Our journey to the dog park began in August of 2009 at the Mount Pleasant Animal Shelter in East Hanover, NJ. As first time dog owners, we told the adoption counselor we wanted a smaller, older dog, one we could easily handle.
A few days after our first visit the counselor called to say she had the perfect dog for us: a 7-month-old hound mix named Gizmo. “I know you said you wanted an older, smaller dog,” she said, “but this guy has the perfect disposition and temperament for a family.” Skeptical but intrigued, I went to the shelter to check him out.
Gizmo was a picture-perfect woebegone hound: sad eyes, droopy ears, big paws, and almost no energy. He didn’t even get up when I came to his kennel to say hello. Still, he had a look that promised much more. We decided to take a chance.
Dog trainer’s advice: run, don’t walk
Once home with us, and renamed Henry, our new dog shook off his shelter shock and got his puppy on. He could vault over his crate in a single bound. He could fly through the air and rip my sweatshirt to shreds. My arms were covered with bruises from his playful mouthing. I did my best to keep up with his exercise needs with long walks that left me foot sore and Henry looking for new things to jump over. Fencing our yard in helped a little. Finally, I hired a dog trainer who told me I had to get my dog to run. “If his tongue isn’t hanging out, he’s not tired,” she said. “Going for walks isn’t enough. Get him to the dog park or somewhere he can run.” So off to the dog park we went.
New dog on the block
Our first trips to the dog park were horrible. Henry was completely cowed, tail tucked and shaking before we got beyond the gate. The other dogs, sensing his young age, showed him who was boss by mounting him and taking him down. I was completely unprepared for the way the other dogs behaved. My ignorance coupled with Henry’s fear made for a vicious cycle of anxiety for both of us. However, trainer said my dog needed to run, so we kept coming back.
Gradually, I learned the ropes. Other dog owners offered advice and clued me in to how dogs “play.” I learned on my own that dog owners also have different ideas of what acceptable “play” behavior is. Henry, once over his initial shyness, became like the wild dogs of the Serengeti. He liked to grab other dogs by the scruff of the neck (or collar) and spin them around on the ground. This upset a lot of other dog owners, and me, but there were some who really seemed to enjoy dogs playing his way. Henry took his licks, too, though, and spent time cowering under the benches, hiding from larger and more dominant dogs.
It’s been almost three years now, and even though Henry’s exercise needs have become less urgent, we still go to the park at least three times a week. He (and I) have friends there, dogs and people we have come to know and love, who enjoy watching the dogs run, play, and do all the things that dogs do.
I am grateful to the shelter counselor who encouraged me to adopt Henry. Through him I have met so many lovely dogs, and their accompanying owners, who have offered advice, support, and companionship as I have made this journey from first-time dog owner to dog park regular.