Let me just preface this by saying this is one day I wish I could rewind and re-do differently because everything that went wrong was basically all my own fault but Cinder's the one to pay the price for my stupidity.
If you’ve been following the blog an/or Facebook page, you probably know about Cinder’s reactivity issues and the work I’m doing with her to try getting her to a better place with it so she has a brighter, broader future. So far, until today, progress has been great in a relatively short time. Today I pushed the envelope too far. But before you think this post is merely about Cinder’s reactivity and today’s potential set-back, let me assure you it’s also a rant about public dog parks and the people who frequent them too! Typically I don’t advocate attending public dog parks for a host of reasons. However, they do serve some good purposes for some folks and their dogs. I was hoping to take advantage of our local public dog park for Cinder’s benefit for a while, but now I am changing my plan!
Cinder’s been doing very well with all our work to improve her reactivity with other dogs. She’d done so well last week that I decided we’d try going to the local public dog park during weekday afternoons, when there are only a couple people and dogs likely to be there. That strategy has been paying off quite well-until today. Let me give you the whole story:
We arrived at the public dog park at about 1:45PM and only three people and three dogs were there. I observed and felt since one was a puppy and the other adult dogs were essentially well mannered, Cinder would probably be fine. In we went, looking forward to another successful day meeting different people and dogs in limited numbers. Indeed, it was quite pleasant and Cinder made friends with the puppy and older two dogs faster and easier than any others. Yea! As we were conversing and enjoying our dogs, something told me the approaching car with a yapping pair of large dogs was about to change things and indeed, it did. However, not before Cinder had some fun with her new friends and impressed the people with her GOOD behavior, tricks, recall on a whistle, recall on voice, and her generally happy nature with people.
If I’d had more sense about me, I’d probably have left when the newly arriving vehicle parked. But between potentially having issues in a parking lot immediately adjacent to a very busy road or INSIDE the fenced dog area, I opted to remain at least until the newcomers were inside and away from the gates to the parking lot. Immediately, two big dogs took off from their owner right out of the car. Initially I thought the dogs bounded out of the car but the woman standing with me (both of us now holding our pups at our sides) said, “I think she just opened the door and let them do that. I’ve seen her before and they did that the last time I saw them too.” That was the first clue of what was to come AND should’ve been my cue to leave right then.
Luckily, Cinder always wears her car harness
with a drag line so I can grab her when she’s loose. I
thought to grab the drag line and have Cinder sit casually, facing the newcomer
dogs as they entered the gates across the park.
I thought if she reacted, I’d already have hold to remove her.
As they entered, the two dogs came bounding across the park, barking all the way. Cinder didn’t react at all so I was hopeful this was just a noisy intro that would soon subside and end well. Suddenly, both dogs came at Cinder and barked in her face. At that point, Cinder reacted and frankly, I kind of let her have a few seconds to warn the dogs off since they’d been the instigators. I want Cinder to greet others appropriately and sometimes other unruly dogs deserve a retaliatory warning. However, once Cinder let out her warning and I called her off (SUCCESSFULLY), the other dogs didn’t back down. They weren’t vicious initially, but they were definitely escalating; and their owner wasn't doing or saying anything at all. The dogs essentially pinned Cinder against my legs and picked at her; lunging and barking more and more nastily. Cinder wasn’t getting more wound up, but she wasn’t letting them get in her space without standing hers. Meanwhile, the owner finally made her way over and stood gawking, neither saying or doing anything to control her dogs while it was clearly an escalating situation-her two loose dogs against my single dog on a two foot rope in my control, at my side. I was attempting to suggest that she get hold of her dogs long enough for Cinder and I to leave, but instead the fog-brained woman was too busy asking me about Cinder’s breed, age, and name.
Meanwhile, our new friends had smartly removed themselves and their dogs to their car so it was all about me trying to get Cinder out before she completely lost it. I’d managed to get her leash on her halter collar (thank GOD I hadn’t taken off her halter collar) and started to move toward the gate. As I attempted to move Cinder on-lead, at my side, one dog lunged from behind and the other came at her from beside. Cinder spun around facing them and looked to me for direction. I looked at the woman and said, “My puppy is majorly upset by your dogs and if you’re not willing to hold onto them long enough for me to leave, I’m turning her loose so she can defend herself and I’m going to that gate. My puppy WILL do whatever she feels necessary to defend herself.” The woman shrugged and said, “I can’t do that-no.” I turned Cinder loose and she stayed with me, but kept spinning as the other dogs kept lunging and barking. Finally, she spun and I heard her REALLY vicious snarling growl. I turned in time to see the others were only six inches from her face! I used my whistle to recall Cinder and thank GOD Cinder turned and came instantly at a dead run; meeting me at the gate and quickly sitting. The other dogs were on our heels and that fog-brained woman was still across the park doing absolutely nothing. As her dogs neared while I was trying to open the gate, I scooped Cinder up and practically threw her over the fence while holding onto her leash over the fence. I kicked at the other dogs as I went through the gate myself. We escaped. As we exited the outer gate, our new friends with the puppy and one adult dog had watched from their car. They got out of their car and met me at the exterior to offer assistance and of course, ask questions.
