Appropriate dog park behavior or party foul?

A miniature German shepherd (that could be a breed) seeks Leo's counsel at the dog park.

A miniature German shepherd (that could be a breed) seeks Leo’s counsel at the dog park.

We haven’t been to the off-leash park in a while, so we thought we’d go Sunday during the Super Bowl, when we’d have it mostly to ourselves.

Our favorite park isn’t fully fenced, but the play area is between a really steep hill and a waste treatment facility. One trail leads down the steep hill, and another leads in from the parking area. None of my dogs have ever tried to escape, although a smitten Leo did try to go home with a couple of pugs once.

Apparently we weren’t the only ones who thought we’d have the place to ourselves. We saw a middle-aged gent walking with a border collie and Australian shepherd. Mia already was off leash, but we usually keep Leo harnessed up until we’re in full view of the play area. I consider it bad dog park manners to let a dog haul ass into the fray before the other people and dogs can see its human companion.

The man and dogs were on their way out the other end of the park, and Rob said, “Should we wait until they’re gone before we unleash Leo?” And I don’t know why, but I said, “Nah, just let him go.”

Possibly, I wanted Leo to have a chance to greet a couple of other dogs, since he hasn’t gotten to hang with any but Mia since last summer. Possibly, I didn’t want to give him the chance to start barking, like he does when he’s on leash and sees another dog. Maybe I thought that guy would be happy to see a couple of German shepherds on this bleak and rainy Super Bowl Sunday at the park.

Whatever, we were in an off-leash dog park, so we let our perfectly friendly 95-pound German shepherd off leash. He loped over to the other dogs to say, “What’s up?”

The border collie tucked her tail between her legs and hid behind a park bench for a second, before bolting away from her owner and toward us on the path, Leo in hot pursuit.

She zipped past us like a bullet and zoomed up the trail back toward the parking area.

“Wow, I’ve never seen that before,” I said, as I weighed the odds of Leo following the dog all the way out of the park, into the street to who knows where. “Leo!” He, of course, ignored me and kept running after the border collie

The man called his dog’s name, but that critter was gone. We could see Leo through the trees on the path. I looked at Rob, “You better go. Run.”

Rob trotted off in Leo’s direction, but perfect angel that he is, our boy realized the error of his ways (or else the border collie was so far gone he forgot what he was chasing), and he came back. The man passed us, looking, I would say, annoyed. Not terrified that his dog had just run away and might get hit by a car, and not overtly hostile toward us for chasing his dog away.

He said, “She’s just a little puppy.” Hmm. Puppy maybe, but not that little. I’ve seen full-grown border collies that size. He said the same thing to Rob, then trudged up the path after his dog. Was that his excuse for lack of voice control over her, or was it his explanation for why she ran screaming from Leo? Perhaps both.

In hindsight, yes, it would have been better to keep Leo leashed until the man and his dogs were out of sight, since they were leaving anyway. But we were at an off-leash dog park. Dogs are supposed to chase each other. How were we supposed to know the border collie would actually leave the park? Even if I had better voice control of Leo and he came right back to me instead of following the border collie up the path, that wouldn’t have kept the border collie from running off. But… she wouldn’t have run off if Leo hadn’t been chasing her.

As usual, my concern is that another dog owner will blame the German shepherd (and me as the negligent owner) for instigating a problem. I worry that this man thinks Leo chased his dog out of the park. In my mind, that’s not what happened, but I’m biased.

So I put it to you, readers, and not just because I want assurance that Leo and I aren’t responsible for this dog running away. Did Leo display normal, appropriate dog park manners? Are we to blame? I mean, even if the guy hoped to be the only one there, it’s reasonable to expect that a dog might come running up to you at the dog park, right?

I really hope that guy caught up to his dog.

The Accidental Teacher Dog

Mia is perfectly happy entertaining herself, thank you very much.

Mia is perfectly happy entertaining herself, thank you very much.

Mia and I helped socialize an 11-month-old Great Dane today.

