Socializing a dog and dog park etiquette

Elly_NJJuly 16, 2011

I adopted my yellow Lab Lucy about 3 months ago. She had been a breeder at a backyard breeder's. She is sweet and mellow, but was wary of strangers. Not a confident dog. I worked on that with her, and slowly she is more confident and less tentative of strangers.

She maintains a wariness of children. I've been working on that, too, but it is way harder than with adults because children are unpredictable and sometimes unrestrained in behavior.

Lucy gained alot of confidence by being around other dogs AND the people with them. It's like magic. I took her on long walks with a friend's dogs, and she absorbed their confidence as we spent more time with them. At the dog park she is very friendly to the people there. So it is great for socializing her with people.

The dog park does not allow children there. There is a sign saying so. But there are often children there. If the children are calm and ignore her, she is friendly and approaches them. I ask the children who are more attentive to her to ignore her and let her approach if she wants. I supervise the interaction to make sure it is a positive one for her. For the most part, being at the dog park has helped her become more comfortable around everyone.

Which brings me to today. I took her to the dog park to socialize, and she was comfortable and calm. Then a mother came with two children, one a boy who was active. While I was taking to one of the people there, she alerted and started barking. She never does that.

I saw that the boy was walking around jerkily, swinging his arms literally 360 degrees in the sockets, like a whirligig. Lucy was watching him and started (fearful) barking again. The mom looked at me because my dog was barking at her child. I told her that Lucy was fearful of him because he was he was swinging his arms

So she tells her son that he's scaring Lucy by swinging his arms.

And what does he do? He stops, then starts swinging his arms to get a rise out of her. I waited a few seconds, to see if the mom would do something, but she did not.

So I left.

What am I supposed to do in that situation? I was very annoyed. As I approached the gate (a football field away) he was still jerking and twirling his arms.

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The dog park does not allow children there. There is a sign saying so.

She should have left, not you. You can nicely but firmly point out to her that children are not allowed in the park.

I have witnessed a similar situation, except the dog did go after the whirligigging child. Luckily for the child, it was cold out and she had on a thick coat, otherwise I'm sure she would have been injured. The parents had the nerve to try and yell at the dog owner. Several of us put those irresponsible parents in their place.

Don't be afraid to assert yourself. You are 100% in the right, and trust me, the parents breaking the rules would not hesitate to sue you for your 'vicious dog' biting their little precious.

I am normally not one for confrontations, but I have no problem saying something to those who don't follow the dog park rules. It is the one place that I can let my dogs off leash, and I pay for the privilege, so I'm not about to let some thoughtless/entitled idiot force ME out.

No aggressive dogs.
No unfixed dogs.
No children.

Pretty simple.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2011 at 10:31PM
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If the park has a no kids policy you really need to use that to your advantage.
I would first have secured the dog with a leash and asked another person who is familar with your dog to watch your dog, I would ask the mother of the child if I could speak with her, I would ask her to walk over to the sign and I would politely request the mother either maintain discipline of her child or leave the park.
Give the mother an opportunity to control her child, however you are dealing with a parent who OBVIOUSLY does not believe the rules apply to her or her family so prepare for denial or an arguement or some voice raising. Stick to your guns point to the sign and readvise her of the rules, if you have to do this more than once dont be surprised. You might also ask another dog owner who was there at the time to stand by you if she reappears.
If things get too heated - walk away, contact the people who are in charge of the park and advise them of the problem. This is not a situation to be taken lightly. The rules are in place for the safety of children and so that dogs owners can allow their dogs to hang out without having to worry about being harrassed by an unthinking child.
I experienced a similar situation, a dog owner was harrassing another, her dog mounted his dog, he yelled at her - she walked away after getting her dog off his, he ran after her, told her he would harm her dog if her dog ever mounted his again. I saw her leave, asked her what happened. Asked her to return with her dog on a leash. Then I went to get the ranger, the man was holding a beer (forbidden) and was banned from the park for threatening another park user.....he has not been back.
The park is a better place for it. The commonality in both stories is that the person who was the aggressor was the one breaking the rules. The key in all of this is to keep your cool, dont get emotional (just like when dealing with a dog) and continue to point out the rules.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 1:27AM
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"So she tells her son that he's scaring Lucy by swinging his arms.

