise each other for inexplicable reasons. Mostly it is a result of owner ignorance of canine behavior and can be prevented.

Chances are I’m preaching to the choir. but I’m going to tell you what I know about preventing dog fights anyway.

First things first. If you nave never been to a dog park before, consider your dog’s level of socialization with other dogs. How does it act when you meet other dogs on a walk? Does it ever have dog visitors or play dates? How does it respond to other animals at the vet? The less exposure your dog has to other dogs, the more careful you need to be.

What is your dog’s temperament? Is it ever food aggressive? Does it challenge you, or is it submissive? The best dog for dog park visits is somewhere in the middle: not a bully, and also not likely to be threatened by overtures from other dogs.

If you dog tends to bully other dogs, it may not be suitable for dog park visits. Fearful dogs can be socialized, but it’s best to go slow.

If you pull into the dog park and you see 50 cars in the lot, perhaps save your first visit for another day or a quieter time. There are too many unknowns when there is huge crowd.

Do not make your first visit when you get home from work. Most of the dogs at the park after work have been cooped up all day long, and they are wound up. Meanwhile, their owners are exhausted and perhaps less alert.

Early in the morning is a better bet (that’s when I go). People who tend to their dogs before breakfast are generally knowledgeable owners. Many are older and have older, more settled dogs. And the park is likely to be emptier.

Dogs at the fence line will display a variety of behaviors
Dogs at the fence line will display a variety of behaviors

Whenever you approach a dog park, watch the dogs who come up to the fence carefully. Are they making bright, happy yips and bouncing? Are they trash talking? Or are they menacing and throwing themselves at the fence? Dogs love mock battles. Learn the difference between “Yo’ Mama” and “I’m going to rip your lungs out and eat them.” If you’re not sure, ask the owner.

The most opportune place for a fight is at the gate. Dogs are territorial, and may see the park as their domain with the gate as the portal. Dogs think it’s their duty to guard portals if they are anywhere nearby. Guarding may just mean standing on the other side of the gate and sniffing the new guy when he comes in. Or it can involve the aforementioned lung-ripping.

For this reason, I like to hang out in the rear of the park. It reduces guarding behavior. If you are in the corral, and a dog inside the gate is menacing, do not hesitate to call the owner and ask them to remove their dog from the gate so you won’t have any problems when you enter.

If there’s a crowd of dogs just inside the gate, go around the pack, not through it. Dogs that frequent the park will form packs. Pack behavior is more volatile than one-on-one behavior with dogs.

You may see a crowd of happy, friendly dogs hanging out and think, “Oh, good, lots of pups for my little Fido to play with.”

Dog-Pack

DO NOT APPROACH A DOG PACK.

I can’t stress this strongly enough. Fido is likely to stick close to you, at least until he feels comfortable. If you approach a group of people (who are incidentally surrounded by their dogs), he will go with you and may feel obligated to check them out for your protection, no matter how uncomfortable he is. It’s the equivalent to walking into a biker bar on Saturday night. Anything can happen.

Walk around the park with Fido in areas where there are no dogs, or single dogs with their owners and let him get his bearings. Let him meet new dogs one-on-one. After he’s used to being there and is familiar with some of the dogs, he is going to be more comfortable around a group of the same dogs, and they will be more likely to accept him into the pack.

Let your dog proceed at a speed he is comfortable with. Don’t try to force him to meet dogs if he is uncomfortable. If he displays aggressive behavior (not play fighting), remove him immediately.

Some dogs with dominance issues will attempt to hump every dog in sight.  Some dogs will accept this behavior and some dogs go ballistic. Some dogs are possessive with balls and toys, some are food aggressive (the reason food and treats are banned in many dog parks). Get to know the temperaments of the dogs around you.

My Shadda only lets Max dominate her. If anyone else tries to mount her, she gets snappish. If a new pup is bouncing all over her, she will sometimes start a low growl that tells me she’s upset. I’ll try to shoo the other dog off and keep it away from her. Meanwhile, the owner of the big, friendly lug is waving it off, saying “Oh, he’s just a big baby, he’s really friendly.” Meanwhile, I’m desperately trying to keep a fight from breaking out because the “friendly” dog ignores boundary signals.

When a bouncy dog with dominant tendencies runs up to a strange dog, you have no clue how the other dog is going to react. If the other dog has been previously attacked, it will feel threatened and act accordingly. If the owner is freaking out over your big, friendly lunk, they may not be afraid of your dog. They may be responding to the level of anxiety their own dog is feeling.

Never disregard another owner who is trying to keep their dog away from your dog. They know something you don’t. Never disregard your dog’s signals. If they are uncomfortable, remove them to another part of the park.

The “sweet” Golden mix that attacked Penny was probably very nervous when it walked into the pack. While we didn’t see exactly what happened, it is likely that “Goldie” was on edge when the Greyhound, a known butt sniffer, checked her out. Similar to getting bumped in the previously mentioned biker bar, it set off a chain reaction.

Goldie probably would have been just fine if the Greyhound had sniffed her out without the crowd around. Or maybe not. But it would have been easier to intervene without a dozen other dogs around.