Back at the Jeep, Cinder had managed to “let it go.” I hadn’t, but she had! The couple walked with us to the Jeep and said, “We’ve never seen anything like that.” The woman said, “I’ve seen that lady here before and I don’t think her dogs were that mean, but they were definitely not well mannered then either.” I said, “How could they be well mannered when she isn’t. She had no concern for them, me, or my pup. She let them continue to escalate without even attempting to do anything. When I asked her to hold her dogs long enough to leave, she said she couldn’t do that.” They asked how I knew Cinder would stay close to me; and she’d come to me when I called or whistled. The next thing they asked me, “How did you know when to whistle and that she’d fly so fast to you when you did?” I said, “It was a calculated prayer! She’s been running the farm with my older, trained boys and we use the whistle to direct or recall them. I just hoped our experience was solid enough for her to come and thank GOD she did!” We chatted a few minutes more and parted ways.
My rant is that people who go to public dog parks aren’t always skillful dog handlers-especially in difficult situations. Obviously this was an instance in which the dog owner didn't have control; and either didn't know how or want to take control either. Aside from the risks of people who know and/or do so little to control their dogs; there are always issues with people who don't clean up after their dogs; and the dangers of some unsavory people who actually look for dogs to steal; or dogs to fight. It really seems to me that public dog parks should have some sort of dog park staff – a dog park ranger - on site to help ensure the rules are followed; the park is maintained; and there is trained help on site to assist and even call for additional help in the event of things like our experience today. If a dog park ranger were there, at least that’s an additional set of hands in the absence of any or not enough. At the very least, it’s someone to dial 9-1-1! More importantly, if they were patrolled by dog park rangers, maybe more of the people who frequent the parks would adhere to more of the rules; and also be more conscious about controlling their own animals better. No one should go to a public dog park if they aren’t even willing to TRY to maintain control of their own dogs when they’re there! Public dog parks are a questionable place to socialize and exercise dogs anyway so why not create some jobs and make the dog parks safer by adding trained dog park rangers to help enforce the existing rules; and add more help for the bad situations that arise? Seems like it would be a somewhat better system and create a few jobs.
This episode is MY fault. I’m not blaming anyone else. I should’ve realized when her dogs bounded out of the car that we should’ve headed for the gate regardless. Instead, I was sluggish about leaving – and it may have cost all the effort and progress Cinder’s made until today.
After that fiasco, I think I was as or more rattled than Cinder. I pushed the envelope and it got us in a jam. Don’t think I’ll ever make that mistake again! We won’t do that again – at least not for a very long time.
However, we will continue going to the private, members-only dog park owned by friends. In fact, that’s the first place I headed with Cinder immediately after our public dog park escape. It’s where Cinder’s favorite swimming pond is, but, it’s also a doggy daycare, boarding, and training facility. I called ahead to the staff at the kennel and told them that Cinder and I had just had a very bad meeting with two nasty dogs and I needed to Cinder to SEE other new dogs, in the hands of people who have a clue. I suggested meeting us in the parking lot with, “The quietest, nicest, most patient, low energy dog available that won’t respond if Cinder goes off.” That’s exactly what we did. It worked! Cinder met one more dog – a very sweet yellow Lab - on familiar but neutral ground. That dog was quite calm and pleasant. They met, they sniffed, they were okay with each other and Cinder was ready to swim. YES! We were able to put her in a position of meeting ONE more new dog before calling it a day. It went well and that’s as much as I could hope for. Cinder swam about 15 minutes and she started looking tired so we called it a day.
There were some great moments about the worst event of the day. Cinder waited for the other dogs to get in her space and make the first moves before she got upset. Cinder did listen and respond to me far more than she would’ve a month ago. When I finally let her loose to make our way out, she didn’t start a fight; she kept them at bay, but no fight. Just as it looked like THEY were going to force a fight, I whistled and Cinder ran to me like the wind-no hesitation! When she got to the gate, she did everything I asked/told her. When we got out of the fenced area, she calmed down immediately! All of those are vast improvements over anything I would’ve had from her a month ago. Despite all that went wrong, a lot still went right.
Next week we meet with our behaviorist trainer for updates and another progress evaluation. I’m sure then I’ll hear how much I’ve pushed Cinder too hard, too fast; and how much I need to slow it down; and STAY AWAY FROM THE PUBLIC DOG PARK. But really, she won’t need to give that lecture so I hope we save time and move to the “train the owner” lessons. MY lesson should be, “How Not to be an Idiot Owner of a Reactive Dog.” Oh, wait…I just got that lesson! Too bad it may have been at Cinder’s expense. We made so many steps forward that I hate the idea of 222 steps backward that today may have taken us.
That’s it. That’s my rant. Thanks for letting me get that out there. Sorry you were the readers of such a maniacal post! Hopefully there will not be more in the future, but I make no guarantees.
With head downturned sadly in shame, I end this chapter of another day in the lifelong endeavor of raising Cinder.