And what does he do? He stops, then starts swinging his arms to get a rise out of her. I waited a few seconds, to see if the mom would do something, but she did not."

Yep, I see that scenario as the usual course of events anymore. It's like the parent is clueless where to go from there if a child decides not to mind them. She indulges her children, so everybody else is supposed to as well.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 1:37AM
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You are all right, of course. But it is difficult to confront people about their children.

More difficult - and a totally different subject - is getting Lucy, a sweet, gentle, peaceful, laid-back lab - comfortable around children. I've done set-ups with adults, but set-ups with children are a whole other thing.

I feel it's one step forward, then with a whirligig boy, 2 steps back.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 8:57AM
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I can surely empathise with that. I have had two dogs who never, no matter how diligent we tried to make them trustworthy with children, really achieved it. And I have had little kids get aggressive with a couple of my totally gentle dogs to the point of abusive as their parents stood by and watched. One of them I had leashed and couldn't get away did make an 'air nip' at a little boy who tried to poke him in the face with a stick. Immediately the mother reacted. Toward the poor dog, who was terrified, and not the child who was totally out of line. Neither do people listen when you have a dog leashed and ask them to please not come near because the dog is a new resuce and you don't know yet what their reactions will be. They still insist on putting their faces a foot from the dogs mouth and making weird noises and eye contact as they are invading the dog's personal space. I suppose some of it has to do with some folks just don't have an appreciation or clue when it comes to dogs and their reactions?

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 1:22PM
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If you are uncomfortable pointing out the posted rules to someone and confronting them about etiquette, then use the opportunity to work with your dog. Redirect her attention to you, put her in a sit stay position, remain calm yourself - since dogs feed off our energy, you need to just be like a tree about it. Just keep redirecting her attentions and helping her to remain calm. Good luck, I hope next time turns out better.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 1:55PM
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Thanks, all.

Mazer, you would be proud of me. In the last 3 months of walks I did just that, and she is a different dog! I don't think she'll ever be a confident dog - she wasn't born that way - but all her wonderful Labby ways have been emerging.

The problem with that moment - with the jerky whirling boy - was that she had fixated on him, and she was too frightened to be distracted. Like it had gone too far for me to fix at that moment. I realized what was going on too late.

That's another thing. I can usually relax at the dog park. I have to be on my game when I walk her. I got her used to bikes only by seeing them coming and getting her attention before they scare her (getting her into a sit, shake, treat, etc.) Same thing with people. I had to see people coming, then ignore them as we walked by. Whew! It was/is work!

But at the dog park I let myself relax.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 3:18PM
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What mazer said. In any situation, it can be very difficult to control other people, but you should always be able to control your own dog. If you can't, you have to stay away from public places (and/or keep your dog leashed).

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 5:17PM
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Cooks: ??

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 8:41PM
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Whaaaaaaaaaaaat??? I dont agree with avoiding people or public situations, if you avoid a problem a dog simply can not learn to deal.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 8:52PM
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The dog is under control. She is more trained now because she's been socialized, and being at the dog park helped with that.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 9:46PM
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Half of today's parents need parenting lessons. I go to the doggie park often with our two dogs. The one annoys every human to throw him the ball but most people like him. I always have to keep an eye on the Dachshund who has a big time attitude and a chip on his shoulder. It's never people though. I wouldn't let kids pet him for a long time after I rescued him from a kill shelter. But then I noticed that he wiggled and got excited when he saw a little kid..the smaller the better. It occurs to me that he came from a family with little kids so he's fine with them. But he hates certain dogs and when he gets that look in his eye I need to get his attention. He just barks and runs over to them aggressively but doesn't bite. He was given up because "we have too many dogs" so he has issues and I can never totally relax, but doggie parks are good learning places

