Wordless Wednesday 26: Dog Park Date

This week’s Wordless Wednesday photos come from the recent long weekend when Moses met up with his buddy Douglas, a yellow lab, at River Park, one of Calgary’s bigger and nicer (and busier) dog parks, for some off-leash fun.

Moses & Douglas making new friends

Moses & Douglas making new friends

Racing for the ball

Racing to snag Douglas’ ball

Got it!

Got it!

Moses meets a bigger dog

Moses meets a bigger dog

Ball order is restored

Ball order is restored

Douglas celebrates

Douglas celebrates

Mo & Doug

Mo & Doug

To see the rest of Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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The blooper reel:

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What To Do If You Get Bit by a Strange Dog

Disclaimer: If you’ve stumbled upon this post because you got bit by a strange dog and are now Googling what to do, here’s your advice: get off the internet and seek help from a medical professional. Seriously. I take no liability for you.

If you recall, on Monday I wrote about how my intercepting of a bit of a tussle in the off-leash got me bit by someone else’s dog. If you’d like to read the full story, click here.

Suffice it to say, doing so should come with a don’t try this at home, kids warning. Even if you go in as an unbiased arbitrator, you can easily find yourself on the pointy end of 42 teeth. I was a completely biased arbitrator and I sure did.

That’s not to say I would go back in time and not intercept the dogs – I still would. But there are risks.

Anything can happen at the off-leash park

Anything can happen at the off-leash park

So say you do get bit by a dog you don’t know – then what?

1. Exchange information

Step one and I already failed. Yep, after separating the dogs and enduring some awkward small talk, I got the heck out of there. To be honest, I knew I got bit but I didn’t know I had any injury myself. I knew Moses was fine, so we left. It wasn’t until we finished our walk and got home that I discovered my own injury.

But what you should really do is get some information about the owner and the dog. Is the dog a local? It he up to date on vaccinations? Get a name and phone number.

You should also give some information yourself. I didn’t do this either. I actually have no idea if those guys knew I got bit, but I should’ve (calmly) told them. They need to know what their dog might do in the heat of the moment and mitigate accordingly (training, no more off-leash, a muzzle, whatever’s right for the dog).

2. Clean up

Because the dog didn’t puncture my jacket, I didn’t think he’d puncture my skin. He did.

A scratch and a lovely yellow bruise - not exactly a big deal. (That's Emma photobombing.)

A scratch and a lovely yellow bruise – not exactly a big deal. (That’s Emma photobombing.)

Just like every other time you do something dumb and subsequently injure yourself, you should wash up with soap and water, and disinfect.

Even if you’re not punctured but you have some drool on you from the strange dog, you should clean up – especially if rabies is a real concern.

And, obviously, if you’re seriously injured or bit on the face/neck, you should just go straight to a clinic or emergency room (use your judgment) and they’ll clean you right up.

3. Contact a medical professional and follow his or her advice

I had the great timing of getting bit by a strange dog on a long weekend, but if your family doctor’s office is anything like mine (has the most inconvenient hours), they’re probably not going to be open anyway.

In Alberta, we are lucky and have Health Link – a 24 hour hot line you can call and get connected to a nurse for some general advice. Since I don’t go to a clinic unless absolutely necessary as a general rule, this is what I did.

Why? I got bit by a strange dog! I could get rabies! And then die!

Couldn’t I?

Fans of The Office? Anyone?

Fans of The Office? Anyone?

Well, not so much, as it turns out.

There have only been 3 cases of rabies in Canada in the past 12 years and all of those were due to bat-related incidents. An altercation with a domestic dog does not pose much of a threat for contracting rabies in Canada. Even cats pose a higher risk, the nurse on the phone informed me.

I described the incident and my little scratch and she went through the official decision tree, which I later found online here.

Bite/Rabies Decision Tree

Bite/Rabies Decision Tree

Domestic pet dog? Check. Provoked attack? Check. (Technically, involving yourself into some canine commotion is considered provoked, which does make sense.) Albertan dog? Probably. Happened in Alberta? Check.

Risk is basically nil. Phew!

If it was a stray dog or cat or a wild animal, the decision tree is a bit different and the risk is higher.

Rabies - wild animals

I didn’t get off scot-free however.

The nurse was asking me about my little laceration and then said “when was the last time you had a tetanus shot?”

Ummm… no idea (which means definitely not in the last 10 years).

Well, she informed me, an animal bite, no matter how minimal, is considered a “dirty wound”. Gross.

So off I went for an injection after all. Say what you will about our health care system, but I was in and out in 15 minutes and didn’t pay a dime.

