Tales from the dog park

It’s been raining today – the one thing I hate about Vancouver Island (besides being prime breeding grounds for fleas and ticks). However, last Wednesday it was quite clear, with only a hint of the dark shroud that veiled the land today. So we went to the dog park.

Dog parks are a society unto themselves. There is an ebb and flow to the park as dogs enter and leave. On Wednesday, I witnessed an altercation that sprang up when a group of three people brought a leashed German Shepherd dog into the dog park. The Shepherd promptly got mobbed and (still on the leash) exhibited symptoms of fear and nervousness in the situation. The owner (I assume) let her loose and she ran out into the park. One dog in the resident pack mobbed the Shepherd while the others circled around, occasionally barking or nipping at her.

The dog mobbing the Shepherd was a dominant female, which could account why she kept grabbing at the Shepherd’s neck and trying to force her to the ground. The Shepherd wasn’t having any of it and was trying to get away. After a couple of minutes, it looked like the Shepherd was getting the worst of it, so people started walking purposefully towards the pack.

As we all did so (I was watching Tierce, who was circling all of this and getting underfoot), the owner collected his Shepherd, kicked the dominant female away and retreated to the gate. He was then accosted verbally by the dominant dog’s owner who told him in no uncertain terms not to kick her dog.

“Your dog was biting my dog!” he accused.

Further words were exchanged, whereupon the trio walked on, muttering angrily amongst themselves.

The whole incident caught me because of the experiences I have had here at the dog park. Tierce, being a dominant, open, male, adolescent Shiba has had more than his share of mobbing in the park. However, I have never felt the need to leave the park because of it. I have been warned by people whose business it is to know that dog parks can be precarious places, especially for Shibas who can take being mobbed badly. Be that as it may, I have not yet had an experience at the park where I felt that my dog was being mobbed and that the other owner(s) weren’t doing enough about it.

Just lucky? Could be. Since Tierce is a little asshole of a dog who is just as annoying to some of the dogs at the dog park as he is at home, you would think that by now his canine karma would be used up for the next seven years or so.

Maybe it’s just that I have made a decision, knowing what I do of dogs and dog parks and decided that there was a certain limit that I would go to before I interfered.

I will interfere if:

Tierce is exhibiting signs of stress – vocalizing is a sign

Tierce has been mobbed for a few minutes without pause

Tierce is mobbing another dog who is not appearing to give as good as he gets or is constantly being prevented from getting away by Tierce or another dog

Tierce is jumping up or otherwise behaving in a manner that interferes with other people at the dog park

What is interference? Mostly, it’s trying to catch the little brat and pick him up for a while to let things cool down. Sometimes this is all one needs for the dogs to focus on something else. Sometimes it’s taking a dog out of the game by holding onto his collar. Sometimes it’s being done for the day and leaving to come back another time. Dogs are like people in that stress from other areas than the dog park can affect their temperament and reactions in the dog park.

I have found that most of the owners have gauged their dogs’ temperaments and behaviour well when it comes to this. The majority of us are reluctant to interfere unless there is a serious fight. The dogs are here to socialize. Sometimes mobbing and snarling and snapping are a way for a dog to learn other dogs’ limits.

I don’t let Tierce be bullied constantly, but I think that him learning that he isn’t top dog is a valuable life lesson that will keep him less likely to assert himself negatively towards another dog later on. Shassi learned that particular life lesson from Kena and Buddi, but I wonder if she would be as intolerant of other dogs if she had had the dog park experience that Tierce is having now.

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