Diversions of Yesteryear
“A good puzzle should be simple in idea. H It should explain itself without any long instructions, and it should look attractive.” —Robert William Journet, 1927 R. Journet & Company
Dexterity puzzles—also known as palm puzzles, games of skill and handheld games—have been a source of fascination for adults and children since the nineteenth century. The simple hand-eye challenge of rolling a ball into a hole, or sliding, nudging and tilting a capsule through a maze, has proved to be among the most delightful, maddening and enduring diversions of the modern age despite, or perhaps because of, its sheer simplicity. Soon after the games became popular with the public in the late 1800s, they were produced in large numbers in the United States, England, France, Japan and Germany. The games, which often featured dogs on the face of the puzzle, could be found in doctors’ offices, train stations and the rainy-day game rooms of seaside resorts—in essence, anywhere that required waiting. They were even nicknamed “patience games.”
Trick Poodle, c.1920
Dog with Cigar, c.1910
A stray joins The Bark’s family
As many of you know, losing Lenny, our 18-year-old Border Terrier mix who passed away late last year, was terribly hard for us. Although we have three wonderful female pups, I longed for a small, scruffy boy dog. I also knew that if we found one, he had to be able to successfully cohabitate with our girls. I wasn’t concerned about our Pointer, happy-go-lucky Lola, but the needs of Kit and Holly, a pair of scrappy but shy Beagle-mix sisters, had to be considered.
You won’t be surprised to hear that I spent an inordinate amount of time online, scouring Petfinder, Adopt-a-Pet, and rescue and humane sites. I also visited local shelters and attended adoption events. Strangely I could not find many dogs with the appearance and temperament I was looking for. There were more females than males, and a few of these had fear issues, especially men-centered. But then, a few days before Christmas, I did my usual search for “small, male, young, JRT” and was rewarded with this charming photo of a 15-pound, year-old pup named Boca.
By this point, I had extended my search nationwide, which was an education in itself. For example, I found that some rescuers didn’t approve of the fact that we already had three dogs. A woman in Texas told me that, while they could arrange an out-of-state adoption, they would not consider adopting a dog into a “pack,” even though we more than met the other criteria, including having a fenced-in yard and devoting oodles of time to walks and doggie adventures.
Luckily, Boca was being fostered in Auburn, Calif., only two hours away. I immediately emailed them with a flurry of questions and information about us, as well as the kind of life we could provide for him. Once again, I lucked out. Not only did I get a fast response, but I was the first to express an interest in him. He had been assessed in his foster home and did well with (hatless) men, other dogs — including Greyhounds — and cats. I broke the news about Lola, Holly and Kit; and got their ok for a visit.
Soon thereafter, Cameron, Lola and I drove north to meet him. He was being fostered by Shana Laursen of Greyhound Friends for Life at her remarkable, 1,000-acre facility, where she cares for both Greyhound and mixed-breed rescues. She had seen a photo of the little guy taken by Kern County Animal Control, who classified him as a stray, though whether or not he had been one was hard to know. Many shelters charge people a fee to surrender a dog, but no fee for bringing in a stray. This means that any history that could aid in placement is lost (definitely a policy that needs to be reconsidered).
Shana told us that this Bakersfield area shelter — which takes in an inordinate number of dogs and has one of the highest euthanasia rates in the state — is proactively transporting dogs to rescue groups in the San Francisco Bay Area, saving local rescuers a more than 12- hour round trip. Boca had only been in the shelter for about two weeks before grabbing Shana’s attention with his brindling and oh-too-sweet face. (She was fostering him in conjunction with another 501(c)(3), the Sacramento Independent Animal Rescuers Inc., which provides invaluable assistance to independent fosterers.)
By the time we met Boca, he had been with Shana for about three weeks, one of 47 dogs in her care. (Not only does she have lots of land and a truly amazing facility — with multiple buildings, and indoor and outdoor kenneling areas — she also has dedicated volunteers and a vet tech to call upon.) One look at Boca in all his high-jumping splendor told us that he was the dog for us. Once the papers were signed, we took him home.
