The other day at the dog park, Charles Plimmer Park, our pack, me, Jackman and our human dad were running around the park chasing tennis balls when another dog and its humans arrived. While my human is the leader of our pack, or at least working to be that, the "carer" in me went into protective mode. This side of me is very different to my typical gentle giant self. Yes, we are highly social species, but only to those in our pack. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, in particular can be seen as dogist. We are loyal to those we know, both dog and human, but will not make friends with every dog we meet, like those Laborador Retrievers. My protective mode is often disconcerting to my humans. If they and other humans could understand it from the furry-legged perspective these encounters could occur less and/or be managed better.
“The dog that believes that it is responsible for the protection of its family will easily transform from the loving carer to the dedicated guardian in a moment, in exactly the same way that a parent watching their children playing in a public park, would change in an instant if they thought that their child was in any danger from others in the area.”
— Jan Fennell, the Dog Listener
Imagine being in a space when a stranger, whether person or dog bounds up to you and those you are with. Would you immediately embrace them or react protectively? I suspect the latter, which is what I did with this dog. As it approached and then froze I emitted a soft growl to tell it, "Hey, we don't know you yet, so don't come running up to us. That's rude." The dog immediately submitted and walked away and we went back to playing. Sometimes the encounters do not go so well. Is there something that I can do or my humans can do differently to ensure my protectiveness is managed well and our encounters with other dogs and humans is consistently a great and relaxed experience? The answer is yes. It takes time and consistency from our humans, but it is possible. Below are a few suggestions for you and your humans to try.
Master the "recall" training technique. This is a must. I can attest that Jackman's and my recall is subpar. Because of that, we have gotten ourselves in trouble. Really, we shouldn't be allowed off-lead in a public place until our recall in high-distraction areas is 100%, with the occasional slip-up.
Master the "stop" training technique. Another must and probably the most important tool to for any of our humans to have in their "back pocket." Our humans teach us this not to take the fun away, but to protect us. Not only could it save us, from running into a street where there is an oncoming car, it can help us remember who is the leader. . . that's them, not us furry-four legged creatures.
Ensure your human(s) play with you. Going to the park may be seen to our humans as a chance for us to play with our same species and a chance for them to take a break. But, it is a perfect time for them to play with us. It will make our bond stronger; and keep us focused on the play should another dog come into the park. If we're having a great time with our humans, then when another dog enters the park we should be in a relaxed, playful state. This means we are setup for a successful encounter with the new dog.
Allow us to play with other dogs that also want to play. We shouldn't force play on any dog that doesn't want it. If only Jackman would take this piece of advice. He always wants to play with me, when my preference is to relax by the fire on these cold winter nights. An easy way to tell if a dog wants to play is if it is in the bow position, like the yoga pose downward facing dog, with its tail wagging.
Maybe don't take us to the dog park. This is a bit of controversial suggestion. However, the question our humans need to answer is, why do they take us to the park?
Is it because you want us to play with other dogs?
Is it because you want us to get exercise?
Eric Goebelbecker, of DogStarDaily.com blogged about this in the post, Dog Parks and Why You Should Avoid Them and a follow-up post, Rethinking Dog Parks. Goebelbecker raises a valid point, when we and our humans go to a dog park it is an un-controlled environment. We don't know what other dogs or humans we'll encounter. Taking your dog to a reputable doggy daycare is an alternative to ensure your dog is both socialised and exercised.
What do you think? Are dog parks a great place for us or our humans? What do you do to ensure you and your humans have a fun time at park? For further reading, check out Dr. Sophia Yin's blog about dog park etiquette.
Until next time.