Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog parks have come a really long way in the past 20 years. Once deemed a mild curiosity (and perhaps an irritant) by most city and county park departments, they are now at the top of the list of community “must-haves.” Since 2007, their numbers have grown by 80 percent, according to a recent report from the Trust for Public Lands, which surveyed the nation’s 100 largest city park systems.
As noted in their report, 2016 City Park Facts, “Nearly every big city now has at least one dedicated dog park, often with a name that reflects the creativity and exuberance of the movement. Fort Worth pups play at Fort Woof, Memphis pets frolic at Overton Bark, Dallas dogs run at My Best Friend’s Park and Atlanta pooches scamper at Freedom Barkway.”
As we all know, we’re hooked on dogs and love our outdoor R&R time with them, watching them make new friends as we share the latest with other dog folks. Park planners and advocates are catching on; as Peter Harnik, who led the study noted, “Americans love dogs, and parks increasingly reflect that fact as people want places to get outside and take their dogs with them.”
According to the report, the top five dog-park cities are Henderson, Nev.; Portland, Ore.; Norfolk, Va.; Las Vegas, Nev.; and Madison, Wisc.
We have to hand it to all those “exuberant” dog park advocates: our hard work has paid off.
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) is proposing a roughly 90 percent reduction in its off-leash space. And we have only until May 25 to comment on this draconian proposal.
The GGNRA oversees more than 80,000 acres of the Northern California coastline, and of this, dogs have only been allowed on approximately 1 percent. Their proposed new Dog Management Plan will reduce that smidgen by 90 percent, which is a significant hit.
Although a unit of the Dept. of the Interior’s National Park Service, GGNRA is in a decidedly different category than the more traditional parks such as Yellowstone or Yosemite. From its inception in 1972, it has been charged with balancing habitat protection with recreational activities that predated its creation: “To provide for the maintenance of needed recreational open space.” Foremost among those activities was (and is) off-leash dog-walking. One of the groundbreaking 1970s “parks for the people,” GGNRA serves a densely populated metropolitan area and is an invaluable resource for locals and visitors alike, providing access to outdoor recreation for millions of people each year.
For many of us, especially women and seniors, off-leash recreation with our dogs is our only form of exercise. We don’t kayak, bike, run or cross-train. What we do—from time immemorial, it seems—is simply walk with our unfettered dogs, enjoying the regenerative benefits of spending time outside. We also acknowledge that a balance needs to be met with respect to other park users and the natural resources that we all value.
But we believe that an acceptable balance was not adequately taken into consideration during GGNRA’s rule-making deliberations. Rather, opinions and desires expressed by special-interest groups such as the Sierra Club and Audubon Society and prominent donors held greater sway than those of local elected officials and the many thousands of off-leash advocates (and other park users) they represent. And because this is thought to be a precedent setting judgment, it can (and will) be used against off-leash activity is other areas throughout the country.
During two recent public meetings held by the GGNRA and chaired by park superintendent, Christine Lernertz, in response to questions about how they regard the opposition from the vast majority of residents, local elected officials and humane organizations, Lernertz brushed those questions off and referred to GGNRA's “national” status, meaning they are a park for the whole nation. (She did though reference their concern about tourists from other countries, and what would they feel about seeing dogs on beaches.) So if indeed the GGNRA is a national resource for all of us, they need to hear from all of us from both inside and outside the area.
Your comments are needed now and due before May 25:
What do I say in my comment?
· See talking points and sample comments here, or here or see the one below.
· Consider making the point, in your own words. If you are outside the Bay Area, tell them where you are located and how important the issue of off leash recreation is to you, especially in public land owned by the federal government. Your voice matters too.
How do I submit my comment?
General Sample Comment Letter
“I am writing to voice my opposition to the highly restrictive proposed rule for dog management at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). It was established by Congress as a national recreation are—not a national park. Banning dog walking recreation from nearly all of the GGNRA is a violation of public trust and the unit’s enabling legislation.
These significant restrictions to dog walking are being proposed without any evidence that dog walking is causing actual impacts to GGNRA’s natural resources or visitor experience.