Much to my great relief, when he met Lola, Kit and Holly there was no fuss whatsoever. It was as though they considered him to be a much younger, sprightlier Lenny. All was definitely right in their world — they were once again a pack of four.
As I write this, it’s been about six weeks since we adopted Boca — whom we renamed Charlie — and we still can’t believe how blessed we were to find him. (Read more about my observations of pack living)
Culture: Stories & Lit
Spirit Dog Leads to Hope in Costa Rica.
In the year 2000, I lived in Costa Rica for six months and fell in love with the dogs. There were many visitors to the farm during my stay there, and everyone knew about me and my love for Duque, who, like most dogs in Central America, didn’t really belong to anyone.
Dogs don’t last long in Costa Rica, particularly in the countryside, where, even if they are owned, they are allowed to run free, down the unpaved winding rock roads and into the villages, where they hang out on corners waiting for food. In Ciudad Colón, at the one restaurant in town, they would wander in and sit in groups around each table, or, if I was there, climb directly into my lap.Duque lived at the top of the hill, on the farm where I stayed in a small apartment, and he joined me every day for an afternoon nap and then returned each evening to guard my door. Sometimes we would play tug of war with a sock and then race one another up the damp, mossy, tiled road to the very top of the mountain.When it was time to leave, I made plans to take Duque with me, but the airline refused to transport animals, so I left him behind with a group of villagers who had made it clear that they thought he belonged with them.
I knew he wouldn’t be there when I returned, and that probably had something to do with the length of time it took me to go back.
When I finally did return six years later, I promised myself that I wouldn’t expect to see him running up the tiled drive, or burying dog biscuits beneath the bamboo outside my door. And I knew not to ask after him with any of the locals who might still remember me—I knew not to ask, because I didn’t want to know and because I didn’t want to reveal to them that I was still thinking about a dog that I had only known for a few months, six years ago. A lifetime, in dog years.
Within a few hours of my return, the truth was revealed: He had been shot and killed. I had rehearsed for this moment often enough and managed to just nod, as though I had already known. I didn’t ask when it had happened, but assumed it was sufficiently long ago that the emotion of the events had receded into history for the people who lived there. For me, all of this information was new.
“He bit someone,” one person said. “No, he bit a dog,” another suggested.
Duque was intact and sometimes got into trouble pursuing the female dogs in town. But when I’d known him, he was fed, and people played with him. There was no telling what had happened to him after I was gone.
Grief and guilt are necessary but often useless emotions. That is, unless they can be channeled into something more. I had returned to Costa Rica to relax and to write, but once again, Duque was leading me somewhere unexpected.
Among many other changes, the farm was now wired for Internet access, so I sat in my bed and began googling: “Costa Rica dog shelter,” “Costa Rica animal welfare,” and so forth. I found two listings within my range: an organization called the McKee Foundation, and the story of a woman named Patricia Artimana, who was running an animal shelter just outside of Ciudad Colón, the Asociation Arca de Noé. Earlier in the year, the municipality had intervened when neighbors complained about the barking of the more than 100 dogs who lived on her property.
In the news story, which was now several months old, Patricia said that if she could not find homes for the dogs, she would set them free again before she allowed the government to do anything with them. In my short time back, I had already noticed that there were far fewer dogs roaming the village. Now, I understood why.
I emailed the McKee Project and arranged to meet Carla Ferraro, the project’s program director, at the Multiplaza, one of the biggest shopping centers in Central America. The last time I had been to the Multiplaza, I had watched from the bus as motorists swerved to avoid a bull strolling casually down the middle of the eight lanes.
The locals were used to it—stray livestock on the highway is fairly common. The bull turned and wandered into the parking lot. It was Christmas, and I amused myself by imagining that he was doing some last-minute holiday shopping.
