We’re all familiar with the feeling. You walk towards a new crowd, you want to speed up and get there, but also want to appear cool so you maintain a steady pace. Your pulse quickening, feeling particularly prepared to be social if the weather is warm, interested to meet and get to know someone new but feeling a bit trepidatious, excited but nervous…What if no one likes you? What if no one wants to play with you? Or slobber on you? Or sniff you and your butt? Your parent opens the first gate to the holding area and unclips your leash. As the second gate swings open, you’re swarmed by whiskers, sniffing noses and hopefully, new friends. Welcome to the dog park.
The dog park can be fun and provide wonderful opportunities for your dog to meet and interact with other dogs. Best case scenario, your dog is eager to romp with other pups and loves going to the park; she or he makes a circle of dog friends with dog-knowledgeable human caretakers, so the experience is socially fulfilling for all. The dog park, like everywhere else, is not free from politics and cliques.
After your pawrent removes your leash, you rocket off, joyfully running. Who has time for sniffing? You’re FREE, and that’s all you can focus on.
Practically high, you’re the fastest dog in the world, the grass beneath your paws feels soft and welcoming as the wind whistles between your ears. You know your human parent is proud and impressed. You loop back around and return to your human, panting and grinning-just to make sure they’re okay- you know they need you to protect them.
Your human is grinning too, taking a pause in the conversation to greet you before returning to conversation with the other pawrents.
“Humans sure talk a lot huh?” You turn, it’s a chocolate brown cocker spaniel mix with a purple bow on one ear, lightly panting. “Hi,” she says as she approaches and sniffs your butt. You politely return the gesture, “I’m Izzy…and you are…Aspen…two years old and spayed.” She completes her sniffing inspection. “First time? I’ll show you around”. She trots off, and even though you really want to get that frisbee airborne by a human and catch it 234 times, you follow her. She begins to share with you, the cliques at the dog park…
The Social Butterflies
“The most successful players at the dog park are the social butterflies,” she explains knowledgably. “the social butterflies are the labs, the pit bulls with the huge smiles and not a mean bone in their body. They wiggle their way around the park and make each human feel special with their endless need for pets and their wagging tail” Izzy practically rolls her eyes. “Don’t get me wrong-they’re great when you’re in the mood to wrestle but they may or may not forget you as soon as the newest dog walks in”. At that moment a red golden retriever lopes past, stopping for an erratic play bow and a sniff before bounding off towards a stocky dachshund mix shuffling past. “See what I mean?”. We continue padding along, now getting further into the park and to a shadier spot. There’s a huge dog laying on its side in the shade. It’s a greyhound. I see a tattoo within his ear. Cool. A little scary. As we approach the greyhound lifts his head, one ear pricked in our direction and shows us a happy face. He promptly plops it back down.
“That’s Chance…he’s a retired racer and he is soooo fast. He’ll run one lap and then just pass out, must be all the CBD treats. He likes to ‘take it all in’”. Nearby we see a greying beagle mix conferring with a shih-tzu that has cloudy eyes. “Those are the seniors” Izzy practically whispers, “Move slowly, they do not like having their space invaded and they aren’t shy to growl and let you know”. Got it, I hope I can remember all this. A Boston Terrier mix begins following us closely, getting a little too close for comfort. He tries circling in front of us, forcing a stiff-legged face-to-face interaction and attempting to put his head and neck over mine. I keep trying to politely maneuver away and divert my head and eyes- the universal dog message for ‘I do not want to play with you’. Izzy is a little bit ahead of me, she turns back and assesses the scene.
“Hey!” she gives a short and sharp bark “You don’t even go here!” He squints his eyes at her and attempts to look tough, not the easiest feat with that boxy muzzle. “Scram!”. He hesitates for a second, seeing if I’m as assertive as Izzy is. He decides it’s not worth it and saunters off, nub tail raised as high as he can manage. “He’s visiting family from like Connecticut or something, sorry about that”.
Socially Active Nerds (A.K.A the unneutered puppies)
Suddenly, you’re ambushed by a corgi puppy and a huge, floppy German Shepherd puppy mix. They circle you like two furry sharks, sniffing madly with curious, eager expressions before the corgi promptly tries to mount you. He’s much shorter than you and can’t even reach your haunches. Izzy explodes in a flurry of snarling and barking, running them both off as they begin to tussle with one another ungracefully.
“Sorry, those are the sexually active nerds, AKA the unneutered puppies. They’re still working on their manners and they think every dog is their next date, you have to tell them to back off or they’ll walk all over you”. Ah, I’ve seen puppies like that before, they’ll grow out of it. You and Izzy stop to investigate a tree stump which has been peed on by many dogs on many occasions. The message board, it will require a lengthier investigation later. “This is our hole”, she indicates a wide and rather deep indentation next to the stump in the ground. It’s been scraped at by assorted paws so regularly that the dirt in the bottom has taken on a soft and dusty consistency. She sees your interest, so you both stop and dig, huffing in the dirt, covering your muzzles in it and running tight, mad circles around it. You could do this all day.
“Okay,” Izzy stops, panting a bit. “Those are the Jocks” She indicates towards a chocolate field lab and an Australian Shepherd mix, both flying by in hot pursuit of the same rubber ball. “They’re fun to run with but hog the balls. Fetch is the only thing that happens in their world”. They seem to have no time for anything but their single-minded, laser focus on retrieving. We continue making our loop, beginning to head back to the loose cluster of pawrents, some in conversation or playing with their dog, some seated in a chair, reading a book alone. “I never understand why they sit on those chairs when they get peed on so often,” Izzy shrugs it off “Maybe they like the smell.”.
The Plastics (a.k.a Queen Bees)
There is a shady patch a little bit away from the water dishes and the pawrents. A King Charles Cavalier with flowing, freshly groomed hair sniffs the grass gently as a Bernese Mountain dog mix lounges in dandelions, legs outstretched. As we get within their proximity, I lean in to sniff the cavalier, who recoils.
“You can’t sit with us!” The mountain dog chimes in, perfectly combed eyebrows drawn together over indignant eyes. Oookay, message received, I awkwardly veer away.
“They think they’re the queen bees,” Izzy murmurs, “I thought they might do a better job explaining than I could.” We’re finally back in the safe range of the humans, my pawrent is unfailingly happy to see me. My pawrent kneels down on one knee with open arms, I gladly trot over and lick their ear.
“Well if it isn’t the greatest dog you’ll ever meet. Are you having fun?”
What is it like for you and your dog at the dog park? Let us know below in the comments.