Telling the doctor the reason for my visit granted me a nice lecture about how I should’ve gotten information from the other owners before leaving the scene (I know, I know), but further assurance that I wasn’t in need of a rabies vaccination. (I may have even asked him to give me one because… you know… what if…. But no.)

In any case, I’m glad I confirmed with the authorities, even if it’s just a stupid little grievance. It would just be my luck that I’d let it slide and then something ridiculous would happen. And I really don’t recommend Googling information about rabies to make yourself feel better… because you won’t. 

And if something ridiculous still does happen, I’m advising publicly now that I’d like my tombstone to read ‘Tis But a Scratch.

This post is part of the Thursday Barks & Bytes Blog Hop, hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like a Dog. Go pay a visit to the hosts and check out other hop participants.

Barks&Bytes

Monday Mischief 21: How many dogs is too many? (aka: The Time I Got Bit By a Dog Named Cujo)

My neighbourhood is lucky to have a small off-leash area frequented by neighbourhood dogs and their owners.

Moses enjoying the scents of a February melt

Moses enjoying the scents of a February melt

Moses and I were enjoying a stroll through that very area this Saturday when we saw two guys approaching in the distance with a black lab off leash nearby.

I didn’t recognize them, which was unusual because after walking with Moses the past 5+ years I’ve come to recognize most neighbourhood canines. But in any case, nothing about the dog or the guys raised any red flags, so we kept on course and headed in their direction.

Shortly thereafter, a gorgeous husky appeared on the horizon, also with the guys. And then off to the right two adorable and nearly identical little staffordshire terriers frolicking in the grass. Finally, a fifth dog appeared – some sort of yellow lab/shepherd mix, attached to a thick rope long line that I noticed later.

This last dog was the only one whose name I’d eventually learn: Cujo.

(Side question: at what point does naming your dog Cujo become a self-fulfilling prophecy?)

We continue to approach and the dogs greet while the usual chit chat about Moses’ weight, age, and shedding ensues.

The dog greetings go quite well and the pups disperse a bit, while Moses and Cujo come over to where I’m answering the usual 20 questions that come with having a Newfoundland dog in your home.

At one point, Cujo takes some exception to Moses’ proximity and bears his teeth. The one I will designate Guy No. 1 scolds with a “Cujo!”, but it wasn’t a big deal – Moses takes the hint and backs off.

But it was only a few moments later when Cujo takes even further exception to Moses and snaps at him a little.

Now, a noisy little kerfuffle at the dog park doesn’t normally agitate me. If dogs want to hurt one another, they will. But a little noise and teeth is rarely anything to worry about, in my experience. It’s usually short lived and the dogs diffuse the situation naturally with no harm done to any party.

Also having a giant dog with a track record of not unduly escalating situations – but adequately standing up for himself – also affords me some confidence in these situations.

However, when humans intervene, things can usually go sideways, as was the case on Saturday.

I was perfectly content to let Moses and Cujo quickly sort their differences, but Guy No. 1 was not. Instead he grabbed Cujo’s long line and gave it a hard tug while scolding him once more.

Of course, Cujo did not see it that way. Dogs, as you should know, can redirect those kinds of things. So while in a kerfuffle with Moses, Cujo did not interpret the jerk on his chain as some sort of earned correction for rude behaviour. Instead, he felt the added tension and discomfort while interacting with Moses and thought “oh no you didn’t you sonofabitch” and escalated.

Moses stood up for himself, and some more noise ensued.

An artist rendering of the altercation

An artist rendering of the altercation

Unfortunately, this time the other dogs sensed the more serious intent and Cujo’s pack stepped in to defend him.

The lab stayed out of it, and the husky kept a close watch on the situation, but the two staffies got right in the mix to defend their buddy’s honour.

A accurate, dramatic reinactment:

Now, as dog owners, we all know our number one responsibility is to protect our dogs. And even though I might be content to let Moses resolve differences on his own most of the time, when he’s facing multiple sets of teeth, I don’t care how much bigger he is – it made me uncomfortable.

So while Guy No. 1 and Guy No. 2 stood idly by, I stepped in to protect my dog.

I inserted myself between Moses and one of the dogs, grabbed his collar, and hauled him out of there and away from the fray. As we gained distance, the other dogs started to back off. Eventually Guy No. 1 got a hold of Cujo’s long line and reigned him in, and Guy No. 2 picked up one of the staffies so it couldn’t follow. The whole thing was a few noisy seconds.

Once diffused, I put Moses in a sit, leashed him up, and inspected him for marks. Nothing – thankfully.