“We don’t believe in sheltering animals,” Carla said as we shared a pastry. There are too many, she said, and too few places for them to find homes. You end up with overcrowded shelters, and the problem of strays continues in the streets. The philosophy is that the cost of longterm care would be better spent neutering the stray populations.
“But I heard that there is a shelter. Somewhere near Ciudad Colón?” I asked. She seemed cautious in answering this query. “Yes, I know the woman you are talking about.” She paged through a copy of Pets y Más, a bilingual animal care magazine that is distributed throughout the country. “Here she is,” she said, pointing to a story.“And here is her phone number. It might be interesting for you to visit. She uses the dog waste to make methane.”
I thought perhaps I was mishearing something, but chose not to question it.
Carla continued explaining the McKee Project’s mission: They had been training vets across the country to perform spayand- neuter surgeries using a tiny incision. The surgery can be done in as little as 10 minutes, allowing one vet to alter dozens of animals in a single day. The animals’ recovery time is quick as well. After providing this free training, the project then encourages the vets to offer the surgery for free in their villages on a designated day each month. The training is made possible through the support of the North Shore Animal League and Spay USA.
“Some vets were reluctant at first,”Carla said. “But then they found that people who had never brought their pets in for treatment before came back again for other services. So it was good for business.”
As I listened, I once again wondered if I was misunderstanding something. If it was possible to spay and neuter animals so quickly, why had I never heard of the process before? When my own Sula was spayed, it required overnight observation and cost an arm and a leg.Why wouldn’t this new procedure be just as valuable in the U.S.? But these were not questions Carla could answer for me.
“So, you spay and neuter and then put them back on the streets?”
“Yes,” she answered, aware that this idea would seem truly foreign to me. Part of the problem is the definition of “stray.” Studies suggest that only 5 percent of the Costa Rican dog population is truly stray; the rest, though they have feeders, owners and places to stay at night, run free throughout the day. Only 25 percent are sterilized, all of which was accomplished in just the past six years. As Carla noted, “If we can get to 70 percent of the population, then we will have the overpopulation under control.” Previously, the government’s solution was to poison animals in the street. McKee has worked to make that practice illegal.
Carla’s manner was sharp and efficient. She didn’t let her emotions get in the way, even when I finally told her what it was that had inspired me to contact her—the story of Duque and the way he was killed.
I first met patricia artimana in a small bakery across from the church in Ciudad Colón. It was raining outside, the typical evening deluge of the rainy season, and we were sitting with a typical view of the typical town square. She told me about the municipality intervening earlier in the year,when she had had more than 100 dogs.“I had too many,” she said, and I wondered if she really believed that, or was simply repeating what she had been told.
“How many do you have now?”I asked. She thought for a while and then made a number using the fingers on her hands. Eighteen.
In the morning, a cabbie friend of hers arrived to drive me to her home: a mountain called Piedras Negras. On a map, it seemed to be just outside of town, but maps don’t take into account the steep terrain and the winding roads.More than an hour later, we arrived at her house. I had no idea where we were. And, of course, I had fantasies of finding Duque frolicking among the other dogs when we arrived. I knew that this wouldn’t happen, but I couldn’t expel the image from my mind.
Just a dozen or so dogs appeared immediately at the gate, yet I could see there were more.Patricia eventually joined them and began to awkwardly balance her two tasks: managing the dogs and showing me around. The property was set up using a series of corrals, with different groups of dogs in each area; some were allowed to run completely free.
At the top of the property was a stall with several horses; an ox; a flock of geese; and a small, indigenous tree animal hibernating in his coop who wouldn’t come out to see me. In order to get to the house, I needed to enter the corral, but the dogs weren’t going to let me. At each gate, the dogs would gather, jumping and barking at me, anticipating my visit. Finally she pointed to another entrance.“Would you mind coming through here?” she asked.
It was a dog door, but it appeared to be the only door in which the dogs had no interest. I ducked down and crawled through.
