Last week I discussed whether or not bringing toys to the dog park was a good idea, given the chance of conflict (both human and canine).
In the comments, Jessica from You Did What With Your Wiener mentioned the related topic of bringing treats/food to the dog park, which shouldn’t be left out.
But before I dive into discussion, I’d like to start with a true story.
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Until Moses was fixed, he was not at all food motivated.
There would be the odd time he’d show some interest, and pockets were certainly lined with cheese and dried liver when in the show ring (aka: How to Ruin a Pair of Pants in One Easy Step!), but if we could’ve somehow harnessed the scent of in-heat female dog, then maybe we’d have left with more than default participatory ribbons.
Once Big Mo’ went in for the ol’ snip-snip, however, the quickest way to his heart soon became food.
Fast-forward a few years to a sunny weekend when I decides to take Moses for a nice afternoon walk at Nose Hill Park, a large multi-use park here in Calgary that has a huge off-leash area.
Moses at Nose Hill Park
We were walking in the off-leash area when three women approach, orbited by their off-leash dog.
Moses and the dog had a great greeting, but as a lab or lab-type, the play style was too quick for Moses and he declined the game of chase with the dog, instead lumbering over to greet the women who were oohhh-ing and ahh-ing over him.
“He’s so big!” “He looks like a bear!”
The usual conversation about Moses and his size ensued between me and the women, and the women pet and greeted Moses while their dog bounded around in the distance.
Then one of the women wanted the other dog’s attention and called his name and reached into her jacket pocket for some treats.
And Moses noticed.
He plunked himself right in front of her, gave her his best puppy eyes, and began to drool (as Moses does).
Treat? For me? Please?
“These aren’t for you, buddy,” she replied, tucking the treats back in her pocket and petting him on the head.
So Moses craned his neck and sniffed at her pocket.
That’s when the tone of the interaction drastically and instantly changed.
“No!” She exclaimed. Then she grabbed Moses’ ear, pinched, and pushed downward.
Moses yelped, hit the deck, and looked at me like “Why did she do that?”. The yelping was out of surprise more than pain, I’m sure – both of us were extremely startled.
As someone who struggles with Resting Bitch Face on a regular day, I’m not sure if the look on my face communicated actual murder or just attempted, but she took notice and went on the (very weak) defensive.
Her friends were already extracting themselves from the situation, following after their dog down the path.
“I have to go out after this!” she tried to explain, following her friends. “I don’t want to get these pants dirty.”
I’d like to say I was the bigger person, taking the high road, offering forgiveness on behalf of Moses and I, and wishing her peace on the rest of her journey.
I’d like to say that, but I can’t, because that was not the case.
Instead I shouted after her as she retreated “Maybe you shouldn’t wear good clothes to the dog park! Maybe you shouldn’t pet dogs if you don’t want them to pay attention to you! Maybe if you wanted him away from you, you should’ve backed up or walked away or asked me – his owner – to do something! Maybe leave the treats in your pocket next time!”
Moses and I then headed in the opposite direction to continue our walk, during which I muttered to myself and thought of hundreds of more clever – and crude – things I could’ve said in the moment.
Moses – in the great way that dogs do – shrugged off the situation as quickly as it happened and had a wonderful time exploring the park and meeting other dogs.
That’s my most memorial experience of treats at the dog park, so as you can image, I’m on the fence.
And as someone who probably doesn’t go to the off-leash more than once per month mostly because of potential interactions like this, I was soured by the experience for a couple of months.
I do understand that a lot of people use treats for training and can still be in the stage of relying on them for certain behaviours, so maybe keep them on hand just in case.
And unlike toys, treats don’t necessarily illicit the same resource-guarding concerns in dogs if doled out discretely and sparingly.
But problems can still arise when other dogs happen to notice the treats and want in on the action. Do you hold back the treats and deal with some canine persistence until something else catches their attention? Or do you share?
And if you’re tempted to share, then you open up several other concerns. Does the other dog’s owner even want you to share with them? Does the other dog have a food sensitivity or is on a special or restricted diet? Maybe the other owner doesn’t want you to reinforce their dog’s behaviour.
Coming back to the toy subject, I’ve seen owners with treats try to coerce dogs (theirs or not) to drop stolen toys in exchange for food. Frequently works – the dog will drop the toy, but will have gained a new focus.
I’m actually hearing that some dog parks have no-toy and no-treat rules, which is not something I’ve seen locally.
As with most dog laws (off-leash designation and leash lengths, for example) these regulations are only as good as compliance and enforcement, but I’d be curious to know statistically how well they do to achieve their intended results of fewer altercations.
As for me, I don’t bring treats to the park and it wasn’t anything I’ve ever truly considered, but I can see why some might. For the most part, it doesn’t bother me as long as those with the treats expect food flaunting to get some canine attention.
Then again, I also don’t dress in my expensive jeans to go to places where dogs of all kinds are free to run loose… but that’s just me.
I think Kristine from Rescued Insanity said it best: “This is a dog park. A dog park for dogs who do dog-like things.”