I’ve been a dog park attendee for 20-plus years, but it’s only in the past few months have I formed some bitter opinions. Keep in mind that the following is about my particular experiences at the dog park; this is not a news article.
When my husband and I lived in Richmond, Va., with our first Labrador retriever, Fenway, there was an informal area near our house where dog owners let their pups run off-leash. It was tons of fun for the dogs, and the people mostly got along.
I think the main advantage of this park was that it wasn’t fenced, so people could spread out … if someone wasn’t a people-person, he could easily avoid other humans. Also in our favor was the fact that Fenway was an adult dog, so she didn’t have some of the same issues a puppy has.
In 2005, we were thrilled when Davis’ Toad Hollow Dog Park opened. We had two Labradors, Daisy and Boomer, who needed some socialization and exercise. However, they were litter-mates and had a distinctly annoying way of ganging up on other dogs, in a playful yet intimidating fashion. We quickly realized that taking those two to the dog park together was way too obnoxious, and we didn’t want to subject others to their antics.
When we had only Daisy, we reintroduced visits to Toad Hollow. She was a very amiable dog and had a way of “keeping the peace” whenever she saw dogs scuffling. She would skip on over to the canine combatants and hover around the edge of their disagreement, wagging, as if saying, “C’mon, guys! Can’t we all just get along?” Daisy never made an enemy at the dog park, and it was very easy for our teenaged sons to take her there without us.
Not so now that we have Pauley. Our kids don’t have the authoritative demeanors that are now necessary when making a trip to the dog park.
And it’s not because our dog is a problem. Our 7-month-old Labrador/golden retriever cross is a joy … very easy-going and friendly. And although we’d been told by a veterinary student at UC Davis’ “Yappy Hour” that it’s best to wait until dogs are a bit older — 6 months and beyond — before introducing them to dog parks, we were eager to take Pauley there. (Many of the behavioral problems the UCD vets see are related to bad experiences in the first 16 weeks of life.) We had a genial, sociable pup, not a troublemaker, and we were conscientious and competent dog owners … what could possibly go wrong?
Soon after Pauley had received all of her shots — just past her 4-month birthday — I took her to Toad Hollow to find out.
We started in the small-dog area of the park, for those under 30 pounds, and it was a rousing success. Pauley played, romped and socialized, never having an issue with any of the more diminutive of the species.
And I’ll be honest: I had negative expectations of the small-dog park. I thought many of the pups would have Napoleon complexes and go after the bigger dogs; I anticipated irritating little yappers that would teach Pauley incessant barking and nipping behaviors. But it turned out to be a safe haven for us. The dogs and owners I experienced there were a delight, even as Pauley had many annoying puppy tendencies.
With our confidence bolstered, Pauley and I moved into the main area of Toad Hollow, for dogs of all sizes. We had problems right off. It became apparent that Pauley’s puppiness was a trigger for some dogs’ aggressive instincts. They would home right in on her scampering and frolicking, and pounce on her, pinning her to the ground by her neck. Maybe this is fine in the wild, but what human owner wants to see her 16-week-old puppy be terrified? And what dog owner thinks it’s OK to stand there and do nothing?
This happened to Pauley quite a few times, and the passive owners who didn’t intervene became the bane of my dog-park existence. Seriously, I would look around for the owner of whichever dog was “dominating” my puppy, and often said owner would be right nearby, practically whispering, “Oh, Rover, leave the puppy alone.”
“WALK OVER THERE AND PULL YOUR DOG OFF MINE!” I would fume to myself.
Instead, I would walk over to the brute and scoop up Pauley, scurrying back to the safety of the small-dog area. No apology ever came from the offending dog’s owner, who, incidentally, was almost invariably a college-aged person with a quiet voice and no ability — no interest? — to control a big or aggressive dog.
Now that Pauley is older and bigger, she can handle herself better; she is not as much a target for the more aggressive dogs. But I do look over wistfully at the small-dog area, which we’ve grown out of, and long for the better-behaved dogs and people.
Friendly reminder of the Toad Hollow Dog Park rules
* Dogs must be licensed and fully vaccinated
* No puppies less than 4 months old or female dogs in heat
* No more than three dogs per person
* Remove aggressive dogs immediately
* Supervise and maintain voice control over your dog
* No children under age 12 unless supervised by an adult
* Carry a leash at all times for each dog
* Clean up after your dog
* No activities unrelated to dogs allowed
— City of Davis Community Development Department
— Tanya Perez is an associate editor at The Enterprise. Her column publishes every other week on Wednesdays or Thursdays. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @enterprisetanya