Saturday, February 25, 2012

Snow day


Yesterday, almost everyone I know bitched and moaned as they watched the city get pounded with 15-20 cm of snow through the office window. All I heard all day long was, "Oh god, I hate shoveling," or "The drive home is going to be so looooong" or "I need winter to be over." I, on the other hand, felt as giddy as a school girl.

You see, it is utterly impossible to hate snow when you know the Beast.

To my dog, there is nothing in the world as miraculous as snow. It's fluffy, it's cold, it feels good under your paws, you can dive into it, you can capture snowflakes with your mouth as they fall, you can roll around in it, and you can eat it. What is not to love?!?

And it's been such an oddly precipitation-free winter, that the Beast just hasn't had a lot of opportunity to do all of the above. Not to mention that this is the winter that I decided to take up snowshoeing, and I have barely broken in my brand new shoes because, well, there's no powdery white stuff. So as the snow kept falling and cars kept skidding down slippery streets and pedestrians kept slipping on ungroomed sidewalks, I kept wishing for Saturday morning to arrive so that the Beast and I could hit the Arboretum for a snow-filled adventure.

The result of after-work shoveling is a 2-feet-high snowbank
The Beast must have been planning for a Saturday morning Arboretum romp as well, because he woke me up at 5:00 a.m. with his restless back-and-forth pacing, forcing me to get out of bed at 5:30 to let him outside. (Someone please tell this dog that it is the WEEKEND!). As soon as I was awake, he sprinted so quickly down the stairs that I thought for sure he was going to tumble down them in a ball of fur and paws. But he made it down in one piece, then practically concussed himself when he got to the back door and skidded along the hardwood and headfirst into the patio doors. When I let him out, he hurdled over the 2-foot-high snowbank at the end of our deck like he was Perdita Felicien herself. Then he leaped through the back yard like a deer through a meadow for a few moments before finally settling into his morning constitutional. On his way back into the house, he couldn't resist stopping to grab a snack of fresh snow from the top of the snowbank.

Breakfast!
And so the Beast's snow day began! But, being the mean human companion that I am, I made him wait until I facebooked a little, caught up on the blogs I follow, read some news, and got come caffeine and food into me, before I was finally ready to bundle myself up in winter layers and hit the Arboretum for a couple of hours.  (Consider it payback for waking me up at an ungodly weekend hour, Beasty...)

Hubby stayed home to clean (SCORE!) while the Beast and I hit the streets for the 20 minute walk to the Arboretum. Unlike most Saturday mornings, the park was practically deserted, and we had it all to ourselves. I guess the snow keeps the people and their dogs away. What wimps! (The Beast told me to write that...).

When we got there, I fastened on the snowshoes, let the Beast off of his leash, and off we went! And what better way to chronicle our morning than with pictures (even though I am the world's shittiest photographer).

My snowshoes were happy to be let out of the basement after four snowless weeks!

Playing fetch in the snow - bringing back his favourite toy

Breaking a new trail in the fresh snow. Off he goes!

Leaping through the snow! If only I had a good enough camera to catch a series of these!

Can you spot the Beast?

After running through the trees for 45 minutes, even the Beast needs to lie down and take a breather. And eat some snow...

Yummy snow!
Striking a pose!

The best stuff is at the bottom

Break's over! I'm off again!

Hustling back to me when I give him the command! Good boy!


One last leap through the deep snow before the leash comes back on!

We spent well over an hour in the Arboretum, covering about 4k together. And of course, no adventure with the Beast would be complete without a little drama, this time in the form of about 100 burrs - I wish I were exaggerating, but I really am not - entangling and matting themselves into the Beast's top- and under-coats. (I removed about 20 in the park and then hubby and I spent 45 minutes removing the rest of them when we got home, some of which were in, shall we say, very delicate places. Suffice it to say this was not the highlight of the snow day. Although I must admit that his coat does look stunning because of all that brushing...)

Running through 20 cm of fresh snow is hard work!
And then we came home, where after burr-removal surgery and a breakfast of something a little more substantial than snow,  the Beast settled down onto his bed, and fought to keep his eyes open for three or so minutes before finally surrendering to blissful sleep. (Of course he's tired - he woke up at 5:00 a.m.! And no, I will not let that go!)  So exhausted he clearly was after his Arboretum snow day romp that he did not even focus on the cat who is staying with us this weekend and who he has not left alone for more than 30 seconds since she arrived on Wednesday (blog post to come on this little adventure for sure).