Back when Leo was a puppy and needed lots of stimulation, I sometimes took him to a large ball field at lunchtime hoping to find like-minded dog parents with suitable playmates for him. We also took him to doggie socials on weekends, but since he couldn’t play with Isis at home, and there were no dog parks near my work, this was my best weekday option.

A handful of times we found dogs to play with. The rest of the time, I threw tennis balls to him with a Chuck-It.

Now that Leo is a big boy, and NSFW, I take Mia to that ball field when the weather’s mild. We don’t care if there are dogs to play with or not, and she doesn’t even let me throw her the ball much. I chuck it once, then she runs around with it in her mouth while I eat my lunch. Maybe she’ll drop it while she poops and I can get another throw or two in there, but the point is, she likes the fresh air and chomping on the rubber ball. (We stopped using tennis balls since they became single-use items – she’d destroy them with one chomp).

Sometimes we see another dog way on the other side of the field, but Mia doesn’t run away from me to greet them, not the way Leo would. I’m aware in a shift in my attitude. I would rather not have strange dogs or their people approach me to play. I don’t know their dogs, Mia doesn’t need the socialization, and I have far too much experience with volatile dog interactions.

Today, I saw a man walking a large black dog in my direction. Mia was off doing what she does and wouldn’t even have noticed if the dog hadn’t come within 15 feet of her. As they got close, Mia trotted up to the dog, which I could tell was a Great Dane and not very old.

I delivered my expected, cliched, yet meaningless line of dialogue, “Is your dog friendly?”

The man said, “Yes. I just wanted to come up to talk to you first in case she runs up to your dog, which she probably will.”

And I’m thinking, please just unhook your dog’s leash from her awful prong collar, because the dogs are sniffing each other, and Mia’s starting to dance around and bark. I recognize this as play behavior, but I don’t know his dog, and really, I haven’t seen Mia play with very many other dogs besides Leo, and certainly none restricted by a leash. Who knows what could happen?

I call Mia to me, and she complies, having dropped her orange ball right next to where the man and dog are standing, so I can’t even throw it to her.

After he unleashes his dog, the pair go off and running. Mia’s barking, and her hackles rise a little. I’m not sure how much fun she’s having.

“She doesn’t really know her boundaries,” the man says of his dog.

And I think, well, Mia will certainly let her know if she oversteps them.

I retrieve the ball and throw it and both dogs run after it. Mia wins. Then she drops it and the Great Dane grabs it and runs circles around the ball field, reminding me quite a bit of Leo, gleefully frolicking after winning the toy.

The man and his lady friend say, Wow, that’s the first time she’s ever shown interest in a ball. And I worry that Mia won’t find the Great Dane’s victory lap as adorable as I do, so I get a blue ball from the car.

Now each dog has a ball, and the Great Dane is really gnawing at hers. Granted, Mia’s jaw power probably exceeds the Dane puppy’s by about a million, and she hasn’t caused any damage to the orange one after multiple uses, but I start to worry that this strange dog will destroy the blue ball I very kindly lent her.

A few times, the Dane gets too close to Mia, and Mia lets her know with the snarl/bark (snark) that I recognize from hearing it directed at Leo on a regular basis. It means, “Back off, buddy. This is my ball.”

The Dane snarks back once, but then does then back off, respecting Mia’s boundaries. The couple seems troubled. “Oh, that’s not good.”

I’m not sure if they were concerned about their own dog’s behavior, or if they were worried by Mia’s possessiveness over the ball, or if they were just ready to go, but they moved on a few minutes later.

All in all, I thought the experience was completely positive and educational for the other dog. For a puppy who “doesn’t really know her boundaries,” she just learned how to interact with a mature, dominant female who didn’t want to share her ball. You’re welcome.

No matter what they thought about me and Mia, I related to this couple looking for a way to exercise and stimulate their puppy. There are no clear rules of engagement for people or dogs in off-leash situations, and even if there were, most people would either be ignorant of them or ignore them on purpose. I was sad to read The Fur Mom’s blog post about the decline of the charmingly named Strawberry Fields For Rover dog park in Marysville. It’s so hard to trust other dog owners, never mind their dogs!

