Friday, July 23, 2010

Fence Me In

Some folks are ticked that they are fencing the dog park up in Shoreview. The current users say the fence will change the character of the park. Because basically, they worry that now ANYBODY with a dog will come.

Battle Creek dog park social area

I've heard it before. We started going to Battle Creek dog park right before they fenced it. I heard the laments as Tree Trust youth pounded over a mile of posts and stretched the mesh to separate, divide, and civilize. Before, only dogs who were reliable off leash would brave the thirty acres. After, any dingbat could come and let Fido rip. And they do. And  it did change the character of the park. We certainly started going more often.

It must have felt that way as the West was "won" and the frontier closed. Each wave of "civilization" bringing more and more rules and laws and manners. Lots of eager folks arrived, adapted and tamed the once wild and wooly frontier. Those who couldn't bear to be fenced in simply moved on in search of freedom in untamed wilderness.

There is precious little wilderness left in this country. Any bozo can climb any mountain -- leaving behind his pesky pack of water, rain gear and common sense. He has a cell phone to call for a pick-up if the going gets rough! And anybody can let their dog loose in the confines of a fenced dog park.

You mostly see the newbies on weekends after waffle time. Often they are groups of friends or families who are thrilled to have a safe space for their dogs to stretch and delighted about the idea of doggie friends.

You can spot the newbies easily enough.
  • Newbies are often on high alert -- not sure if Rover will ditch them at the gate. 
  • Newbies don't really get the double gate airlock system or the etiquette of giving space to dogs in transition. 
  • Newbies keep the leash on after entering the dog park thinking it will give them a chance to warm up. 
  • Newbies don't bring poop bags and think nature will take care of it -- it's the woods! 
  • Newbies do bring treats thinking it will keep Bowser by their side. You can tell the treat bearers because of the large fan club that mobs them (OMG - I LOVE NEWBIES). 
  • Newbies bring Barfy's favorite ball and get cross when it goes communal. 
  • Newbies are uncomfortable with mud and water and mutter about baths. 
  • Newbies bring cute little bottles of water with fold down, personal sipping troughs. People: duck water tastes better. Enough said.
  • Newbies are uncomfortable with butt-sniffing and gods forbid Punky gets mounted! Bad dog? Please.
  • Newbies bring too-young pups and get angry when they get rolled and mouthed by the grown-ups. For the record, we'd never hurt a baby -- even when she uses those sharp little teeth on us!
  • Newbies infantalize their toy breeds by scooping them up in terror when the bigger dogs approach. Listen people, a dog is a dog - we'll work it out. 
  • Some rare newbies dress their dogs in clothes. Dog coats don't last long at the dog park - leave them in the car. The poodle in the cheerleader suit was wrong, wrong, wrong! And everyone watching, dog and human, was hoping it would get shredded ASAP. Poor poodle.
  • Newbies try to greet and pet every dog they meet. Tip: Like parents at a middle school dance, you are invisible!
  • Newbies bring toddlers and little kids who want to hug all the dogs. Seriously people, at the dog park, dog play rules apply. Dog play involves body-checking and lots of slobber. And no, you cannot pet me. I am busy.
  • Newbies even bring strollers with strapped-in sticky-sweet babies dusted in crackers (Let me help you with that...)
But are newbies the wrong kind of people? Of course not. They are just new. The quickest way to assimilate new people and teach them the social mores of the established group is to welcome and enfold them.

When we were new, my Susan watched and talked and watched some more. She learned the dog park rules and all the nuances of dog and owner behavior. She chatted, asked questions, and made mistakes. And dog people welcomed her. Now we are some of the Regulars.

Dog people at dog parks are much like dogs. They appreciate the pack. They find their place at the park and there is something for everyone. Some like to sit in chairs and chat in the social areas. Others throw the ball endlessly -- man and dog in never ceasing cycle. Many plug in, move fast and do double duty exercising. Others skirt the edges to find the space or time of day to roam the woods alone with their canine.

If people and their dogs are are completely unsocialized, they wouldn't come to a dog park in the first place. Or maybe just once. If your dog is not behaving, don't think folks won't tell you to get some control or go home.

Certainly an unfenced dog park attracts the owner elite whose dogs always come when called and never bolt after squirrels. They work hard to have good dogs. It is fun to find a compatible group of like-minded folks who know the rules and possess the skills. Black diamond skiers sure don't want the mountain smoothed down so the bunny hill folks can come ski with them.

If you have a social group you love, it is hard to open it up to the riff-raff. A loud mouth who only reads the Cliff Notes can ruin your book group. A crabby complainer can send your walking group running for cover. A toy-hoarder can throw off the most easy-going gathering of canines. And a surly dog/owner pair can certainly ruin a pleasant park outing.

But while it would be a hoot to run with a whole herd of Carmella clones, I appreciate my dog friends of all shapes and sizes. I love Emma and Colt and Ella and Turkey and Stella and Lucky. And I am pretty sure none of them would come if there wasn't a fence.

So go ahead, fence me in!


  1. There are lots of very capable schnoodle- types at the dog park. As long as they hold their own with the big guys and don't go all Napolean. Sometimes those chihuahuas can be rough. The most common smaller dogs are corgis - but they think they are big dogs. Last week there was a corgi brigade of about ten. Think their owners gathered vis Craigslist.