Then I inspected my jacket for punctures. At one point during the whole thing, Cujo chomped on my forearm. Hard. I noticed it, but was too preoccupied to react.

I’m certain he didn’t intentionally target me. Like how Tony in West Side Story (spoiler alert), consumed in the rumble between the Sharks and Jets, gets overcome and caught up in the moment and doesn’t think when he instinctively stabs Bernardo in revenge. (Okay, so broadway may have been touring here last week – I still can’t get America out of my head.)

But if that unfortunately-named dog had put holes in my Arc’teryx jacket, I would not have been impressed. Luckily, nothing but drool.

As Moses and I were composing ourselves, Guy No. 2 starts up with the most awkward chit chat ever. After he tries to reassure me that Moses “could’ve taken them” (I replied that I’d never want it to come to that), he starts nattering on about how one of the staffies is a super loud snorer and inquires if Moses is the same. I look up and he’s now carrying the staffie over his shoulder like it were a giant bag of flour. So weird. Behind him, Guy No. 1 apologized profusely whenever Guy No. 2 pauses to catch his breath.

I assure them we’re fine, tell Guy No. 2 that Moses does indeed snore loudly and often, and then we make our exit, while Guy No. 1 shouts apologies after us.

After getting home, further inspection shows Moses made it out better than I did. Through my jacket and a hoodie, Cujo managed to land a few good puncture marks and some decent bruising. How he didn’t rip the jacket is beyond me, but I’m still thankful.

But it made me think – if that’s the kind of force he was going after Moses with, I am incredibly happy I intervened. There’s no long-term damage, but still. Ouch. I don’t want Moses to experience that.

(And yes, if you step in to break up a dog fight, you are putting yourself at risk to get injured. I know this, but still didn’t hesitate. I’m a big girl; I’ll be fine.)

Moses

Moses

It also made me think of something else: is it wise to take 5 dogs to the off-leash park?

The most I’ve taken solo is two, and that’s about perfect for me if I want to be responsible about it.

2 guys, 5 dogs – seems out numbered (at least it turned out to be for those two guys). Seems difficult to keep an eye on all of the behaviour – and all of the poop scooping.

And considering Cujo was on a long line, obviously they knew he was some kind of liability. Maybe Cujo should get some one-on-one time. Or maybe be accompanied by a smaller pack. Sure we all take risks when letting our dogs off leash, but I don’t think they were setting anyone up for success when they left their home(s).

I know there are dog walkers out there who walk many more than a couple dogs at once. I’m not talking about that. They’re professionals who carefully choose the members of their packs and walk them regularly (the good companies, anyway). If these guys were pros, I wouldn’t hire them.

And I’m also not talking about maximum number of dogs per household. Calgary has no such regulation and I don’t think one is needed. A person so inclined can abuse or neglect one dog just as easily as they can many, and I personally know people with four dogs in their homes who take better care of all four than many other owners out there with just one-dog households.

But I’m talking about being honest with you and your dog’s skills and abilities. It’s okay to leave one dog at home while you walk the other. I do it frequently with Moses and Alma just for the practice and bonding time.

It’s also okay to not take your dog to the off-leash park. Ever, if you don’t want to or shouldn’t. Off-leash is neither a right nor a necessity; what is necessary is giving your dog positive experiences and properly socializing and training them.

Luckily, Moses and I swung through the same place again on Sunday (back on the horse, as they say), where he was able to gain some positive experiences with some neighbourhood regulars.

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This post is part of the Mischief Monday blog hop – to see what everyone else has been up to, click herehere, or here.

monday-mischief

Monday Mischief 19: Moses Meets a Porcupine

After recounting a traumatizing tale at Nose Hill Park for you last week, I thought maybe Moses and I should revisit the scene of the crime. It is a super huge, nice park with a great off-leash area and lots of trails to follow, after all.

A photo of Calgary Commander Hadfield took when in command of the International Space Station (ISS). So cool. That massive dark spot in the NW is Nose Hill Park.

A photo of Calgary Commander Hadfield took when in command of the International Space Station (ISS). So cool. That massive dark spot in the NW is Nose Hill Park.

So off we went.

Moses at Nose Hill

Moses at Nose Hill

I really do like Nose Hill Park. It’s multi-use, which can be a recipe for conflict when you have runners, snowshoers, cross-country skiers, cyclists, families, and dog owners all sharing the same space. But the off-leash areas are well-marked (both for when you’re entering and leaving them), and there are several paths that guarantee running into others is a rarity.

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The thing about having 11km² of parkland in the city (1129 hectares; 4.2 mi²) is that it’s also a great place for wildlife. We’ve seen lots of birds, deer, and heard coyotes howling, and have heard tonnes of stories of porcupine encounters at the park.

