Dog’s Eye View: No play pressure
October 3, 2013
Steamboat Springs — Did you ever think about how much pressure a dog-loving society might be putting on the average dog owner? There seem to be specific expectations placed on dog owners that relate to dog social skills and play.
I hadn't considered this point of view before a man expressed to me a sense of relief when I said I didn't think he had to allow his dog to play with another dog just because someone asked him if that would be OK. He also felt as though the eyes of the dog-loving world looked disapprovingly on him if he didn't take his dog to a dog park several times each week.
It appears that the world of dogs as social animals has flip-flopped from the concept of years ago that dogs shouldn't be out running around with other dogs.
This man has a lovely, large breed dog that happens to be reactive to other dogs that come toward her on a trail. We are working on skills for him and his dog so he can teach her what to do under these circumstances. He said he feels bad when dog owners ask whether the dogs can play together. Some people are insistent and don't want to take "no" for an answer.
Frequently, I find myself saying to people that we as humans might not get along with or wish to hang out with everyone we meet. Why do we expect dogs should enjoy every dog that crosses their paths? I'm a little concerned that many dog owners really don't know how their pet will relate to a strange dog it meets out on a trail. If their dog gets along well with a few friendly dogs that it sees frequently, an owner might assume that it's OK with all dogs. This might not be a safe assumption.
This man obviously has put in a lot of work establishing a strong relationship with his dog. When we met, she was happily playing Frisbee in the park. On one occasion, a ball they were playing with rolled into the street and she ran after it. She turned on a dime and raced back to him on his quick whistle cue. This family has another younger dog that she plays with and seems to enjoy. But taking her to a dog park might not serve her well.
Not all dogs are friendly at dog parks, and not all owners are attentive to their dog's behavior at parks. To be fair, many dogs and owners are wonderful in this setting.
I think it's important to embrace the strengths in your dog/owner relationship. Look for balance in your family dog's life. I think this owner has a good thing going.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training with more than 25 years of experience.