We had a string of beautiful days over New Year’s weekend. Not wanting to waste the sunny day, Ruby and I took Dakota to the dog park yesterday. Shelton has one dog park attached to a neighborhood park. It’s fenced off from the swings and climbing equipment, tucked into a shady corner. Dakota could use some time out of the yard, we thought. Plus, Ruby loves all the dogs.
We bundled up and loaded up in the car and drove the 2 miles. I should mention Dakota is not leash trained, despite all the other training others before us have put into her. She runs ahead, then stops, doubles back. Eventually, on main roads, she freaks out and turns for home. You wouldn’t think a 60-lb. dog could pull a human of more than 100 pounds off her feet. You’d be wrong.
When we entered the park, Dakota had it to herself. The park never completely dries out except in deep summer. Muddy patches abound. A chill hung in the damp air. We loaded up the ball in the chucker and tossed it, one ball in reserve per protocol. Dakota chased it.
But New Year’s Day had surprises in store. A mom and her 3 kids showed up, an English bulldog in tow. Tank, as he was called, had a white body with a brown back. He ran up to Dakota to sniff her. Dakota, ever polite, stood still and submitted to the nasal inspection. Tank ran after the ball, sort of half-heartedly. It was a friendly gesture only, as his heavily muscled body could not keep up with Dakota’s swiftness.
“She’s a shelter dog,” I tried to explain to Tank’s owner. “She not really friendly. She has some baggage.”
I didn’t like having to explain her, but I didn’t want to be rude. What’s the etiquette here? I wondered. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut. Do dogs need excuses?
Soon after, more dogs joined us. A young couple entered with 3 dogs – a small golden dog, a medium-sized golden lab mix, and another dog.
“Mom, look! It’s another black German Shepherd!” Ruby called.
I looked at the newcomer. A tall, slender black and white dog, tail curled like Dakota’s. But its legs tapered lean, almost like a greyhound. Indeed, he had great speed as he rushed to Dakota. Again, the sniff test. Dakota sniffed him, too. I could see he had a pointier face, too, with white on his chest and in his tail. Beautiful dog, and so graceful, I thought. But not German Shepherd only, if at all.
So now there were 5 dogs in the park. Ruby threw the ball, and they all chased it. A sort of canine tide went after the fuzzy sphere. Cole, the black dog, got it. Dakota looked lost. Where did the ball go? Cole dropped it. It wasn’t his thing. Dakota picked it up and returned to Ruby. Ruby made her drop it, and the game started again. This time, the small golden dog named Athena nabbed it. Dakota didn’t mind it much as long as she eventually got a ball back in her mouth.
This is how I had hoped it would go: fun and easy. I’ve made some observations over the past several months as a new dog owner. Dog people, as a general rule, tend to be more easygoing. It’s a great way to meet people. You can talk about dogs and funny things they do. Conversely, nobody has to talk. There’s a dograderie there, a quiet bonding over a shared love of a canine. It’s peaceful and relaxed. It morphs into a dog party. As a formerly cat-only person, it’s been an adjustment, and mostly a good one. Cat people tend to be more intellectual and introspective. Cats get away with so much bad behavior, and nobody explains for them. They get a sort of carte blanche. You shrug. “Cats will be cats!” You kind of have to be more extroverted with a dog because, well, they are. They greet strangers and look them over. They run to people instead of away, for the most part.
Strictly my opinions and observations, mind you.
The other dogs moved on to exploring the park, sometimes joining in the chase for the fun of it. Cole kept circling back to Dakota. He stopped to smell her again. He jumped over her. Sometimes, he got to the ball first. He let her have it. She kept on running, grabbing and bringing the ball back. Other dogs would stop and sniff her. She remained aloof and uninterested. The more I watched her, the more I realized she must have had horrible interactions with other dogs. No one, no matter how patient, could befriend her. She kept up a wall of indifference.
Finally, Cole decided he wanted more. When she stopped to retrieve the 9,000th ball, he tried to mount her. She bucked him off and ran. He chased her. Dakota turned around. She gave him an icy glare. She bared her teeth. He kept coming. Then she growled at him. My blood ran cold.
“Ruby, it’s time to go,” I said. Chasing and playing is one thing. Sexual harassment is another. Yes, I know they’re only dogs. They’re not people. But Dakota was out of patience. I would be, too, in her shoes, er, paws.
“Cole, you deserved that,” Cole’s female owner chided him.
I realized Cole hadn’t gotten the chop on his male parts. I forget sometimes that Dakota’s breed train as police dogs. They can take a man – or dog – down. Don’t mistake kindness for weakness, I thought. All in all, though, I count it a victory. Dakota can learn to trust other dogs again. It will take time. Good thing she doesn’t hold grudges.