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Until recently, however, neither Moses nor Alma had met a porcupine.

Now, before I go any further, there’s an acknowledgement and disclosure I must make as a fallible dog owner: I did not re-leash Moses the second I knew there was a porcupine in the area. I most certainly should have, and had even had the opportunity to, but the fact that I did not, I suppose, shows that my natural cynicism does give way to optimism from time to time.

But I did not, and thus mischief ensued.

Just a crappy iPhone pano shot, but it really displays the Chinook arches we're so fond of seeing in Calgary during the winter.

Just a crappy iPhone pano shot, but it really displays the Chinook arches we’re so fond of seeing in Calgary during the winter.

We were starting to turn back towards the parking lot when Moses and I came across another dog walker and her two dogs on the path. One of her dogs had noticed a porcupine in a small tree nearby, but the dogs were all busy greeting one another and the porcupine remained still and out of reach. Moses was oblivious.

Oblivious… right up until he wasn’t.

Unbeknownst to me, while we were socializing, the porcupine decided to abandon his perch and sought a new, higher one in a thick clump of trees nearby.

I did not notice this development, but Moses did.

So Moses immediately galloped off to make a new friend.

To the porcupine’s credit, he was fast and did not let the interest of a giant canine in pursuit distress him. He had a destination, and he just kept on truckin’.

And to the porcupine’s good fortune, the snow was incredibly deep.

I know this because as soon as Moses took off, I shouted profanities took off after him, and soon found myself wading through snow higher than my knees. Luckily, having half as many legs to navigate through the snow as Mo does means I was able to gain on him, even despite stumbling; snow down the back of my jeans was the least of my worries.

The trees were very thick and the porcupine had some good cover as the frantic parade approached.

By the time I caught up, Moses was struggling in the trees and deep slow to greet the fleeing porcupine.  The chance of dozens of quills in Mo’s muzzle seemed a near guarantee. Where Moses ended and porcupine began, I couldn’t immediately determine.

I could see the porcupine had a deficit of quills in its tail and backside (the result of another curious canine, perhaps?), and I could hear Moses sniffing and see him straining to keep up the retreating animal, who just stayed his course, refusing to acknowledge the chaos behind him.

Moses was persistent, so in order to prevent any further escalation of the situation, I grabbed the best handle I could find: poor Mo’s tail. Moses yelp-barked (yarked?) in protest and looked back at me, giving me the opportunity to grab his collar and guide him back through the deep snow, leaving the porcupine in peace to find safety in a new tree.

The porcupine on his perch

The porcupine on his perch

I leashed Moses back up and rejoined the amused spectator on the path with her two dogs, where my examination of Moses confirmed the porcupine kept all his quills on his own body.

Our audience’s laughter was constant in the background during the whole ordeal, and rightfully so. I’m sure the whole thing looked ridiculous. I relayed the story to the Husband who said it was a shame there was no video of it – we could put it in black and white, speed it up, and put it to circus music,  à la Charlie Chaplin.

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I always had a dangerous curiosity about what Moses might do in a situation like that, so at least now that has been sated. As expected (remind me to tell you a mouse story in the future), Moses just wants to meet the other animal. Be friends. Even if the animal doesn’t want to be friends; Moses just has an inquisitive and harmless nature.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t actively prevent any future Moses/porcupine greetings in the future. I got lucky this time.

Moses, pretty content with himself and his mischief at the park

Moses, pretty content with himself and his mischief at the park

When it comes to dog/porcupine interactions, I’m generally going to be more concerned about the porcupine. A few quills may have resulted in discomfort for Mo and a veterinary bill for me, but the consequences for the porcupine are greater.

And had things gone differently, I would’ve been making sure two animals got care: Moses to the vet, and the porcupine to the wildlife centre (related: see this quarter’s Blog the Change post on local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation).

So that’s what I’m going to leave you with: I know in the moment your own dog will be your concern, but don’t forget about the porcupine. They’re docile, adorable animals and it’s not their fault our dumb dogs are off-leash. If the porcupine is injured, keep an eye on it and call the local wildlife centre so they can get a volunteer out to help.

This post is part of the Mischief Monday blog hop – to see what everyone else has been up to, click herehere, or here.

monday-mischief

Treats at the Dog Park?

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.

– * – * – * – * – * –

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

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).

How can you say no?

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.

homebush

“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.

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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.

Cute print from Etsy shop MarkJAsher.

Cute print from Etsy shop MarkJAsher.

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.”

