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!