On the kitchen table, three dogs sat, wagging their tails. They were not small dogs—each weighed at least 40 or 50 pounds. On the stove, two large pots of dog food were being slow-cooked over a gas flame. A plastic tube ran from the back of the stove through the wall and across part of the lawn, to a plastic fermentation tent. She was, indeed, turning the dog poop into gas for the stove.
“How many dogs do you have?” I asked. She thought about it again.“Fifty-five.” Patricia wiped down the table and pulled out a chair for me to sit on.Then she went to the stove to make coffee. I scanned the shelves of an open cupboard, lined with various medicines and treatments that I assumed were for the dogs.While the coffee brewed, she introduced me to more dogs. They each had names, but it was more than I could do to keep up with them. A small brown dog made her way through the pack to greet Patricia, then settled at her feet, looking up at her with stubborn longing.
“Oh, Julie,” Patricia said. “Poor Julie.” She turned to me. “This is a special dog. This is a dog that I found myself. I kept an eye on her. Brought her food. Eventually she let me take her home.” Julie climbed into Patricia’s lap, and stayed there as the other dogs voiced their disapproval. Eventually, Patricia put her down again with the rest of the dogs.
Patricia continued to introduce me to the dogs, and my fantasy that Duque would appear there, miraculously alive, continued to dwindle.As we walked onto a patio area, a huge, longhaired, rust-colored dog bounded toward me and rose on his back legs to butt his chest—his brisket—against mine. He came back to me several times during my visit.“He likes you,” Patricia said.“Maybe you can take him home.”
I thought about what Carla had said —that sheltering dogs was a waste of resources, that it simply displaced the problem, while few animals actually found homes.
“Will any of these dogs be adopted?” I asked. Patricia shook her head no.
“They are too old. We have others that are young dogs that can find homes. They don’t stay here.”
A fewdays after my visit to piedras Negras, as I stood waiting for the bus, I spotted a woman sitting on the opposite corner in front of the new aquarium shop, with several dogs in crates on display. Arca de Noé was having an adoption fair.
I crossed the street and bent down to greet an awkward, brindle-striped puppy. He looked just like my Brando had, six years earlier, when I spotted him in the BARC shelter in Brooklyn in the weeks after leaving Duque behind.
“I have one just like this,” I told the woman.
And two days later, I was home.
Culture: Readers Write
This is our Cairn Terrier, Gavin. Our rescue boy is a seven-year-old who was once afraid of everything and everyone. Now he’s parading with the Fort Collins Pipe Band, wearing a band uniform and smiling for the camera, with his pal Davey.
Culture: The Daily Show
In 2012, we talk dogs with John Oliver, the British comedian who has been a writer and correspondent on Comedy Central’s multi-Emmy-winning program, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Our interview with him appeared in our exclusive behind-the-scene coverage of the dogs who grace, enliven and patrol the show’s offices. Oliver tells us about the newest family member, a first for him.
BK: Tell us why you got your dog, Hoagie. Has she been good for you?
JO: I got her so I could have a piece of uncomplicated joy in my life. Yeah, it’s been fantastic; she really doesn’t give a shit about the “Daily Show” or working in an office, which I find enormously helpful at the end of the day.
BK: Your former colleague, Jim Margolis, told us the real reason you got her was to humanize yourself.
JO: Yeah, that’s true.
BK: Has she come to the office yet?
JO: She came here for one day; she’s a puppy and struggled to understand that this is not a dog run, but a place to work. I made her sit and give me a paw, and told her this is a place of work. I thought she surely would understand. She did the first two things but didn’t get the third one.
BK: How’s her training coming along, in general?
JO: She’s been great. The one thing she hasn’t been able to do is to be in a large office with other dogs at the moment. Maybe at some point, once she’s calmed down, she’ll join the rotation of dogs. But she got so excited, she just wanted to run around all the time, and I can’t cope with that when I have deadlines.
BK: How old is she now?
JO: She is nine months
BK: Well, you have a few more months of puppyhood. Goldens are puppies until they’re two, or even older. Is she your first dog?