Bringing Toys to the Dog Park – A Good or Bad Idea?

I used to think that taking toys to the dog park was just a recipe for trouble.

I am no longer quite so definitive or absolute on that idea.

I mean, sure, you may run into that super-possessive or obsessed dog that could start a fight if it doesn’t know how to share toys, but I’d say that realistically that’s a small minority of dogs, and I’d like to hope owners of those dogs would have enough foresight to avoid the park in the first place. (Rational self reminder: you know what they say about common sense.…)

But recent trips to the dog park over the holidays have really made me wonder if that no-toy policy is maybe a bit too rigid?

There were tonnes of people playing fetch with their dogs and I saw no such melee.

In fact, maybe toys can be a good thing.

Toys sure are a great distraction – a good way to get a dog into a socializing environment where other dogs aren’t the only things to focus on.

Playing fetch also keeps dogs moving – quickly and at great distances. This way, large, tight groups of dogs and people don’t congregate in one specific spot in the park; those always make me nervous.

And it’s a great way to provide exercise and play, with a little bit of structure, rather than just letting dogs run amok at the park and not interact with them.

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Way, way back: Practicing fetch with puppy Moses. (Forgive the ridiculous outfit – all fashion rules are forgotten during dry suit diving surface intervals.)

Granted, this won’t change whether or not I bring toys to the park.

I will continue not to.

Neither Moses nor Alma is a reliable enough retriever for my frugal self to put dog toy investments at risk.

Bonus puppy Moses photo from the archives - same day as the above, curled up with our scuba gear

Bonus puppy Moses photo from the archives – same day as the above, curled up with our scuba gear

Moses won’t fetch anything that is thrown particularly far away. He won’t even budge. He’ll just look at you, his expression saying “that was silly – you had it right here and now it’s WAY over there – what are you planning to do about that?”

A rare Moses retrieve

A rare Moses retrieve with Alma bouncing in the background

And if you lob it short enough that Moses is motivated to fetch, it’s just once and then he wants to find some snow (winter) or shade (summer) and gnaw on whatever it is that you threw. Or he’s happy to play tug with you. But fetch is not his game.

Moses, frisbee-gnawing

Moses, frisbee-gnawing

Alma is similarly unreliable. She likes to run and will occasionally fetch, but her philosophy is very grass-is-greener.

If another dog is there providing competition for ball or frisbee, she’ll fetch with approximately 90% consistency. The other 10% of the time she’ll fetch and then drop the object far away from where she got it, but also far away from the other dogs and whoever discharged it.

If she’s alone (or with Moses), there’s no real competition for her, and after a handful of throws she’s done with retrieving. She may still run to the frisbee, but then sniff it and walk away nonchalantly. Then, when you go pick it up, she feigns interest again just up until you throw it again. I think this is her way of getting us to fetch.

Alma returning a big stick - both Newfs' successful fetching rates increase drastically if water is involved

Alma returning a big stick – both Newfs’ successful fetching rates increase drastically if water is involved

Needless to say, I won’t bother carting toys – toys that I’m likely to end up fetching myself – to the dog park.

If on the move, Moses likes to carry the frisbee

Besides, I see the dog park as valuable socialization time and training time – the dogs get to meet and play with other dogs and we all get to work on our obedience skills in a high-distraction environment.

But there are still lots of people who bring toys to the park, and that’s maybe perfectly okay if the dog – and the dog’s human – is good about it.

I say human because I’ve come to realize that maybe dogs aren’t the real issue I should be concerned about when it comes to toys and parks.

Maybe it’s the people.

This became vastly evident when we were looking after Crosby and I took her to the park.

Crosby LOVES fetch!

She will happily fetch each and every time you throw something. She brings the ball right back and patiently waits for you to throw it again. And if another dog beats her to it, she hurries back to politely wait for the next throw.

"Throw it again!" - Crosby

“Throw it again!” – Crosby

The thing with Crosby is… very infrequently do dogs beat her to it.

That canine is quick!

She can overtake labs and collies from behind to make first contact. For a Newf owner, this speed is bewildering and impressive.

Crosby beats the competition

Crosby beats the competition

So this means that when another owner throws something for their dog, even if Crosby is late on the draw, she can get that ball first and very likely will.

Of course, not being familiar with the other owner who threw it, she takes the toy and runs – towards a familiar human – to have it tossed again. In other words – she is a perceived Ball Thief.

This can make some people irrational. “Your dog stole my ball!” “ Your dog retrieved our ball!”

Like some malicious intent is read into a dog’s natural inclination to chase and capture a fast-moving object.

It’s bizarre. And wildly off-base.