    Bookmark   July 18, 2011 at 1:19AM
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On-leash walking provides excellent exercise and mental stimulation. I always walk my dog in a dog park, but didn't allow her off leash until I was confident that I could recall her. My preferred park is close-by, and not too busy. The owners are mostly neighbours, and are pretty vigilant about watching their dogs, picking up after them, etc. But there are several other designated off-leash parks where I refuse to go. The worst ones are those that are fully fenced. It's not the excessive number of dogs there that bother me, it's all their disengaged owners who put their dogs inside, then ignore them for the duration. They run in packs, chase other dogs and/or people, and poop everywhere (despite the bylaws). I've heard stories of some folks dropping off their dogs, then going shopping for an hour or so. I have no patience with anyone who allows their dog to misbehave, let alone terrorize others, by simply saying, "Hey, it's an off-leash area! I'm allowed to let my dog chase you!" Anyone who is serious about training their dog, or teaching confidence skills would do much better to go elsewhere. I agree that you ultimately have to challenge yourself and your dog if you want your training to progress, but you have to carefully choose your situations to get the best potential results. Like I said, I can only control my own dog - not others, let alone their owners, so why not avoid the places with the most irresponsible people? (Although I just wish those irresponsible folks would just stay home!)

    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 2:46PM
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spedigrees z4VT

I would find out the name of the woman with the unruly child and report him to dog park management. As stated you pay good money for both you and your dog to enjoy a relaxing, safe atmosphere. You are following the rules, and you have the right to insist that others do the same. You gave this woman the opportunity to get her child under control despite the fact that she is in violation of park regulations, and she failed to do so.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 4:00PM
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Just a thought regarding the child--he sounds like he has some sort of autisum, so do be careful. But I agree, children should not be allowed in the park if that is the rule. Contact the people who run the park and ask them to investigate this situation. Many dog parks are run by the city-
Good luck

    Bookmark   July 25, 2011 at 10:57PM
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I like dog parks - they keep most clueless owners together in one place, lol! Seriously though I would never take my dogs to one of them. Besides non-attentive owners and rule breakers the risk of predatory drift (google it) is too great in that kind of environment, I've seen it and believe me once you have you will not think a bunch of dogs running around playing wildly is a good thing. Bad things can happen in a split second and you will get shredded trying to break up a pack fight. Not worth it. There are plenty of other ways to socialize & exercise my guys as well as work on proofing their OB.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2011 at 1:24AM
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The boy was not autistic. He was not "stimming." I watched him play with his dog before he started getting bored and twirling.

Tournant, I agree with you to some extent, especially about bad things happening in split second. I am always careful about who is there and if any dog is questionable, I am out. When the "usual crowd" is there the dogs are good and the handlers attentive.

But I have no other way to ocialize and exercise my dog. No fenced in backyard, no local friends with such. What do you recommend?

Thanks, all, for your thoughtful advice and remarks.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2011 at 6:46AM
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I do not care to socialize mine with strange dogs, I don't trust those I don't know. I do think it's important, especially for young pups, to be socialized around people and distractions to give them confidence - they'll be less likely to later manifest any fear-agression. Our local Home Depot & Lowes allow dogs but they don't advertise it. I'll go with one at a time when I know it's not busy, weekday mornings are best. I put on a 15ft lead and work on obedience exercises like heeling, long downs and stays in the wide lumber aisles with forklifts beeping all around and contractors loading up flatcarts.

Besides at least one long walk everyday I used the satellite feature of GoogleMaps to scout for possible dog safe fields near my home to run them. I found one 15 minutes away that sits between a community pool and an elementary school. It's a good 3 acres, fenced on three sides with no adjoining houses. Other folks run their dogs there as well but we'll chill out until we can have the area to ourselves. Granted they have an absolutely bomb-proof recall - I can call them off chasing a squirrel or rabbit but I always have a leash ready to snap on if I need to. I also always pick up poop! GSDs have insane ball drive and I use this hard rubber kind to give them a good workout, you can HURL them incredibly long distances and I dislike tennis balls because as the fibrous coating gets dirt crusted it becomes abrasive and will wear down their teeth enamel. You can find them online in different sizes if you search "K9" supplies, police & military handlers use them for dogs and puppies.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2011 at 3:36PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

It's a difficult situation for sure and I feel for you. I hope you find an answer. I would definitely contact the owner /city? of the park. I know we have a local newspaper column that deals with all kinds of issues like this, perhaps you have something similar?

    Bookmark   July 26, 2011 at 9:46PM
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