And in this position he stayed, until...

...he heard Hubby open the back patio door to go out and shovel the deck. And so he somehow found the energy to go out and help...

Let me get that for you, Dad!
Look at the concentration!

Pouncing on snow!

Snow shower!

God I love this white stuff!































































































This dog even makes shoveling fun...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Humble pie

A few weeks ago, I shamelessly bragged about my performance as a calm and assertive pack leader when the Beast ended up being the only dog in the park to not have a meltdown when a shouting match, prompted by one off-leash dog going after another on-leash dog, erupted between their owners.

This weekend, it's time for some penance and humility...

My story begins on Friday morning, when the Beast and I took off on our run. We started out a little bit later than we normally would (someone forgot to set the alarm clock...), and so I thought we would just do a quick 6k so that I could get home and get ready for work. But about 20 minutes in, the sun started to come up. And I haven't had a sunrise run since, well, September. So I decided to change course. I brought the Beast into his beloved Arboretum. While he ran around from stick to stick to stick (a large number of which he evidently ate and threw up 24 hours later), I did a few laps on the pressed-down-snow trail that has built up over the winter months.

By the time we arrived in our driveway, we'd put 10.04k under our belts. We were both pretty wiped. And I was staring down a clock telling me that I would be late for work.

No matter. Running my first 10k in five months - during the light of day - felt glorious. And the Beast got a tonne of exercise while hanging out in his favourite place on earth. It was a good morning for both of us.

When I got home after work on Friday to let the Beast out and to take him on his end-of-day stroll, I was positive that he would still be recovering from his big morning. But nope. He was JACKED! I let him out, and he practically skidded across the floor to the back door. I let him out to pee and he leaped across the deck and over the snowbank as though someone was waiting on the other side with a treat. When he was done, he came running back into the house and jumped on me, something that he rarely does anymore because he knows it will earn him a correction. But there was something in the air that had him in an absolute tizzy. Maybe he knew that it was Friday?

Whatever the reason for his state, I should have known better than to bring him immediately to the dog park, at prime-after-work-hours, when all the dogs and kids would be there, without bringing him for a walk first to drain a little energy.

Now in fairness to myself, I had every intention of bringing him for a walk. But then, as I got to the end of my street, I bumped into a neighbouring family and their golden doodle. And their little 9 year old girl asked me if the Beast was coming to the park. I told her that we would go to the park when we were done our walk, and she looked at me and said, "Darn! We probably won't be there when you come back because we are going to Grandma and Grandpa's for dinner!" And since I really like this kid, I told her that I would come to the park with her and walk the Beast later, which seemed to make her very happy.

First mistake.

The second mistake was letting him off-leash when I knew that he was not calm enough.

There is a ritual to unleashing the Beast in the dog park. He must first sit down and make eye contact. Then he must relax (as much as he is capable of relaxing). Then I let him off his leash, and he must stay put until I give him the release command. Most of the time, he is very good at this, and if he does try to take off before I release him, all it takes is an "Ah-ah!", and his bum hits the ground and he resumes his not-so-patient stay. Until I yell "break", at which point he is off.

Yesterday, he took off immediately, without listening to my protest of "ah-ah!" or my futile grab for his collar as he dashed away. Enter the third mistake: not going to get him to bring him back to the spot until I was ready to release him. Nope, I just let him bolt off.

This is all very uncharacteristic of me. I love my dog, but I ain't no pushover. And he's not allowed to get away with this shit. I've yanked him out of a dog park for much lesser sins than this. But yesterday, I just checked out. I was tired from a long day at work. I was stressed from a long two-weeks at work. And I was feeling slightly guilty that almost as soon as we got home, the Beast would have to go back into his crate because hubby and I were heading out for the evening. So I gave him the proverbial inch...

...and he turned that inch into a dog park gong show.

I won't go into every detail. Suffice it to say that he was playing roughly with all the younger dogs, he was barking at the kids, and he was generally running around like a chicken with his head cut off. I reached my patience limit when, after releasing him from a three-minute time-out, he went straight back to terrorizing two sweet and submissive dogs that were frequenting the park. That's when I decided that it was time to leave, and I grabbed for the Beast with his leash in hand.

