Dog Park Rookie

When I got a dog I was excited to start going to the dog park. I thought it might be just like going to the playground with little kids, standing around shooting the breeze with other parents. In fact it’s been so long since I’ve lingered at a playground that I thought the dog park might be a fun way to get back into the flow of information.

Boy was I wrong. The dog park is a different world with its own set of rules and customs. I am so out of my depth at the dog park, both functionally and socially, that it’s like there’s an invisible fence around it, and my collar is set to the wrong frequency. I keep getting zapped.

On Sunday I was standing around talking to the dog moms and dads when seven dogs attacked mine. I mean like an eight dog pile up, teeth bared. I didn’t know what to do (a theme of mine as a dog owner), so I grabbed him out of the mess, expecting the others to do the same and then come hug me. That’s how it works on the playground: everyone rallies around the victim and scolds the assailant. When my kids have been on the wrong side of this situation I apologize, then make them apologize. If skin or bones have been broken, I might send cookies.

Not at the dog park. The dog park is Lord of the Flies. Keeping their hugs to themselves, the other dog parents explained to me that their dogs were attacking mine because he was running around with a leash still attached. It made him seem weak. In effect, he seemed like a wimp and was kind of asking for it.

My thoughts raced to the playground, to the kid with the runny nose and the collared shirt who always got picked on. I couldn’t believe it: my dog was that kid. I’d left his leash on so that I might have an easier time catching him if he ran off, him being fast like lightening and me being slow like me. In effect, I was that mom overdressing her kid for the playground, interrupting his play to administer juice boxes and sunscreen. I was killing his chances of being cool.

When I had little kids I knew better. I’d send them to the playground in t-shirts with trucks on them, the bigger the trucks the better. They wore sneakers that lit up and brought their own gear to the sandbox, plus extra gear to attract friends. This is the language of the playground, and I was fluent.

On the playground we made little of each others’ kids’ frailties because we needed to make friends. Maybe that lady’s kid didn’t share, but if she was the first adult I’d spoken to in five hours I’d overlook it. But people in the dog park aren’t trying to make friends. They don’t need friends; they have dogs. In the dog world things happen quickly, the balance can be upset in an instant. They don’t have time to be nice about it and then bad mouth you after you leave, playground-style. Stuff at the dog park is nipped right in the bud.

One nice thing about dog park people is they don’t brag about their dogs. I used to leave the playground completely downtrodden after hearing how everyone’s first grader had breezed through the entire Harry Potter series. The only bragging I hear from dog owners is from the rescuers who tell a lot of stories about how bad off that dog was when he’d been rescued. I embellish my rescue story a little to gain some street cred. To no avail.

So Apollo and I aren’t cool at the dog park. In fact he makes a habit of sneaking up on strangers and peeing on their sandals. He’s that kid, but we’re working on it. I have admitted to myself that he’s the least cool of my sons. But he’s off the leash and we keep going back. I just ordered a fanny pack online, so I figure that should help.

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