I am especially opposed to the provision that would give GGNRA’s superintendent a blank check to ban dogs without any sort of public input process and before any impacts from dogs occur.
I strongly urge the National Park Service to rethink its proposed rule for dog walking at GGNRA. Please take into account the input and concerns of the thousands of people in this country that are opposing this plan.”
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Short and sweet if given the choice
I recently attended one of my favorite annual events—the Interdisciplinary Forum on Applied Animal Behavior (IFAAB) conference. This is a small gathering of 30 Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists, Veterinary Behaviorists, Academics and Trainers who get together each year for a discussion of all kinds of topics related to Applied Animal Behavior. Every attendee gives a talk, and we discuss everything with enthusiasm from the first talk to the concluding remarks.
This year, fittingly, the first talk was about greetings. Camille Ward, PhD, CAAB, started things off with a talk called “What’s Up? Dog-to-Dog Greetings.” Greetings are a fascinating area of behavior because so much can happen in such a short time, and there are so many possible functions of greetings. Greeting between members of the same species serve a variety of functions from reducing uncertainty, fear and arousal to gathering information. Greetings can involve the signaling of status, increasing tolerance for being close to one another and may play a role in conflict management and reconciliation, which are important areas of behavior in social species though they have been primarily studied in primates.
Ward videotaped greetings between pairs of dogs at a local dog park in Ann Arbor, Michigan and analyzed the behavior that she observed. When she watched the behavior in the greetings, she collected data on a large number of behavioral details. (Videotaping is a common tool in behavioral research that allows scientists to gather more data than is possible when doing it live, and also takes so much time that it prevents scientists from taking over the world or even having a life because it keeps them too busy for such undertakings.)
In this study, 52 dogs were recorded, in 26 greetings. Each dog was only observed in a single greeting. Ward recorded whatever greetings happened to occur at the dog park, although she specifically avoided greetings when a dog first entered the park. She was interested in pairs of dogs greeting and when a dog first arrives, he is often mobbed by other dogs. Pairs of interacting animals are called “dyads” in the animal behavior literature, and the dyad was the unit of study in this project.
For each dyad, Ward noted which dog initiated the greeting or if it was a mutual approach. She noted the relative sizes of the dogs and whether play or aggression followed the greeting. Other data included whether each dog’s overall body posture was high, neutral or low both at the beginning and the end of the greeting, and if both dogs participated in the greeting by sniffing the other dog.
One of the most interesting and practical results from this study was how short the greetings were. When dogs are off leash and free to choose, they don’t hang around interacting for a long time. The greetings Ward observed were typically in the six to eight second range, which is very brief. It’s certainly a lot less time than we spend talking with our human friends when we run into them on dog walks. When that happens and our dogs also greet, they are forced to be in close proximity to the other dog when that is not what would happen if they were doing things their own way. Greetings are naturally short—far shorter than just about all of us experts at this conference would have predicted! We should keep this in mind if we have dogs greet on leash and not allow the interaction to extend beyond that time frame unless the dogs progress into play.
Based on Ward’s study, play is not a highly likely outcome of many greetings. Only six of the 52 greetings (twelve percent) she recorded resulted in play. Perhaps we should consider that many dogs want to meet and greet one another, but don’t want to engage in play as often as many of us expect. None resulted in aggression, which is encouraging, but that rate might be higher in a population of dogs that are not at the dog park as some people wisely choose not to take dogs prone to aggression to the dog park.
Greeting were either reciprocated or unreciprocated. In a reciprocated greeting, both dogs were involved in the interaction and showed similar behavior—e.g., both dogs sniffed each other. With an unreciprocated greeting, only one of the dogs sniffed or investigated. The other dog ignored or showed little attention to the greeter.
Large weight differences usually involved the heavier dog initiating the greeting. When weights were closer between the two dogs, involvement by both dogs was more common. Over 80 percent of the greetings were initiated by only one of the dogs. This pattern suggests that dogs are using greetings as a way to assess other dogs.
If you have observed your own dog greeting other dogs, does his behavior match up with what Camille Ward documented in her study?