It took me about 30 seconds or so to catch him, because he was in that zone where every command I shouted was not registering. When I finally nabbed him, I clipped his leash back on and put him immediately into a down, swearing a little bit under my breath as I did so. My plan was to keep him lying down there for a few minutes until he calmed down a little. Then I was going to bring him on his walk.

And then one of the little girl's at the park came running up to him, screaming his name and telling him that he was the craziest dog that she'd ever met. Before I could tell her that the Beast was on a time-out, she reached down to hug him. Which he took as an invitation to jump up and bark in her face.

And so he did.

Now he did not touch her. Neither with a paw nor with his mouth. He simply jumped and barked. But he was about an inch from her face, and his bark is loud. Which I guess is scary to a little girl. So she started to cry.

And I thought to myself, "Oh f$&k!"

Because when a dog makes a kid cry, it is always, always, always the dog's fault. No matter the circumstances. It doesn't matter that I had put the Beast on a time-out to calm him down so that I could remove him from the park because he was getting out of hand. It doesn't matter that the Beast isn't a human and doesn't understand what a hug is. And it doesn't matter that this little girl was coming straight toward him making wild gestures that he didn't understand. All that matters is that he did something that made a kid cry.

I admit it. I wanted to speak sternly with the little girl, and say something bitchy like, "You get what you deserve, kiddo!" or "Stop crying! He didn't even touch you!" or "You can't come running up to him like that and expect him to lie there quietly!" or "Back off the next time you see that I am trying to discipline him!"

But I didn't say anything of the sort. Instead, I immediately put the Beast back into a down. Then I put a hand on the little girl's back, who was being comforted by her father, and I said, "Are you okay, sweetheart?" To which she just continued to sob. So I asked her father if she was okay. He was busy checking her face to make sure that she wasn't hurt (which I knew she wouldn't be because the Beast didn't touch her, but I didn't think it would be a good idea to say that). He told me she was fine, but I asked anyway if he needed anything from me. He assured me that everything was okay, and so I stuck around until the little girl stopped crying. After a few minutes, she did, and I told her that the Beast, who was finally lying calmly at my feet, was sorry too, and that he hoped that she wasn't mad at him. She didn't say much, but at least she cracked a little smile. And then she ran off to play with her dog.

So we left. And I took him for the walk that I should have taken him on 30 minutes earlier. And then I took him home. And I fumed for a little while.

I didn't know who I was mad at. Was I mad at the little girl for riling up the Beast just as I was trying to calm him down? Was I mad at her father for not teaching her that she has to be more respectful of other dogs in the park? Was I mad at the Beast for being such a shithead?

Well, maybe a little of yes to each of those. But I was mostly mad at myself. For not taking the Beast for a walk before going to the park. For not reinforcing his rules for being off-leash in the park. For not removing him from the park sooner when I knew that he was hyper-excited and that the environment was too stimulating. For ignoring every warning sign that he gave me. It's not up to him to look up at me and say, "Hey Mom, I'm about to have a melt down because there is too much going on around me right now. Maybe we should bail." That's my job. And I failed spectacularly at it.

(OK, maybe that's an overstatement, but I am both a drama queen and very hard on myself...)

Anyway, the good news in this is that I learned a pretty good lesson.

Taking care of the Beast is tough. As an excited-dominant dog, he needs constant leadership from us, or else he will take control. It's a full-time job, on top of my real full-time job. So yes, there are probably some days where I am going to be too tired or too emotionally drained to be very good at it. Which is okay - I can't be "on" all the time. But I have to recognize those times and those moments when I'm maybe not feeling so great and try really hard not to pass that instability on to the Beast. I have to set him up for success, by, for example, not taking him into an environment where he will need to rely on strong leadership to counter the millions of distractions and stimulants around him.

Or maybe the next time I am having a bad day, I can just let hubby deal with him. And I'll go to the spa or something... Yeah - that's a good idea too.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Milestones

Freedictionary.com defines a milestone as "an important event, as in a person's career, the history of a nation, or the advancement of knowledge in a field; a turning point."

Makes milestones sound so very distinguished and important, n'est-ce pas? Like the discovery of penicillin. Or the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Or the day you got promoted to CEO of the company.