JO: Yeah, my first ever. I had one pet before and that was a goldfish when I was seven years old.
BK: Is that why you got another Golden?
JO: Yeah, I never thought of that, but yeah.
BK: Has puppy-raising had any surprises for you?
JO: No, not really. My wife has been doing most of the work, so I can’t take credit for the way she’s progressing. But it is lot of work, and certainly a lot more rewarding.
BK: Do you baby talk to Hoagie?
JO: I talk to her as if she were a 45-year-old adult. She seems to enjoy that.
BK: Do you get your kicks watching the other Daily Show dogs do their thing?
JO: I don’t know what we would do without these dogs. There was one day when they weren’t allowed in the office because the then-president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, was the guest and we had to have bomb dogs sniffing around. You can really feel the difference when they aren’t here. It would be a very different place if there weren’t dogs walking around.
BK: Is that one of the reasons you signed up?
JO: That was instantly one of the best things. For the first time, it made me want to have a dog. So it probably contributed to me getting Hoagie in the long run.
BK: I thought Hoagie was a male name, but your pup is a girl.
JO: I don’t think Hoagie is a name at all. It’s a description of something, like a sandwich. I don’t think it’s masculine or feminine.
BK: How about Hoagy Carmichael? Ole Buttermilk Sky and all.
JO: Yeah, I wanted to name my dog after someone who was reportedly anti-Semitic! My wife loves hoagies.
BK: So, is she mostly with your wife?
JO: Yeah, I just spoke with my wife this morning. Hoagie was eating Reza Aslan’s most recent book, which is about, I believe, America’s war on terrorism; she’s very interested in that.
BK: Do you have a career path charted out for her?
JO: I would like her to eat a spectrum of different books, ingest information from different sources. Reza Aslan is great author, but there are others out there. Maybe she can start eating novels as well, moving into literature as well as nonfiction.
BK: Do you see her playing straight “woman” to you—can you imagine having her with you on interviews and in skits?
JO: No, I don’t think I would do that. The problem is, Jim is kinda right: she would fundamentally humanize me. So I can’t really do my job when she’s around. It would bring up too much compassion whenever she is around. I can’t have that. When I interview someone, I can’t have any kind of humanity inside of me.
BK: Did adding a dog make for a perfect family unit, or is it practice for having children one day?
JO: It’s been amazing, and nice, to come home after a stressful day at work and have someone just be there. Not that she isn’t interested in what I do for a living, she just can’t really comprehend it. So I can truly trust she isn’t interested in how my day was. She’s interested in going for a walk. I find that more relaxing than anything I have ever found as a way to de-stress. She doesn’t like the Daily Show because there are no dogs on the screen.
BK: Does she watch TV at all?
JO: She likes sports that are played on grass — she likes watching all that green. She is quite hypnotized by green. She thinks that the Daily Show should be on grass.
BK: Does she fetch?
JO: She calls it retrieving.
BK: How about tug-of-war; do you play it with her and let her win? That’s the important thing, you know.
JO: That’s something I need to work on. I’m a pretty sore loser. One of us is going to be disappointed.
BK: You have to let the dog win occasionally.
JO: Oh no no! I am working on that.
BK: When you’re stopped on the street, is it because of the show or the dog?
JO: The dog, especially when she was a puppy. People would come up to talk to her, then look at me and say, “I know you,” but then they’d look straight down at her and start talking again. I know exactly where I stand in that hierarchy.
Culture: The Daily Show
BK: You’re a dog lover, right? You must appreciate having the dogs at the office.
WC: I like all dogs — I make friends with dogs on the street. Having dogs in the office is probably the best thing. I don’t have to wander the streets to make friends; I can do it from the comfort of my desk.
BK: What do you say to the dogs?