Even if the protesting isn’t verbal, you can see the frustration in the furrowed brow of the toy-owner as you sheepishly return their stuff.

Like it’s a pain-in-the-ass interruption that ruined their dog park groove.

To that I say two things:

1. Don’t bring toys to the park if you’re unwilling to lose them.

If you bring expensive balls to the park, you need to be prepared to leave without them. Fetch-induced losses happen all the time – balls are often lost in perfectly innocent, non-theft incidents. It’s dog park force majeure – outside of anyone’s control. Besides, I hear from other toy-bringers that there’s a sort of dog-park toy karma: one day you may lose one, the next day you may find two. Like looking for lost balls on the golf course. Someone should track this phenomenon – I’d like to see some statistics.

2. Don’t be an idiot.

Dogs are dogs. Like a squirrel, an in-flight frisbee is irresistible. Even Moses will be interested in an ariel object if it’s headed in his general direction/aimed right at his face (and if you think for a second about giving me the stink-eye because Moses got your toy slobbery, I highly recommend you reconsider that thought or keep it to yourself).

There is no nefarious intent when a dog retrieves a toy that wasn’t thrown “for” them; they have no concept of property ownership. Relax. The other owner will do his/her best to return your item. Just keep in mind a dog with a newly retrieved toy is certainly more likely to play keep-away if all of a sudden there is an unusual increased interest (by both their owner and this new stranger) in them and their loot.

Crosby fetches, with Alma in hot pursuit

Crosby fetches, with Alma in hot pursuit

Perhaps this is the real reason I don’t actually go to the dog park that often – sometimes other dog owners are just nuts.

Now I wonder if this sociological observation is just my own experience.

What’s your policy on bringing toys to the park? Have you lost or gained in personal toy count as a result? Have you seen toy-related tension between dogs and/or humans at the park? Are you a crazy person who gets all bent out of shape because some other dog retrieved the ball intended for your dog?

I’m a Big Fat Hypocrite

Breaking News, Calgary, AB: I am not the Pope.

I’m not even Catholic!

And as such, I – like every other blogger on the end of a keyboard – am just a person.  A normal, falliable human being who doesn’t always practice what she preaches. (When you were growing up, did you ever have that person who said “Do as I say, not as I do?”)  I don’t take everything too seriously, and sometimes I take things way too seriously.

Sometimes there are things written here on the Soapbox that I rant about as if they should be scripture or written into law – especially when it comes to dog-related issues. And the thing about writing hastily, angrily, absolutely, or passionately about something is that you can get caught in moments of your own hypocrisy.

Jen K: Guilty as charged.

All of us face cognitive dissonance – unless you don’t think you do, in which case, you should probably stop reading now because you’re running late for Unicorn Festivus with Ironman and Princess Peach (I hear Zack Attack is opening for Jesse & The Rippers, so it should be a good time!). Sometimes we remedy this dissonance, and other times we choose to ignore it, which then makes us self-contradictory hypocrites from time to time.

If I’m being honest, there are lots of things I’m a hypocrite about.

I will roll my eyes at someone’s poor taste in television and then go home and watch Survivor. I will have a salad for lunch in the guise of healthy eating and then have popcorn for dinner. As a pedestrian, I hate impatient drivers, but as a driver I’m annoyed by ambivalent pedestrians. I think it’s important to be politically correct, but I love stand-up comedy, which is typically anything but. I will counsel my friends on “cost per wear” when shopping even though my closet contains many items that violate that rule. I will pet Moses when he puts his head on my lap because I think it’s cute, even though I know it’s reinforcing a behaviour many would consider demanding, and would even advise others against similar things.

In fact, there are lots of times I haven’t exactly ‘walked the walk’ in my everyday life based on things I’ve written right here on the Soapbox.

Pull up a chair, because it’s Bad Pet Owner Confession Time. (I know, I know, I said I wasn’t Catholic.)

Emma

Emma

I got Emma from Kijiji. From a backyard breeder.

Yep, you read that right. Many years ago, before I knew any better, I decided we should get a kitten. I impulsively looked on Kijiji, found an ad with adorable pictures, and went right out to pick her up. I didn’t even wait for the Husband to co-sign the decision. It was the exact series of mistakes I’ve written about several times here and caution others against. Aside from being certain in retrospect that Emma was taken away before she was fully weaned, and reinforcing the backyard breeding of the people I brought her from, I’m still happy we have Emma. She’s cute, she gets along with Isaac and the dogs, and we’re happy to have her. Should I have gone to a rescue and adopted one of the multitude of cats looking for homes? Absolutely. And that’s exactly what I’ll do next time.