But there are other less renowned events in all of our lives that count as milestones, marking our progression from one stage of development to another. Like taking our first steps. Or going to school for the first time. Or graduating from university. Or buying our first home. Perhaps not cause for publication in scientific journals or for a national fireworks display, but cause for celebration nonetheless.

And there are even milestones in the lives of dogs. I know this, because the Beast achieved what I consider to be a very significant milestone last night.

Have you ever seen a more comfy crate?
The only person who reads this blog My faithful readers will know that we have been crate training the Beast. He stays in the crate during the day when we are not home, and he sleeps in his crate at night. And despite his somewhat rough introduction to this arrangement, he has settled into his little den quite nicely. Of course, the food puzzle that gets thrown in there with him every morning probably helps. Nonetheless, he no longer sets off the house alarm with his incessant barking every time we leave the house with him in the crate. That is no small amount of progress, in my books.

It is not, however, our intention to leave the Beast in the crate for all time. And indeed, we have tried to leave him out for shorter periods of time every now and then to see how he fares. The good news is that my shoes, which are generally strewn about the house, are safe when he is out of his crate. As are all of our other belongings and furnishings. In other words, he is not destructive. The bad news is that he is addicted to butter. And about 50% of the time that we leave him out, he will make a b-line for the kitchen counter top, knock down the butter dish (along with anything else left lying on the counter, like a sharp knife), take it to his bed, and lick it clean.

I know you're thinking. Who can blame him for being addicted to creamy, delicious butter? Well, that, and just hide the butter dish and knives, stupid!

Don't you think that Hubby and I thought of that already? The problem is that when the Beast has finished his unfruitful counter-surf for the butter dish, he convinces himself that it must be hiding in the garbage can. He then empties the garbage one piece at a time, each of which he brings to his bed to shred to bits in a desperate search for his dairy crack. Which of course he doesn't find. (But he has found the wrapper from raw chicken which he was more than happy to gobble down, and not quite so happy to throw up a few hours later.)

And don't tell me to hide the garbage can either, because he will only bring his search and rescue mission to some other part of the house. And I am frankly not prepared to "dog-proof" my entire house. There are rules, and the Beast needs to learn them. And the same way I had to earn the privilege to use my dad's car to go out on Saturday nights by respecting things like a curfew, the Beast has to earn the privilege of crate freedom by respecting that the butter dish and the garbage can and any other potential hiding place are just as off-limits to him when we are away as they are when we are around.

Yeah, that's right! I'm a hard ass!

But a hard-ass who is starting to soften, because last night, while watching the SuperBowl (and wishing that any two other teams other than those led by my two least favourite QBs could be playing), I looked over at hubby and told him that it was time to let the Beast sleep outside of his crate. He is doing really well with his training, and becoming more and more responsive to our leadership, so he deserves a little something in return. And hubby agreed. So as soon as that lip-synching gong show that was the Madonna half-time and the rest of that miserable football game were over, we put him out for his last pee of the day and started to get ready for bed.

When the Beast came in from his potty break, he made straight for his crate, as he does every night. When I didn't come up behind him and lock the door right away, he stood there kind of puzzled, tipping his head from side to side with a big question mark floating over him. As though he could understand me, I looked at him and said, "Not tonight, Beasty. You can sleep here if you want, or you can come upstairs with Hubby and I. We'll make up a bed for you."

Sparing no expense - the big boy bed
Well of course, he followed me straight upstairs. And the "bed" that we made for him was a blanket spread out on the hallway floor just outside of our bedroom (not inside our bedroom, thank-you-very-much, because having a dog snoring away at your feet could be a bit of a mood spoiler, if you know what I'm sayin'...). And I just pointed to the bed, gave him the signal for "down", and he immediately curled up and settled in for a good night's sleep.

I expected to wake up in the middle of the night and find him either sleeping right in the doorway to our bedroom, or perhaps right in our bedroom itself, or perhaps even licking butter out of the butter dish. But nope. I woke up three times last night (what can I say, it was SuperBowl Sunday, so there was beer, so there was more peeing than usual), and each time I woke up, there he was, right on his blanket, sleeping like a little doggie angel. Only once did he get up to stretch and try to follow me into the bedroom. But I just pointed him back to the blanket and he happily curled back up in his spot, where he stayed until he heard the alarm go off at 5:30 this morning. (At which point he came into the bedroom to lick our faces and get us up).

