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  • Etiquette for Dog Parks .

    10 January at 19:29 from atlas

    My children reckon I love my dogs more than I love them. This is not true. Generally. Though it just might be on days when Number Two Daughter blows out the 4G - again - watching YouTube duck videos or Number One Son decides on a career as a food deliverer, clocks up hundreds of dollars in toll fees on my account, sideswipes the car ... then goes overseas.

    Children test your patience in ways that dogs don't. 

    That's because they are people. And dogs are dogs. Though I've heard one of those TV vets say that when a dog looks at you he/she sees themselves because they think you are a dog or that they are a person - or something.

    Anyway, a man whose dog, while on a canine beach, momentarily touched a child whose mother called 000 saying her kid had been attacked. Police fined the writer because he supposedly lacked "effective control" over his animal for just a few seconds. 

    The dog probably frightened the child. The mother, from the sounds of it, may have overreacted a tad. The police almost certainly did or, at the very least, could use some remedial discretion coaching.

    As dog owners most of us have been, if not quite there, then close, especially while our dogs were learning to socialise. And most of us who're exposed to dogs often enough because of our own, have encountered animals we, our children - or our pets - have found potentially or actually threatening.

    My dogs are well trained. They come when called. Stay. Sit. They're always good with other dogs and people. But their recall is rarely split-second instant. Especially when they are around other dogs or people they know on the small off-leash beach near our home in Sydney's east. This is a community. The dogs and humans who go there mostly know and like each other. We know the names and idiosyncrasies of each others' dogs and talk about them endlessly ... and (occasionally) we even talk about other peripheral stuff like our families and whether the world is about to end.

    Occasionally there are strangers - new dogs and people who've heard about this beach and driven there with their animals. Sometimes there are people without dogs. They might be fishing. Or their kids might be playing in the sand and paddling.

    This always has potential to complicate considerably the regular inter-human-canine-canine relations.

    I usually err for caution and keep my dogs leashed in those circumstances so they don't mix with dogs and people they and I don't know and who may be equally wary of them.

    Yes, I am a dog person. But I know that not everyone is. I know that some people are terrified at the sight of my two medium-sized black dogs (they are docile, de-sexed female Labradors and I, as a dog person, can't imagine how anyone could be afraid of them, but that is not the point) - people like the elderly woman who clutches her hands to her chest, shaking and her eyes wide with fear, and who clears off the path when we sometimes cross tracks on our morning walks.

    I've had people with children in off-leash spaces scream at me to control my dogs when they've been bounding around, chasing balls or wrestling with other animals. Sure, they might've been within a few metres of the kids but had not actually ventured towards or shown any interest in them (a dog that is not trained with food will usually favour the company of another dog ahead of that of a human).

    Yes, I'm a dog person. But I don't like all dogs.

    Twice this year other (stranger) dogs have menaced ours (while they've been on their leads) at the local dog beach. Their owners couldn't control them. On the New South Wales south coast in recent years, again on an off-leash dog beach, my eldest dog went to greet another on a lead. It growled and bit her on the face. Now, there is a standard etiquette here; it's assumed that if your dog is on a canine beach it is safe among other animals who can all expect to sniff and circle one another, without being bitten. A dog that bites others should not be in such a place, even on a lead, unless it's muzzled.

    The same thing once happened at a park near us when my dog was on a leash, approached another dog whose owner smiled at me, afforded her animal sufficient slack to meet mine before - SNAP! - biting ours on the snout.

    Colourful (human) exchanges ensued, ending with the other owner declaring that Jaws was "not really very good with other dogs".

    Yes, there is poor etiquette too. It goes like this: pick it up. Because the worst PR for dog lovers among non-dog people is other dog people who leave their animals' poo behind in public places. Many people  have unfairly tarred all - all - dog owners with the arrogant disregard of those who won't own their dogs poo. Is it too weird to carry spare bags to pick up someone else's? Probably.


    Here in Sydney they have less space and they've needed more inter-dog and human socialisation, more rules and more boundaries.

    But like the wolves who eventually wandered into the camp to eat from the hand and crouch by the fire and domesticate themselves, they've adapted to new circumstance, and the love and the kindness of local dogs and their owners who've welcomed us into their community.

    Dogs are a great way for humans to make new friends.

    Shared urban space, especially where designated as off lead at certain times for dogs, implies mutual responsibility for both owners and non-canine types. Non-dog people might like to set up their kids' birthday parties elsewhere at off-leash times.  Just as the onus must always be on dog owners to ensure their animals are socialised, safe to be around for other people and dogs - and always under control.

    Misunderstandings are inevitable in such an environment. Dog attacks - an entirely different and much more serious matter - are not just a misunderstanding andshould never be.


    Written by Paul Daley for The guardian  Paul Daley@PPDaley



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