Dog's Life: Travel
Bozeman, Montana is home to West Paw Design one of the greenest and socially responsible companies anywhere. West Paw Design are makers of eco-friendly dog beds and exquisitely designed toys that utilize a variety of forward-thinking materials such as hemp, organic cotton and an exclusive eco-fiber made completely from recycled plastic. If you are in the neighborhood, they welcome the public to come into their Bozeman-based manufacturing facility to pick up some toys and get their suggestions about the best places to bring their dogs—including their own West Paw Dog Park at Rocky Creek Farm that’s right down the street from where their facilities. Knowing their dedication to the good (dog) life, we spoke to the West Paw folks recently about some of their favorite canine destinations …
Drinking Horse Hiking Trail: This 2.1 mile loop offers scenic views and welcomes dogs. Located close to town, it offers a great moderate-level hike for canines and owners alike.
Sypes Canyon: Located in the Gallatin National Forest, this 5.8 trail through a shaded forest follows a creek-fed canyon that will quench your dog’s thirst. 2 miles in there’s an overlook with a great view of the Gallatin Valley. Don't be surprised to see horses on the trail.
Hyalite Reservoir: A 30 minute drive from downtown Bozeman, this getaway offers endless opportunities for hiking, breathtaking waterfalls and lakeside camping.
Pete’s Hill: A quick and convenient trail for downtown dwellers.
Cooper Park: Consensus selection of the most dog-friendly park in town, located in a historic residential area.
Bozeman Pond Dog Park: Awesome beach for dogs accompanies the one-acre off-leash area. Plus, an on-leash trail nearby.
Many of the city’s restaurants have outdoor seating in the summer and early fall, allowing dogs to hang with their owners al fresco. A few favorites: Naked Noodle, Plonk, Nova Café and Starky’s.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Room to Run in Shawnee, Kansas
Shawnee Mission Park is the largest in eastern Kansas (and one of the most visited in the state); at 1,600 acres, it’s more than twice the size of NYC’s Central Park. A multi-use recreational space, it provides room for diverse activities such as disc golf, archery, fishing (the lake is stocked) and lots of hiking and bike riding. And, oh yes, a 53-acre off-leash dog area.
The OLA is, of course, what grabbed my interest. It’s one of the largest in the nation, and so for size alone, it deserves attention in this column. But wait! It gets better. Not only do dog lovers have an ample trail-laced area for their own exercise, there’s also plenty of space for their dogs to frolic and romp. All that, plus a cove with access to a 120-acre lake to practice dog paddling and ball diving. On a hot summer day in Kansas, that must be a welcome relief to both wading humans and their dogs.
According to superintendent of parks Bill Maasen, Shawnee Mission Park was created by a bond initiative and opened in 1964. The off-leash dog area was developed roughly 15 years ago, at a time when dog parks were springing up across the land. Typical of many large OLAs, it is not fully fenced, so a good recall is must here, something that’s often mentioned in the rave online reviews. (Smaller dog parks and dog runs generally are fully fenced, but—depending on their location and proximity to roads—larger OLAs seldom are. As in this particular park, fencing tends to be concentrated near roadways and parking areas.)
The landscape includes prairie and woodland, and because it’s bordered by dense woods, there are sightings of deer aplenty. OLA-goers need to be watchful of their dogs and follow the rules, including the requirement that “dogs must be under the control and in view of their handler at all times.” A wise choice.
Maasen explained that they are undertaking improvements soon, including expanding the often-overflowing parking area by many new spaces and installing safer gates so dogs won’t be able to push them open and run out to the road. They also have a large accessibility project coming up that will provide more stable paving for the quarter-mile walkway to the lake, improving its navigability for those who use wheelchairs and other assistive devices.
As for the lakeshore itself, instead of sand or dirt, pavers are used in what is called keystone construction: they “lock” together like Lego tiles, with pea gravel in between. The hard surface makes it easier to keep a wet dog clean after a dip and protects paws from hot sand.
Being inured to a region where park users have to beg for any kind of maintenance whatsoever at our OLA, I’m blown away by the fact that the Shawnee one closes on Tuesdays from 5 to 9 am for weekly park maintenance. Other than that, the OLA has generous opening times: summer hours are from 5 am to 11 pm, with minor adjustments in winter.