So this is what they mean by Voice Control

I haven’t brought Mia to work in so long I forgot her leash today. Amazingly, I didn’t have a spare in my car or my office. I considered buying a cheap one for our lunchtime stroll, but decided instead to take her someplace we could “get away” with being off leash. Now, I don’t condone this behavior, and wouldn’t dream of it with Leo, but Mia has proven to be rock solid in terms of staying near me, not running after other people or dogs, and not wandering into the street. She reliably hops in my car in the driveway, will walk with me to the strip of grass near my office parking lot, and come into my office without being on a leash. Which is why I forgot it today.

The places I sometimes let Mia loose are well away from traffic, and when I have a leash with me, I always call her back and put it on her when I see another person or dog.

Today we strolled through a field and along a Frisbee golf course. While there is a sign that says dogs should be leashed, I see plenty of scofflaws just like me all the time. When we arrived today, in fact, a person was on his way back to the car with an off-leash dog.

That poop was there when we got there. I picked hers up.

As we made our way back to the car after a delightful walk, I saw a woman with an off-leash russet-colored golden retriever. “Oh good,” I thought. “That dog is off leash too. This won’t be a problem.”

Then the woman re-leashed her dog and stood there looking in our direction. I may have detected some nervousness, although we were more than 100 feet away, which is a little far to read facial expressions and gauge emotion.

I still thought, “No problem. Mia is not dog-aggressive.” Then I flashed back to “friendly” off-leash dogs who bombarded Isis, helping to derail our earnest efforts to learn leash manners. I had no way of knowing how this dog would feel about off-leash Mia heading its way, so I started to walk in a huge arc way into the field, effectively going around this dog at a great enough distance not to ruffle its fur. The woman and her golden could have kept on walking along the trail, I thought.

Instead, she watched us another few seconds before turning back toward the parking lot, her dog looking over its shoulder every few steps, causing her to look over her shoulder. We were still pretty far away, but Mia trotted up ahead of me. Since I didn’t want her to get anywhere near that dog, I said, “Mia Mia,” and she ran back to me. Then I let her trot ahead and called her back again. And again. Once, I let her get a little bit farther ahead, and she paused, training her laser focus on the golden for a second and a half. “Uh oh,” I thought. “Another half-second of that stare and she might bolt.” But when I said, “Mia Mia Mia,” again, she came right back. I fed her crumbs of freeze-dried lamb lung from my pocket as I praised her effusively.

Now, I know this isn’t impressive dog training or anything. First of all, I should have had a leash. Second, a perfectly trained dog would have walked beside me, and I wouldn’t have to say her name 2-3 times to get her attention. (Possibly I didn’t have to say it twice, but that’s what I did.)

I feel bad that the lady probably retreated thinking, “Goddammit. That stupid off-leash dog ruined our outing.” I wonder what she would have done if Mia had been on a leash. After all, she did have her own dog off leash before she saw us. I figure, if you’re going to flout the leash law, your dog should at the very least be comfortable with other off-leash dogs. As well as on-leash dogs.

For all I know, she had a bad experience with a German shepherd once.

None of this makes me any less irresponsible, but I will say that Mia constantly delights me with her manners in public. Not that I can take any credit. She came this way. I can name three dogs I raised from puppies who enjoyed humiliating games of keep-away in treacherous places.

Mia only barks at two things:

1) Us. When we’re in the backyard. She wants to play, but refuses to give up her ball. It’s vexing.

2) Other dogs when she is inside the car.

After our walk, I drove to the grocery story and parked near the entrance. Mia stepped on my thigh, as is her way when she wants to get out of the car first. Glancing to my left, I noticed the car beside me was filled with itty bitty terriers. At least four of them. They went beserker, running along the windowsill yipping. I thought, “Well, this isn’t going to work,” as Mia called back, “Woof! Woof!” and I backed out to find another parking spot.