I’m a dedicated raw feeder… unless you’re talking about snack time.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that we feed all of our pets raw food and that I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I’ve also mentioned several times that Moses’ favourite snack is bread. That dog loves his carbs. Not once has anyone paused for a well-deserved WTF. A focus on species-appropriate and grain-free, and the occassional treat is grain-abundant bread?!  Yep. It’s contradictory and I don’t even pretend to care.

Moses

Moses

I condemn breed-specific bias, while harbouring my own.

I’ve written lengthy diatribes on the injustice of breed-specific legislation and how dogs shouldn’t be assessed based on their breeds, but instead based on their individual behaviours, since judging a dog based on its appearance ignores the real, major factors in a dog’s behaviours.

Meanwhile, I harbour my own appearance-based judgments when it comes to dogs. I’ve written about it before (here) and I’m talking about my own sized-based discrimination. When I’m walking Moses and Alma in my neighbourhood and I see a little dog approaching, I wait expectantly for the little dog to start barking, growling, and pulling on the end of its leash. Sometimes my expectations are met, and sometimes they’re not, but they’re almost always there. I try to mitigate this with the rational acknowledgement that there are lots of well-behaved small dogs out there, but, in the moment, the bias surfaces. I am aware it’s unfair and merely anecdotal, but it still makes me a big hypocrite.

I am an unapologetic stickler for spelling and grammar and yet also a human being.

It causes me physical pain when I (or readers) discover a mistake on the Soapbox after I’ve hit publish. They’re bound to happen, since once you read something a few times, your brain just fills in the gaps for you. I’m famous for missing words outright or leaving incorrect conjugations when I reword a sentence. Once found, I’ll fix them and then wallow in shame for half a day, yet I remain quick to notice and judge others for their mistakes. This makes me both a hypocrite and a jerk.

Alma and Moses at the library

Alma and Moses at the library in downtown Calgary

I break the rules – sometimes even knowingly.

This whole thing was inspired because a someone in the comments – quite rightfully – called me out on my own hypocrisy in yesterday’s Monday Mischief post.

I’ve written before about on-leash by-laws, and I will continue to write that people should obey leash laws, but I regularly post picture of my dogs off-leash in on-leash areas.

Provincial Legislature - Victoria, BC

Provincial Legislature – Victoria, BC

I was called out for doing this at a provincial park, but in reality, all of Calgary, and most of the paved, urbanized world, is on-leash unless specifically otherwise designated. So my bad behaviour actually kind of happens a lot in this respect; I probably should’ve been called out a long time ago.

Go back and look at many of the photos I post here. If you look closely, you may notice leashes tucked behind Moses and Alma in many photos, but you will also definitely notice that I’m not holding them, and that I’m usually way more than 6 feet away from them to get the shot.

And in addition to the photo ops, we break the rules when we’re training – especially when we’re practicing skills like sit-stays, down-stays, heeling while dragging the leash, and long-distance recall. I have gone to off-leash parks to practice this, though very rarely because I usually end up spending most of my time there explaining to other owners that we’re training and I’m not actually some mean ogre who “won’t let” her dogs play.

Instead I’ll practice these skills right in my neighbourhood, in green spaces, or just down the street. Because you can’t have a well-trained dog who can respond in any situation at any distance without practicing that very thing.

But you know what – it’s a matter of accepted risk. And that was what my main point in last year’s off-leash/on-leash rant. I am aware that having the dogs sit in the middle of downtown Calgary – and then backing away – has risks. It is significantly riskier than if they were next to me on a 6 foot leash. And I am absolutely ready to take ownership of any consequences.

Would I practice these skills or give my dogs off-leash privileges if they ran amok, harrassed others, chased wildlife, and didn’t stay close or check in with us? Nope. I also carefully pick and choose the time and place for said rule-breaking, and leash back up when circumstances change.

Sure, this means I break the rules while still writing about how others ought to follow them. That’s not likely to change since I have no interest in assuming liability for the poor judgment of others (my own is enough, thank you).

Does this make me one of those dog owners who breaks the rules and ruins privileges for everyone? Yeah, I guess so. I will reason that Moses and Alma are well-trained and actually good ambassadors for dog behaviour, but most people who break the rules probably think their dogs are just fine, too (I’d like to see their pictures to prove it). Hello, cognitive dissonance.

Like I said, I’m a big fat hypocrite.