WC: When I’m in the office, I definitely know my voice changes when I talk to the dogs. I’m not talking baby talk, but even that it is interesting — to see a person who might have a really gruff exterior start talking to a dog, like, “Who’s my big boy?” There’s something about pets that brings that out in people. At the Daily Show, you have animals around to help you relax a little, reminders that you shouldn’t take life too seriously.
BK: Yes, others have mentioned how the dogs help relieve stress … how they cool it down a little.
WC: I think the dogs know it, too —they get a sense when people are a little bummed out. Jen’s dog, Parker, is really good about that; she’ll make her way toward you, wag her tail and start pawing at your chair and you think, Yeah! I’m going to take a few moments and just hang out with Parker. And forget anything that was bugging me a moment ago.
BK: Dogs sometimes make their way into your material, like your piece, “SeaWorld of Pain,” on PETA’s lawsuit to free killer whales.
WC: We were in no way saying that it is OK to abuse animals; if there’s animal abuse out there, we need to hear about it. I think in the conversation with the woman from PETA, she was asking humans to have empathy for the plight of killer whales, but doing it in a way that lacked empathy for some humans. It seemed like an odd double standard. [Editor’s note: PETA was equating the condition of captive killer whales with human slavery.]
BK: Is the Daily Show planning any canine political coverage?
WC: Maybe another dog political debate. A while ago, Anderson Cooper moderated a dog debate for us, and we used the office dogs. Some people thought it was real. What that showed me was that people really do want to see a dog political debate.
BK: There’s been a real surge in the popularity of small dogs; what do you think about this trend?
WC: I think that a lot of people are embracing dogs in general, and small dogs, too. In the south, you wanted a big dog to protect you, or to hunt with. I live in a New York apartment, and for me to have a 60-pound dog would be hard. But a little dog … I can put him in a little bag that doesn’t look like a purse and carry him and go where I have to go. It’s kind of weird, but I’ve seen more macho tough dudes with little dogs, and I think Oh, wow! If I met you 15 years ago, you would probably be saying “Why are you carrying that little dog?” A lot of it is economics. It would be interesting to match up the economy and the popular dog sizes. But the love a dog has to give doesn’t depend on the size of the dog — the size of the heart is the same.
Culture: The Daily Show
Parker & Jen
Parker: Lab mix, seven years old
Ally: Pointer mix, three-and-a-half years old
Kweli: Golden Retriever, eight years old
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Helping law dogs
Law enforcement dogs—who are often sent ahead of their human counterparts to investigate dangerous situations and apprehend shady suspects—have one of the toughest jobs in the canine world. Unfortunately, many crime prevention agencies and police departments lack the funds necessary to outfit their dogs with life-saving Kevlar vests. Through the help of private donations, Vest-A-Dog is committed to protecting these K-9 heroes by providing vests to dogs in need. K-9 vests are bulletproof, stab-proof and help minimize blunt trauma injuries; in the past decade, these types of injuries have caused 60 percent of police dog deaths. Police K-9 handlers throughout the country can register their dogs with Vest-A-Dog to receive fundraising assistance. Visit their website to learn more about K9 vests and how you can join the Vest-A-Dog network, make a tax-deductible donation or notify your local police department about this opportunity.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Research validates positive reinforcement
There was a time when behavioral research focused primarily on primates, wolves and rodents. Today, our domestic canine companions are increasingly being considered as valid subjects for studies intended to improve quality of life for dogs and their humans. Some of these studies were presented at the Sixth International Veterinary Behavior Meeting in Riccione, Italy, in June 2007, and reported in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior no. 2, issue 3. Of particular note are two that address the relationship between training methods and problem behaviors.
The first, “The Importance of Consistency in the Training of Dogs,” was conducted by scientists at the University of Southampton in the UK and the University of Life Sciences in Norway. This study evaluated punishment as a contributor to behavior problems, and the effects of reward, punishment and rule structure (permissiveness/strictness and consistency) on training and behavior problems. Information was collected via questionnaires from 217 dog guardians. Those who used strong and/or frequent punishment had a significantly higher level of training problems and lower obedience in their dogs. The study found that rule structure was important in achieving a well-behaved dog, but appears to be dependent on a low level of punishment in the training program.