Reviewing this Kansas landmark tempts me to take a “Pete Campbell” plunge. In one of the series’ final episodes, the Mad Men character was poised to trade an office on Madison Ave. for one in Wichita. For him, the carrot was access to a Learjet. For me, it would be to have a park with a management philosophy that recognizes the importance of providing generous open space for both us and our dogs, operated by people who see the wisdom of meeting the needs of this important constituency.
To paraphrase another famous Kansan, “Toto, I have a feeling we are in Kansas,” and it feels good.
Ever think there must be more to life than your daily 9 to 5? What if money didn’t matter and you could follow your life’s passions—what would you do? For Matt Hein that meant quitting his job in finance and moving to Norway, eventually becoming a dogwalker.
“Portrait of a Dogwalker,” by 21-year-old Norwegian filmmaker Fredrik Harper, chronicles the young Englishman’s decision to leave his job and travel to the French Alps. He began dating a Norwegian woman and followed her back to Oslo. It was there that he realized his two great passions: Being outside and being around dogs.
He now spends his days walking dogs in the woods outside the Norwegian capital and as depicted in the film—he appears to be absolutely content. The seven-and-a-half minute film shows his canine charges eagerly exploring nature while Hein ruminates on the meaning of life. Never has dogwalking appeared so appealing.
“You have to get in in the morning before your boss, and you have to leave after your boss because that way your boss thinks you’re working much harder than you are,” says Hein, harkening back to his days in London finance. “It’s a competition for who can be sat at their desk pretty much wasting their life. That’s not a way to live your life.”
PORTRAIT OF A DOGWALKER from Fredrik Harper on Vimeo.
Ever wonder how a professional athlete handles the pressure of competition and a grueling 6-month long schedule? For burgeoning NBA star Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, it’s a walk in the park … the dog park. When Klay isn’t in the gym or on the road, he likes to take his dog Rocco, an English bulldog, to his local off-leash area at Cesar Chavez Park in nearby Berkeley (CA). We’ve seen him there, playing fetch and doing what dog people do … unwinding, taking in some fresh air. “With me, my friends or my family, I can’t help but talk about basketball, so this is my escape,” Thompson is quoted in a San Francisco Chronicle profile.
ESPN analyst and hall-of-fame player Charles Barkley calls the 6 ft 9 Thompson the best NBA player at his position—strong praise. Thompson’s team, the Golden State Warriors, apparently agrees, recently resigning their star shooting guard to a multi-year, $70 million contract. What was Thompson’s response at the post-signing press conference? “We were trying to get the contract signed, and all he wanted to do was go home to his dog,” mused Warrior general manager Bob Myers.
We know the joys firsthand of Cesar Chavez Park OLA, it’s where the idea for The Bark was born. In fact, the 17-acre OLA overlooking the San Francisco Bay was founded by Bark co-founder Claudia Kawczynska in 2000. One of the founding dogs was Claudia’s dog Nellie … named after former Warrior coach Don Nelson. A bit of history we think Klay Thompson would appreciate.
A couple of years ago we reported that Jackie Speier (D-Calif) deserved a Bark call-out for a job well-done for “ripping” into the National Park Service for an agent who used a taser on a man who was running with his small dogs off-leash in an unincorporated area in San Mateo County.
Now a judge has ruled that the park ranger, Sarah Cavallaro, acted unlawfully when she used her taser on Gary Hesterberg. Not only that but Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley also found that since the leash law had never been enforced at the Rancho Corral de Tierra—which had only recently been acquired by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area—that the ranger overstepped her duty that day, the first day of leash enforcement. Rangers had been instructed to take a “soft enforcement, outreach approach with regards to violations of the Rancho’s new rules.” This was an approach that apparently Cavallaro did not follow.
It was reported that
“After four minutes with the stun gun pointed at him, Hesterberg said he had a heart condition and again asked what authority he was being held under, to which Cavallaro answered, “the Constitution.”
“That is no kind of answer,” Hesterberg responded, before turning to leave. When he did, Cavallaro fired her stun gun, hitting Hesterberg in the back and buttocks, court records show.