Snug as a bug in a rug

And so, my little Beasty spent his first night in a big-boy-bed. And it was drama free.

This is quite an achievement for a dog like the Beast, known for pushing limits and trying to get what he wants despite the rules. He could have snuck downstairs and gone butter surfing. He could have curled up in the corner of our bedroom. But he did neither. He stayed in his big-boy-bed all night long.

It's a milestone. And I'm very proud of my little pup.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Another day of bootcamp

Another sunny winter afternoon found us out at Alpha Trainer's yesterday to continue with the Beast's training.

Good news! She is very pleased with our progress. Not only because the Beast is able to do most of what we have taught him, but because, as she says, we are becoming less confusing to him. He is starting to understand what we want from him because we have learned how to communicate in his language. So gold star for hubby and I!

And as for the next lessons, here they are:
  • Begin introducing distraction to the Beast's training. Stop along the sidewalk during our walks, take him to the dog park when there is no one else around, and practice all that we have practiced at home.
  • Begin placing him in different positions for "out" as opposed to directly in front of us. 
  • Begin reducing the food treats given for successful completion of commands.
  • Break down the working heel and essentially start it over because we weren't doing it right.
  • Continue work on down-stand-down, because we have been letting him stand AND walk, but we need to get him to simply stand.
  • Begin moving away from him when we get him in a sit or a down, so that he learns that he has to stay even if we don't, until we release him from that position. Start with just one or two steps back, and work up.

Alpha Trainer also taught us a new game to play with the Beast - Search & Rescue. This one is going to be a real challenge for him, because he is not as nose-motivated as many dogs are (herding dogs primarily use their sight). We have noticed this ourselves when we hide his favourite toy and make him try to find it - he uses his eyes to find it instead of his nose to track it down. So this will be a really good game for him to learn, because as Alpha Trainer says, it will teach him how to be more of a dog than a herder, and he will be really proud of himself once he figures it out. The game goes something like this:
  • Find a place for one of us to hide.
  • Mark another spot a few yards away from there. This is the starting point. 
  • Have the person who will be hiding start from this point, and leave a piece of kibble behind his heel at ever third step. 
  • Once he is hidden, the other person will take the Beast to the start point, and give the command "Find your man!" She will then lead the Beast to each footprint so that the Beast picks up the scent.
  • When the Beast finds his man hiding, there should be a very big celebration, like a vigorous game of tug, to celebrate his achievement.

She also taught us how to play tug properly with him, and strongly encourages this as a game that will let the Beast know that we may be in charge, but that he can also trust us to give him what he wants, in this case his tug toy. To play tug properly, we must:
  • Let him take a hold of the toy with his mouth while we hold on to the opposite two ends.
  • Let him tug and growl and pull to his heart's desire!
  • Issue the command "Out!" when we want him to stop pulling. If he does not release right away, we stop moving and just hold the toy still, so that it is no longer fun for him. 
  • Once he releases, say "Yes, out!" and immediately give him the toy back with a "take it" so that he knows that he can trust us to get back his fun toy.

And finally, some tips, mostly for me:
  • Stop bending over the Beast and always stand up tall with my shoulders back. I have a tendency to hover over him or bend down to his level when issuing a command, instead of staying in the upper position, and in the dog world, being up high means being the one in charge.
  • Mean it when I give corrections. He doesn't take my corrections seriously at times because he doesn't think that I really mean it.
  • When he is fixating on something or someone, get in between the Beast and the object of his fixation and back him away from his target. Don't let him go until his is relaxed. 
  • Start being more serious about making people outside until the Beast calms down a little bit before I let them in the house. He needs more help and patience to learn to relax when someone comes to the door.

And there we are. Two lessons down, two more to go!

As for this morning, Mr. Beasty is still a little tired from his day of learning, so I am going to reward him with a trip to the dog park. Maybe we'll stop along the way to do a little bit of training!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Wellness

Yesterday, I took a "wellness" day. Not to be confused with a sick day, because, well, I wasn't sick. I just needed some quality me-time. So I took a vacation day, left my blackberry sitting on a bookshelf in my home office, and did only things that either make me happy or are good for me.

Like going for a morning run with the Beast. Only this time, because I didn't have to work, we woke up a little bit later and ran a little bit longer. And because it was light outside, we ran through the Arboretum, where he can bounce along off-leash and frolic in the snow. By the time we got home after almost an hour and just under 9k, we were both exhausted but elated at having the opportunity to spend such a fun morning together.