A similar study, “The Relationship Between Training Methods and the Occurrence of Behavior Problems in a Population of Domestic Dogs,” was conducted at the University of Bristol in the UK. This study was designed to investigate the relationship between the occurrence of behavior problems and the type of training class attended and methods used. While the results suggested that attendance at any form of training class was likely to reduce the number of behavior problems in dogs, the study also found that dogs trained only with positive reinforcement exhibited fewer problem behaviors. Dogs whose owners used punishment in training were also significantly more likely to show a fear response to other dogs.
These findings are no surprise to positive trainers around the world, but it’s always good to have our personal and professional experiences and training philosophies confirmed by science.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
A to-do list for a great dog park visit
Question: I'd like to take my dog to the dog park, but I'm a little nervous about how he'll behave. Any suggestions on how to improve the odds that his visit will be an enjoyable one?
Answer: Teaching your dog key skills so that he will have a good dog park experience is important. At a minimum, be sure that you can call your dog to you and ask him to settle down. You will feel (and be) more in control of a visit to the park. But what about you? Here’s a rundown of things to remember when using the park.
• Take off the leash. What’s the point of going to the dog park if you’re going to put a leash on your dog? If you’ve done the recommended training, checked out the safety and design of the park, and observed the other dogs before entering, you’ve done what you can to give your dog a fun and safe experience. Leashes interfere with the natural body language of the dog, dogs can get tangled up in them and dogs who become stressed by constant pulling against a leash can act in undesirable ways. Besides, most parks require that your dog be off-leash.
• Small dogs need special consideration. Try to find a dog park with a small dog section, or specific small-dog playtimes. It’s so easy for a little guy to get overwhelmed—not to mention bowled over—by larger dogs. Keep your small dog on the ground rather than toting him around with you in the park. Being elevated can either give a dog a false sense of control because of the elevated position and close human backup, or entice other dogs to jump up at the dog being held to get a closer sniff.
• Stay only as long as your dog is having fun. Visits to the dog park need to be fluid. If your dog isn’t enjoying the experience, or other dogs are getting out of control, you need to leave, whether or not you’re ready to go. On the other hand, if your dog is having a spectacularly good time, you might want to stay a little longer.
• Be vigilant. Keep your focus on your dog no matter how enjoyable your human companions are. Don’t allow yourself to be part of stationary human clumps, because that will result in too many dogs gathering in one place. It is the humans’ responsibility to keep the park a safe and fun experience.
• Stay calm, talk quietly. Loud (and probably ineffective) commands as well as boisterous human chatter can raise the excitement level in the whole park and risk inciting some sort of bad behavior.
• Save treats (and toys) for later. There’s just too much potential for dogs to engage in guarding or stealing behavior that can lead to aggression and fights.
• Provide your dog with many different forms of entertainment. If visiting the park is the only exciting event in your dog’s life, he’s likely to be overexcited upon arrival.
• Stay connected with your dog at the dog park. Not via a leash, but through a mental connection. Call your dog to you from time to time. Play a quick game, or just give him a scratch and send him back to play.
• Talk to friends. Just do it in small groups, and preferably while you’re walking rather than sitting.
• Watch the dogs. You will not only learn lots about canine body language, you will also learn lessons about how to relax and have a good time.
• Always pick up after your dog, and insist that others do the same. Pick up the occasional extra pile, if needed.
• Relax and enjoy the experience. If for some reason you can’t relax—if you’re too concerned about your dog’s behavior, say—then you shouldn’t be there. Take some dog training classes to get better behavior, then try the park again.
• Leave if you start to feel concerned about anything going on. Help to resolve the situation if you can, but your first responsibility is to keep your dog safe.
Adapted from Visiting the Dog Park: Having Fun, Staying Safe, by Cheryl S. Smith; © 2007 Dogwise Publishing. Used with permission.
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