When Hesterberg was confronted by the ranger about the leash policy, he, allegedly, was uncooperative and would not provide her with his name. So after being tasered he was actually arrested on suspicion of failing to obey a lawful order, keeping dogs off-leash and providing false information, but San Mateo County prosecutors declined to file charges.
Back in 2012, Representative Speier had noted that, “Many of my constituents are understandably angered by what appears to be an excessive use of force by a park ranger.” She added, “From the information I have to date, it does not appear that the use of a taser was warranted.” Speier also requested information about training in taser usage for park rangers, including the appropriate utilization and risks of tasers.
The court also found that Hesterberg, though uncooperative, never posed an immediate threat to Cavallaro or anyone else and that the ranger did not provide an adequate warning that she would shoot him with the stun gun if he tried to leave.
The judge found in favor of Hesterberg, awarding him $50,000 in damages for both physical and mental suffering.
Richmond, California’s Point Isabel, once toxic landfill, is one of the nation’s biggest and best off-leash parks
I had just let Annie and Patch out of the car at Point Isabel when a white sedan screeched up and a plump, middle-aged passenger tumbled out. She plunged toward us, beaming. “Perros o perras?” she demanded. Boy dogs or girl dogs?
Then she seized Annie’s big head in both hands and, bending low over my inscrutable, fearsome-looking Akita mix, crooned, “Que linda, que linda.” What a beautiful girl. Annie was delighted, thank dog.
Often called “the Point Isabel dog park,” Point Isabel Regional Shoreline (PI) is actually a unique multi-use park on the eastern edge of San Francisco Bay. With camera-ready views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County’s Mount Tamalpais, it is beloved by walkers with and without dogs, joggers, birdwatchers, windsurfers, and the occasional fisherman or kayaker. Recently, a Japanese tour group even stopped to marvel (and be marveled at).
Many people, like my white-sedan lady, are there for a dog fix. Berkeley resident Katie Triest, who doesn’t have a dog, delights in watching them cavort. “It’s amazing how well they all get along,” she says.
People of all ages and abilities relish PI, according to Jerry Yukic, a pastpresident of Point Isabel Dog Owners and Friends (PIDO). Yukic, who is 89, brings Dusty, a Brittany Spaniel rescue, to PI twice a day. “It’s a very safe place for senior citizens,” she says.
For decades, though, PI was a wasteland. Like much of the open space along the East Bay shoreline, the park is built on fill. In fact, Battery Point (part of North Point Isabel) was once a dumping ground for battery casings that leaked lead and zinc. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that tons of contaminated waste were hauled away from North PI or buried under a clay cap. People with dogs had been roaming the area for many years, however.
In 1985, PIDO began negotiating permanent off-leash status with the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD). Two years later, the park district agreed that dogs could be off-leash everywhere except the mudflats at low tide (when shorebirds are feeding) and the nearby marsh. Dogs are welcome in all open space, picnic areas, even the Sit & Stay Café. Better yet, people can kick back at the café while their canines are spruced up a few feet away at Mudpuppy’s Tub & Scrub.
Most people don’t just kick back, though. At PI, the typical companion human is getting some exercise. The roughly 50-acre park, with its 3.2 miles of pathways, is divided by a channel that drains Hoffman Marsh. Visitors can circle both halves of the park—the 23 acres of PI proper and North PI, which is slightly bigger—using loop trails. A footbridge connects the two areas.
How all this good stuff came about depends on whom you ask.
The acclaimed EBRPD, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, is known for its refreshingly progressive off-leash polices that allow dogs on much of its vast trail system. Even so, it may not have anticipated PI’s popularity with dog walkers. One legend at the park district has it that Point Isabel used to be just a desolate, windy place where no one went. Then people started walking dogs there, and by the time the district realized what was happening, it was too late to stop it.
The story told by the founders of PIDO is more romantic. They say that PI was wild, weedy and frequented by drug dealers dodging the Richmond police. After PIDO organized in 1985, “the number of dogs increased, and the drug dealers, frightened by the dogs and the growing presence of dog owners, disappeared,” according to an article by the late Sylvia Schild, PIDO’s first president. Then the usual suspects started complaining about dogs being allowed to run free.
