Crisis At The Dog Park

Socializing At the Dog Park

The Park District in Toledo OH just opened its first dog park. Toledo has finally joined the rest of the cities in the country in its dog-friendliness. Going to an off-leash park is a new experience for us.

We have a new puppy. We reasoned that if we took her there and she was able to play with other dogs, it might help with her socialization skills. We took Camille, her 5 year old sister, too. We thought she might enjoy playing with other dogs, too. Plus, it would give her a break from Ilaria, the omnipresent puppy.

The puppy, just 14 weeks old, and as cute as a baby boxer could be, jumped right in, playing with the big dogs. She ran with the border collies, wrestled with the labs, played tug of war with the huskies, got tackled by the Weimaraners, huddled with the hounds, and when bowled over by the young Rottie she jumped up, looking back over her shoulder as she hopped sideways, asking for more. You would have laughed to see her bopping the massive gorilla face of a 180 pound Cane Corso with her little paws. He withstood her abuse patiently though and allowed the puppy, her puppy rambunctiousness. Ilaria loves the dog park. We love taking her.

Camille, in all her 5 years, has never had the opportunity to play off leash in a large grassy area with lots of dogs. At the dog park, she alternates between running with pick-up packs and running interference between the puppy and any dog that appears too aggressive in their play. She stalks around, a serious expression on her face, making sure that everyone plays nice. Camille has declared herself “play monitor” for the park. Since she’s been going, she has developed better muscle tone and more stamina. She loves the dog park. We love taking her.

When I visited my daughter and her family in Philadelphia, almost 15 years ago, I remember visiting the dog park in University City with her. I was intrigued that she knew most of the dog regulars by name, and a little descriptive vignette about each of their owners. It was a place for people to congregate and socialize, as well.

Now, as regulars at our dog park, everyone knows Camille and little Ilaria. They know they are friendly, safe with their dogs, and that they enjoy the company of humans as much as canines. Ilaria, especially, loves to be picked up. She is still small, the size of a JRT. Camille, whenever she sees the little one picked up, rushes over to get some sugar for herself as well.

Anastasia and I are beginning to recognize dogs and remember their names. There’s Chloe, and Moe, Buster, Sergeant, and, I could go on and on. Their people are all gentle and caring. “Dog people are good people,” Anastasia often says. The dog people are diverse. They range from school age kids to senior citizens. They come after work and when they can. We met a baker, whose workday is over at 3 pm. We met a social network entrepreneur whose workplace is a coffee shop. We’ve met students, trades-people, professionals, people who share their passions for boating, hiking, traveling, working out, going to movies, the theatre, the symphony, and staying home watching TV. We’ve learned about community events, new coffee shops, different restaurants, and even found someone who can help us with our WordPress potholes. We all share something in common. We love our dogs.

Yesterday, a young couple was proudly celebrating the first birthday of their black lab.” The fellow eagerly pulled out his iPhone, and showed us photos of their dog enjoying her birthday cake from Three Dog Bakery. “Twenty dollars,” the young man grinned with pride. “Look. There’s Chloe’s name on it.” It did indeed. The dog, frosting on her muzzle, was smiling; flanked by her beaming pet-parents.

The Dog Park Phenomenon

I had been aware of the dog park phenom but had not fully immersed myself in it. I’ve seen them in lots of cities around the country. An elegantly simple enclosed grassy area in Charleston, West Virginia, comes to mind. The city found a use for an underutilized field in a gentrified part of the city. It serves that community’s needs.

Several years ago, when Anastasia and I were in New York promoting PetMassage Media at the BookExpo, we walked through the busy Murray Hill Park, right next to a shiny silver statue of Andy Warhol, and watched the crowds of playing dogs, and their doting pet parents.

Since the first official dog park opened at Ohlone Dog Park in Berkeley, California in 1979, the number of dog parks has surged to become the segment of city parks experiencing the fastest growth. As the number of US families with dogs surpasses the number of families with children (43 million families with dogs versus 38 million families with children), the number of dog parks continues to soar.

A quick search for dog parks in countries all over the world shows that they are evidently present and popular EVERYWHERE, from Johannesburg to Osaka, London to now, Toledo.

Gated Communities

There are now thousands of dog parks across the US and Canada. Many of them feature amenities such as dog drinking fountains, wash stations, swimming ponds, and agility equipment.

There are rules and regulations for these relaxed, shady areas, these secure, leash-free environments. It is a subculture with its own set of etiquette constructs.

Our 2 boxers run with a bunch of well-fed, well loved, and well-vetted dogs. The dogs are happy. They get along with each other just fine. Their people are delighted watching their dogs socially engaged and running off-leash.

I see lots of healthy happy dogs. I also see lots of physically challenged dogs. I see with the eyes of a PetMassage practitioner how they move, how they sit. I see their stiff shoulders, rigid hocks, unbalanced gaits and stances. I see the condition of their coats; their topline and tail carriage. I see young dogs limping and old dogs dragging. There is a wide range of conditions I know my PetMassage skills would help.

Crisis at the Dog Park

Yet, I am torn. Anastasia and I go to the part to relax. So do the people we meet. It is a safe place, free from stress. It’s a little getaway; a vacation in the middle of the day. It is away from the news, politics, work, family, cares and woes. We don’t mention any of these topics. We just talk about our dogs. The last thing anyone wants to have to deal with is a pushy marketer, promoting their products and services. I feel the need to honor their needs for the simple sanctity of just hanging out with their dogs. I recognize its therapeutic value. I want to respect everyone’s space; and demonstrate my regard for their privacy,

Teach Me to Fish

And, we have a business that needs promotion. The services we provide would enable them enjoy their dogs even more. You know, if you want to catch fish, you fish where the fish are. I’m sure that I’m not the only one who is standing here at the edge of an incredibly well-stocked pond, trying to decide if and how and what tackle to employ.

I may not be saying anything verbally, and, I am as subtle as a billboard. I wear my hat with the PetMassage logo on it, PetMassage t-shirts and sweatshirts (My favorite is the one that reads: Unleash your dog’s inner puppy.) I carry business cards in my case, just in case…; however because I do not want to interlope into my fellow dog-parker’s special time with their dogs, I am reluctant to overtly promote our PetMassage clinic.

So, I’m asking you: how do you broach the delicate etiquette boundary at dog parks? Do you market your canine massage services there? Please share your experiences with me.

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