Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Reflections on the Park Day

It’s a couple of days after our “dog watching with Silvia” event, and like I thought, it was a lot of fun. The weather could not have been better, warm and sunny, and the park was populated with dogs of all sizes. On the small end a few pugs, a mini-dachshund, and a few terrier crosses, who all mingled with many larger ones: a couple of boxers, a German shepherd, several retrievers, a Bernese mountain dog, a standard poodle, quite a few mutts – likely shepherd something mixes, and three Amstaffs. There was a confident, fabulous puppy, maybe toller in her, who behaved like she’s done off-leash parks forever. Likely partly genetics, probably nicely raised wherever she was bred, but it also appears that she has a great canine role model. She arrived with two humans and a larger adult male, black with a white chest and socks, who was also very confident, had a lot of presence, but was super savvy and appropriate with every dog he encountered. He sniffed canine newcomers’ head and face first, then genitals and butt, but often refused to be checked out in turn and walked away. Most dogs he ignored after that, but when one shared his jerky play style, he interacted for a bit, pausing frequently and heeding to the other dog’s stop signals instantly. He let his puppy do her thing, but at the same time was very aware of his surroundings and split when other dogs were a tad too exuberant. The only one he attempted to bark away was a male greyhound who came muzzled. He, the hound, was yelled at from the front by the black dog, and mounted at the rear by an otherwise very laid back golden retriever. Both dogs, without any of us humans having any indication other than the muzzle, knew right away that this dog meant trouble, and indeed the hound terrorized every small dog in the park, including the puppy. The owner had no recall, no control, and didn’t leash him even after repeated attacks, obviously thinking that having her dog muzzled was good enough since he couldn’t bite and do “real” damage. Finally, perhaps because she picked up on the dirty looks she received from the owners whose dogs ran away screaming in fright, leashed him and left. I hope she won’t return until she’s worked through the dog’s predatory issues with the help of a professional.
But that was the only conflict between big dogs and small ones; the only conflict period. All other dogs either played with or ignored one another, no dog chased or was rough with the children who were there, and no dog seemed to guard toys, sticks or food.
And there were many toys. In fact, one thing that stuck out for me was that all the “bully” owners had a Frisbee and interspersed letting their pooches socialize with playing fetch. That was fantastic, cause it prevented that any of these very energetic and boisterous boxers, young Labradors, and Amstaffs pestered another pooch out of boredom.
What I also really liked was that every dog had a normal buckle collar on. No chokes, prongs or shock collars from what I saw, and almost every dog responded happily and instantly to their person’s request to return, follow, or hang close. So, to my surprise it was almost positive all the way.
Almost. There was one mid-size brown dog, maybe a Lab or hound mix, who charged up quickly, and whose behavior with other dogs was out-of-control. He didn’t respond when called, and was also the only dog I observed who was corrected and physically, Millan style, forced into a certain position as soon as his owners got physical control back. Other than correcting him, they didn’t seem to do much else - didn’t walk much, didn’t play, didn’t seem to have a toy or treats, so it appears that they expected perfect manners, calm submission, and mindless obedience around many distractions without giving anything in return.

The Seaview park morning was followed with six half-hour, one-on-one guided dog walks, and that was a lot of fun too. I finally got to meet pooches whose people I’ve known for some time.
The first one was a brilliant Spanish water dog, locally bred in Nova Scotia, who I saw first when she was five weeks old. She is two now and very beautiful, and motivated, alert and intense, like a good SWD should be.
The next one was the goofiest looking golden doodle, and on top he is a really, really nice boy – and a rescue. It was wonderful to see how many people open their homes and hearts to second chance dogs. This particular one needs a little confidence, that's all, and maybe I'll suggest for him to join our tracking group later this year. Tracking was the best confidence builder for our Will.
My next client also had one rescue, a pure, older Cairn terrier, and another two-year-old Cairn she acquired as a pup. That one was a bit livelier, clever and spirited, and as a result easily bored. Determined to get the most out of his off-leash time, he wasn’t always convinced that following his person faithfully or obeying a recall command would yield ultimate entertainment. But we managed to find a motivator he liked enough to come when called, readily and exuberantly. Exaggerated, prolonged attention and interaction did the job, and he quickly liked it so much that he lagged behind for a different reason: not to find stimulation elsewhere, but to prompt us to call him so fun with his person could continue.
The last new dog was a Border collie cross, again a rescue. Sweet with me and so willing to work and please, she was a bit reactive with dogs and fast moving humans. Typical for collies, as long as we kept a comfortable for her distance, she was agreeable to be redirected, so I am sure that in time she’ll be fine, especially since she lucked out and found an owner who is very caring and committed and not giving up.
The remaining dogs I already knew and worked with before. One is the sweetest ever Portuguese water dog; a two-year-old female, also locally bred and on the smaller side. That is something I noticed – almost every Portie I saw was smaller than usual. Maybe from the same breeder? Maybe it’s the new flavor for Porties? In any case, this one’s only misbehavior is that she’s a little too excitable at times, and spring loaded then. The jumping, the lack of self-control, is annoying and will take a little patience to change, but she is smart and motivated, so I am sure she’ll be perfect in no-time.
The last two dogs for the day were two Cavaliers, females, adults, one insecure, the other a bossy bitch, and I mean that in a nice way. Very much in control of herself she gave most dogs “The Look” I typically only see female herding dogs use. Without meaning to trivialize her behavior, cause I believe that a lap dog should be treated like any other one and commend the owner for her commitment to teach her girls manners, it was rather amusing when she kept a boxer in line with her eyes only. We watched him straining on his leash to say hello to a small terrier just a moment prior, and when he saw the Cavs he drifted towards them, but quickly changed his mind when he picked up the hairy stare the bossy one darted. He curved out, put his owner between him and us, and inconspicuously moseyed on. The problem behavior I was there for, the barking and lunging, was easily explained. Based on what I observed, most dogs heeded her “mind your own business” signals like the boxer did, so that is what she experiences and expects, and if a dog doesn’t she becomes frustrated and turns communication up a notch. We saw that with a couple of block-headed pooches who insisted on greeting. Keeping them out of her space will curb the barking and lunging, I am sure.
So, that was my day at two parks – one off-leash and one multi-use. It was a long and busy day, and yet I was not as tired at the end of it as I anticipated. I get to this twice more before August, and am really looking forward to it. And because I am slowly figuring out my new I-phone, maybe I’ll have some visual footage the next time I post more park observations.

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