Then, since it was a day off for me, I decided to give the Beast a day off too, so we forewent his daily 15-minute training session, and instead opted to spend a couple of hours lounging around and doing mostly nothing. I wrote a blog post and drank three cups of coffee. He napped, first beside the door, and then on his bed at my feet, where I could hear his gentle snores.

Then I decided to hit a lunch-time yoga class, something I can never do because the office and the yoga studio are not close enough. And while I still can't say that I have an emotional connection to the yoga mat, my body and my mind seem to like this sport. Because it makes my achy muscles just a little less achy and it helps me turn off the monkey chatter in my brain, even if only for a short period.

On the way home, I stopped at Starbucks where I indulged in a full fat latté (they really are more delicious than my usual skinny version). I arrived back at the house to find the Beast still napping. Which seemed like a great idea. Because if there is anything in the world more soul revitalizing than a nap, I just have not found it. So off I went to bed, curled up with my book, where I fell asleep after a few short pages.

By the time I woke up, the afternoon was winding down, so I walked, played with and fed the Beast, and then slipped out with hubby and some friends for a Friday night on the town.

It was, in a nutshell, a perfect day. And I cannot help but conclude that I need more of them.

And as a former colleague of mine noted in response to my Facebook status update about my wellness day, the Beast needs more days like this too. I mean really, this wasn't just a perfect day for me. It was a perfect day for him too! He got to run around off-leash, go farther than he normally does, spend the entire day out of the create, and nap in any number of his favourite spots. Bliss for a dog, I tell you, BLISS!

And so, I have reached a very important conclusion.

I am going to quit my job and be a stay-at-home-wife-and-dog-owner. I'm not doing it for myself. I'm doing it for the Beast. I mean, he deserves this!

Now, anyone have any suggestions of how I can convince my husband that this is a good idea?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Dog park rules

I've written about dog parks once or twice in this blog. Maybe even three times. What can I say? I spend a lot of time in them.

All of the countless hours that I have spent in these parks has led me to one very important conclusion: dog parks are kind of odd little places. I mean, for the most part, the dogs are pretty normal. But the people who frequent the parks, well, let's just say not all of them are normal. Like the guy I met once who challenged another guy to a parking lot fight because the other guy's dog lunged at the Beast. I mean, yeah, sure, it was, er, um, kind of sweet, I guess, that he wanted to protect the Beast. But a fist fight? In the parking lot? With so much foul language? I mean, that is sooooooo high school.... (roll eyes here).

To be fair, the vast majority of dog park goers are not this scary interesting. But still the crew of dog-park-goers does form a subculture of sorts, differentiated from mainstream society by a series of distinct characteristics. Such as:
  • a unique fashion sense: I call it the "dog park clothes" line, not to be confused with the lounging around in my Lululemons line. No, Lulus are too high end for the average dog-park-goer. The dog park clothes line consists of anything ratty and even slightly distasteful, but definitely NOT black (no matter how slimming), so that it can be worn freely in dog-slobber and fur-filled environment without fear. Rubber boots are optional. My own dog park wardrobe consists of a pair of jeans bought at Value Village (oh the shame) for 7$, and a pair of sweat pants with a leopard down the side (not leopard print, an actual leopard). 
  • a distinct patois: Similar in tone to baby-talk in that it is higher in pitch than normal speech, but all that cooing is replaced with "good boy" and "find your ball" in a very excitable tone.
  • a love of sporting various accoutrements: The typical dog-park-goer can be spotted from a mile away, because they have a leash worn across their chest (much like Chewbacca's ammunition belt), a poop-baggie holder of some sort clipped to their waist, and a fanny pack full of treats and toys. It's like they are daring others to call them "uncool".

But most importantly, as with all subcultures, the dog park crew has established an intricate set of rules that one must follow if they truly wish to belong. These rules are not written down anywhere. I have learned them through countless hours of observation. So I am doing you all a favour (you're welcome) and writing out the top ten here, so that you don't have to go through the ridicule and embarrassment that has been my last 9 months of trying to learn the ropes so that I can truly join this cult intricate and exciting social group.

