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.

************************

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!