PIDO fought that battle and others for years, during which it developed a close partnership with the EBRPD, became a 501(c)3 nonprofit and grew from 75 to 5,200 members.
from 75 to 5,200 members. Today, Point Isabel is a runaway success and a huge boon for the East Bay’s dense urban population. It is by far EBRPD’s single most popular recreation spot, with well over 1.3 million visitors every year—and no doubt that many dogs, making it one of the top off-leash areas in the United States.
Not bad for an old dump.
We had the chance to talk with Matthew Gilbert, TV critic for the Boston Globe and author of one of our 2014 “Best Reads” about his first book, Off the Leash: Year at the Dog Park and his conversion to being a dog lover. His is a rather unique perspective because not long ago he was definitely on the other end of dog-loving spectrum.
You seem to be in a rather unique position being rather new to the dog world, you can see both sides, can’t you? So from the “other” side, the non-dog-loving side of things, can you recall your reasons for not liking dogs, and are they any that perhaps make you cringe today when you remember those feelings?
The first thing I think of is the way my hand would buzz after I touched a dog, until I got to a sink to wash it. I did not like to have physical contact with dogs, or with anything they’d touched!
Good lord. Now, I pet my dog Toby 100 times a day, scratching under his chin and around his ears until he starts swooning with pleasure. I kiss his snout, I sniff and kiss his paws, I rub the boogers off his eyes in the morning. I love the tactile sense of him.
I think back on my distaste and cringe ten times over. I was missing one of the great joys of life…. Wow. I was living in a bubble, and I felt that dogs were just too spontaneous and reckless for me. I depended far too heavily on a sense of order and control, and dogs were the opposite of that.
Also, my mother was terrified of dogs, and that filtered down to me. She would not be able to relax if there was a dog in sight. Nowadays, when I see little kids at the park, I enjoy introducing them to Toby, trying to make them smile at the big lug of a goose who’ll sit and give me his paw for a treat. It’s very healing, unless the parent is too nervous.
What advice would you give to people who don’t much like dogs but perhaps, for the sake of the children or their spouse, might be considering getting one?
It took me years to fall in love with dogs. I fell in love with a dog person, and that was the start of the change. To use a popular term, I evolved… So I don’t think there’s a magical solution to the dislike of dogs.
My advice would be to open up your heart as much as possible, watch the pleasure the dog brings to the other members of the family, try to appreciate that. Don’t shut yourself out of the experience because you were pushed into it. Who knows, you may evolve, too, in a lovely way.
In your book you do a very good job about what that immersion was like, but tell us what your biggest surprises were about discovering that you are really a dog lover? Any surprises about being thrust into the middle of the dog park community? What did you think it would be, and what was it really like?
I continue to feel surprised by the change, some 10-12 years into it, and I have friends from the old days who still tease me about how I once did not like dogs. When I’m with dogs now, I feel happy in a way that’s hard to define, but that still feels new. It’s like the presence of dogs changes everything for the better, and I relearn that over and over again.
The surprises at the park were fantastic. I thought it would be a catty (!) environment with lots of breed snobbery and competition. I thought conversations would be painfully superficial. I thought watching dogs play would be boring. But within a few months, I understood that those fears were mostly unfounded, that the relationships we form daily at the dog park can be profound, that watching dogs play is one of the best pleasures in life, that we meet great people at the park we might never have met otherwise.
I’ve never been so happy to have been so wrong.
Are there things about the dog park community now that make you wonder if you are truly a part of it? I realize there are all sorts of factions within any societal group, but like the bulldog meet up group who “spoiled” it for others at that one park, what are you views of that? And what, if you were able to warn enthusiastic dog people about, what would that be?
Some days, I feel like an outsider. Either there’s no one to talk to, or there are people but they’re in what seem like closed groupings. But I’ve learned to let that go, and it has been a great shedding of baggage. No friends at the park today? Wait until tomorrow.
Dogs are my role models in many ways, not least of all because they are experts in resilience and letting go.
I’m not a fan of breed “meet-ups,” just because they can be exclusive. They also draw people from far away who may not much care about treating the park with respect. Still… who am I to judge any kind of celebratory gathering of dogs? Meet-ups are not for me, but any dog joy is good.