10 - Judge all the other dogs in the park as inferiour to your own
There is not one dog in this park who is as handsome/well-behaved/fast/fun/insert-any-other-word-here-that-you-would-like as your own beloved pooch. So judge harshly and judge freely. You have the option of doing this on your own, by silently standing back in a corner, shaking your head, and muttering obscenities under your breath. Or you can pair up with a like-minded dog-park-goer and judge together. It's more satisfying that way.

9 - Judge all the other people in the park as inferiour to you
Maybe you think she's too strict with her dog. Maybe you think she's not strict enough. Whatever. She's obviously doing everything wrong and ruining her dog. Which means that her dog will probably end up in a shelter and someone else will have to deal with its shit. So you should judge that bitch. (Again, this can be done alone or in groups, depending on your mood). 

8 - Throw your bags of poop in the garbage can that is clearly marked "No dog waste"
Why not? Everyone does it. It is overflowing with a rainbow of colourful poop bags. So what if it is smells like, well, shit whenever the wind changes directions? 

7 - Ignore your dog
Seriously. If you want to be cool at a dog park, you have to ignore your dog, and either sit on a bench and smoke cigarettes with your human friends, or talk on the phone with your human friends. And you should dismiss all of the uncool humans who are debasing themselves by playing fetch with their dogs. Losers. 

6 - Make excuses for your dog's bad behaviour, but then do nothing about it
"Oh, he's a rescue" or "Oh, he's a herding dog" (ahem) or "Oh, don't worry, he's not actually going to pierce skin when he bites your dog's neck like that" are all phrases uttered at the dog park by people who then resume rule #7 immediately thereafter. Even when their dog eventually does pierce skin. 

5 - Bring food into the dog park at will, and expect all the other dogs to behave politely despite this olfactory overload
Well d'uh! Of course you should be allowed to slip into the dog park with an ice cream cone and be able to eat it in peace while surrounded by 10-20 dogs, 90% of which are quite likely food obsessed because, um, THEY ARE DOGS!!!  Then get mad at the dogs and their owners when you get surrounded and the Lab grabs your snack.  

4 - Brag about your latest dog gadget
Maybe it's a cool ball chucker. Maybe it's a glow in the dark collar. Maybe it's retractable leash with laser beams that come out of it. Whatever it is, brag about it at will to everyone who will listen so that they know just how much more you obviously love your dog than they love theirs, and then resume rule #9. And possibly rule #6 when your overly-spoiled and undisciplined dog starts biting another dog's neck. 

3 - Give children the dirty eye
Children have NO PLACE being in a dog park. Even if they are there with a dog. All they do is run around, make loud noises, and rile up the dogs. And then when the dogs jump on them, they cry. And their adults get mad at the dog and its owner. And there is usually an argument, which gets the kid and the dogs riled up even more until it descends into a messy, tear and bark filled downward spiral. Best to simply not let children come into the dog park. After all, they have their own parks. You know, the ones with monkey bars. 

2 - Give unsolicited advice. About everything.
"I think your dog barks so much because he's anxious. Why don't you bring him in to see a behaviourist?" or "Does your dog pull? You should get this harness!" or "Why are you feeding him Fromm's? You should definitely be giving him Origins!" It doesn't matter what the issue is that you do NOT need help with, someone will try to help you out anyway. Out of the kindness of their heart and for the good of your dog, of course. (Not unlike the unsolicited advice that other people give you when you are planning a wedding or raising a child...)

And finally, the number one rule of the dog-park subculture is....

(Insert drum roll here...) 

1 - HENCEFORTH, THOU SHALT BE KNOWN BY THY DOG'S NAME, AND ONLY BY THY DOG'S NAME
No one will introduce themselves to you by name. No one will ask you your name. No one will say hi to you directly. But they will introduce you to their dog. They will ask you your dog's name. And they will say hi to your dog the next time they see you instead of to you. Even if they spend fifteen minutes chatting with you every day for the rest of their dog's life, it is quite likely that you will never know their name. And don't make the mistake of asking. Because they don't know how to respond with anything other than a blank stare and a reiteration of their dog's name.

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So there you have it! Dog Park 101. Now you are guaranteed to fit in and you can navigate the dog park with ease (again, you're welcome).

Or you can do like I do: spend the whole time in the dog park playing with your dog, and occasionally chatting with a nice adult that you have just met and who actually knows your name because you were brave enough to introduce yourself to him.

Either way, have fun!