Moses, Crosby and Alma off-leash in the heart of downtown

Moses, Crosby and Alma off-leash in the heart of downtown Calgary

Did You Know: Calgary Has Leash Laws

Yesterday the hot topic in local news and social media was the story of a person walking his/her dogs off-leash in an on-leash area at Nose Hill Park: one of the dogs got caught in a toothless trap designed to catch coyotes for a University of Calgary research study, performed in conjunction with the City of Calgary.

Those are the facts and you can check out the hyperlinks for more details.

Outrage ensued, Twitter and Facebook fired up, and complaints were made to the City, the University, and the Humane Society, such that the study was put on pause less than 24 hours after the incident.

If you ask me, this seems like blaming a car for hitting you when you purposefully walk into oncoming traffic.

The dog was off-leash… in an on-leash area.  The traps were specifically put in densely wooded on-leash areas (and are only active between sunset and sunrise) to prevent this very thing.  And to suggest a child could get caught in them as well (as I’ve seen some do) is just hyperbole.

One affronted person tweeted an Alderman to ask what bylaws apply to this situation.

Let me tell you: Bylaw Number 23M2006, section 12, which states owners of dogs shall ensure they are not running at large, meaning off-leash, not under control, and can still include on-leash dogs if they cause harm or distress to others.

Alma and Moses in Nose Hill Park. Note the leashes, the close proximity to me as I take photos, and the controlled sit-stay. 

This dogs-at-large rule applies to both on-leash and off-leash areas.  So yes, that even means if you can’t control your dog at the dog park – have them come in when you call, for example – that is still considered “at large” even if it’s a designated off-leash area.

Outside of designated off-leash areas, dogs are to be on leashes no more than 2 metres long (that means, yes, flexi-leashes are against bylaw!).  While on city pathways, dogs are to walk on your right-hand side away from oncoming pedestrians, bikes, and other dogs, and are not to interfere with others.   It’s all in the bylaw; did I just blow your mind?

As for the case at hand, the University research team posted signs in the parks at least 50 metres from the traps.  This means as the owner was reading the sign, the dogs was out of sight and 50 metres away – not under control or on-leash, and therefore definitely at large.

Nose Hill Park frequently has signs posted warning of studies, surveys, animal warnings, and pesticide sprays.

Now I know most signage gets ignored – Caution, Hot!  Wet Paint.  Please Use Other Door.  Cash Only.  Out of Order. Slippery Floors – but as a responsible dog owner using a large park that is famous for coyotes (obviously, hence the study), deer, and porcupines, caution and awareness should be your priority.

Rather than throwing the hammer down on the City and the University for undertaking a study that undoubtedly will have interesting results that are beneficial to dog owners (lots of little dogs lose their lives to coyotes in that very park every year), I’d prefer to see this situation touted as an educational opportunity to better inform the public about leash laws, training, and responsible pet ownership.

Because the bottom line is that if the dog was on-leash as it should have been, this never would have happened.

Geez, pair this with the Nose Hill Gentlemen incident and perhaps it’s better to avoid that park altogether.  (I jest.)

As a dog owner, it is your responsibility to look out for your dog’s safety and wellbeing at all times.  That means staying on-leash in on-leash areas, observing pet bylaws, undergoing training, and being realistic about the control and supervision you have in off-leash situations.  If you can’t guarantee their safety, don’t take the risk.

Not to mention, it’s irresponsible or unaware owners who ruin it for the rest of us by creating valid complaints about this city’s dog owners and their perceived lack of care and attention to park and pathway etiquette and bylaws.

These are the very bylaws that earn Calgary international praise for our Responsible Pet Ownership mandate and help keep unfortunate dog incidents out of the news, but that doesn’t mean very much if no one knows about them or abides by them.

The good news is that the dog in question walked away from the incident free of harm, but unfortunately, in my opinion, the media and commentary surrounding the story has missed the lesson entirely.

The Husband, myself, and Moses at Nose Hill Park

Monday Mischief 4: A Tale of Two Newfs

It was a beautiful weekend to spend some time outside.  So that’s exactly what we did.

I took the pups out for some off-leash time at our nearest complete 360° enclosure – and brought the camera for some blog fodder.

The Newfs found a ring I assume someone else used for fetch and subsequently lost and left behind. You can tell who is clearly working harder in this picture.

Reviewing some of the footage, I found this clip that could not more perfectly illustrate the difference between Moses and Alma.

Though, I should note, at home there’s a lot more wrestling, since Alma caters to Moses’ play style much more in our yard (and in the house).

She started it.

Of course, after our off leash fun, it turned out all three of us were up to some mischief when I saw a sign similar to the following on our way out:

Whoops.

Rest assured all poop was scooped and no ball games were hindered.

This post is part of the Monday Mischief Blog Hop – check it out by clicking here!