My biggest warning to a dog-park newcomer is: Don’t assume all owners are responsible. We want to think the best of anyone who loves dogs, but some owners have aggressive dogs and subject other dogs to that. It’s so awful. I recount an attack on Toby in my book, and I still shudder when I think of the sounds my little goose made while a whippet started snapping at him.
No one wants to be in the position of keeping a dog on leash at the park, but if your dog has been proven to have issues, you need to protect others. If you show that you want to be fair, that you are responsible, people will inevitably try to help you out. If you keep letting your dog go after other dogs, you will probably face a hard road with a lot of angry people moving away from you.
I do think that a lot of the “opposition” to dogs results from some of us being rather clueless when it concerns others and how they perceive us and our dogs. What do you think and do you want to give any examples?
Some dog lovers don’t understand just how terrified of dogs people can be. But, as someone who has been on the other side, I am fully aware of it. It’s not an act. A person who is afraid of dogs doesn’t understand anything about breed temperament or size; all they know is they are scared. So I think dog owners need to find some patience and respect for the fearful.
We kind of need to be ambassadors of the dog world when we are among those who don’t understand it. I’m not saying we don’t have rights; I’m just saying a little bit of sensitivity and friendliness goes a long way. Rather than put a non-dog person on the defensive, try to cultivate them.
One other thing: Dog owners need to pick up their dog’s poop, always. Poops on sidewalks and park grass are the dog-haters’ best ammunition against us. Plus, no one – not even dog owners – wants to step in it.
Are there any things about raising the pup Toby that you would do differently?
We’re lucky, because he’s turned out so happy and peaceful. I was very gung ho about training him early on, and in retrospect, as I detail in the book, I was being too controlling. So maybe I would be a little less aggressive about teaching him commands.
Although he still won’t “drop it,” dammit!
Everyone seems to love to talk about the “lessons” learned from their dogs, so tell us if there are any you would like to share with us?
That’s such a great question, and one I hope my book answers to some extent. The lessons include resilience, being in the moment, remembering to play, keeping joy in your daily life, not being afraid of the complications of socializing, becoming more trusting, and on and on…! I still learn new things from Toby and his friends every day.
You and your partner have a different style of dog-raising, has that resulted in any conflicts, how are they resolve? Has he ever taken to the dog park scene that you so successful have?
Tom is definitely not a dog park person. For a while, my friends at the park teased me about my phantom husband and whether I’d made him up.
He loves Toby in a more private way. He has a man-and-his-dog fantasy, and he lives it out by walking Toby around the city and on trails. Some couples come to the park together all the time, or alternate; not us.
There have been tense moments when I’ve had to remind him that Toby loves to be among dogs, and there have been moments when he has gotten tired of my dog park stories. But overall, we have adapted to our differing styles. We both love Toby so much; it always comes down to that.
Do you have a difficult time seeing Toby as a dog? Do you ever fear that you aren’t living up to his expectations?
Sometimes, yes. For one thing, I talk to him all the time, and I give him voice, too. I have conversations with him, while he sits looking at me with his big brown eyes like I’m such a strange creature. But ultimately, I love the fact that he is a dog, and not a human being. That’s one of the best things about dogs – that they aren’t human!
His expectations are steak every day, cookies in between, and a constant flow of the best, most squeakiest toys. So I know I’m not living up to his expectations! But seriously, I think he’s a happy dog, and I think he likes having some restrictions – say 10 cookies a day instead of 1000. I think he knows that we are madly in love with him, and that we would do anything for him. And I love that feeling. He trusts us, and that is everything.
Being a TV critic, what are the most memorable dog characters on TV now? If you were to write a TV show about your dog, what would that be?
It’s not for everyone, but I love “Wilfred” on FXX. We see the dog on the show as a man in a dog suit, which is kind of twisted but a lot of fun. The writers insert a lot of jokes that only dog owners will understand. I also enjoy Stella the French bulldog on “Modern Family,” mostly because of the love and humor she brings out in the humans.
My fantasy would be to see “Off the Leash” as “The Office” at the dog park, with a cast of lovable misfits and a mockumentary tone. I think that would be perfect.
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