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Park etiquette II: Children and dogs can mix

All too often at my park, and maybe your’s, conflicts develop between those who go there to let their dogs get some needed off-leash romping and those who go there to experience something other than big, slobbery, barking, dirty-pawed creatures careening around like a pinballs.

The law, as most of us know, is on the side of the latter. Dogs are required to be on leashes at all times in all of the city parks in Baltimore, and violation of that law can result in a $100 fine.

Nevertheless at my park, Riverside, as at Patterson, Federal Hill, Carroll, Latrobe, Druid Hill, Wyman and others, dog owners regularly take that risk to allow their dogs some exercise. Dogs gotta run and, in the city, the parks are the only game in town.

Having only one official dog park — though more appear to be on the way — means all the rest of the parks must be shared by dogs and humans, which, with a little common sense and respect, is not all that hard to accomplish. In other words, we can all just get along.

And maybe we can even mix — rather than segregating ourselves into dog-friendly versus dog-free pockets. Who knows, maybe a non-doglover or two might cross over and come to experience the joy of dogs, thereby enabling a dogowner to experience the joy of somebody new enjoying your dog.

There’s no reason that shouldn’t get as much chance to snowball as the nasty comments and ill will that mark most exchanges between those with dogs and those who wish to avoid them.

To get there, three things need to happen. First, parents need to teach their children (and in some cases, themselves) to respect dogs, not automatically fear them. For an example of the kind of things children should learn check out the Karma Dogs link to the left, and the coloring book they put together.

Second, those who cannot control and trust their dogs should not take them off the leash at the park, and should not walk them into the middle of an area where lots of dogs are off leash. Irresponsible dog owners are the root of the whole problem.

Third, we dog owners who can control our dogs need to do so — making sure they know how to come when called and know to stay in certain boundaries. Most important, we need to monitor them.

We don’t always do the greatest job at that. We get immersed in conversations, cell phone or otherwise. We might lose track of our dog while playing with someone else’s. We might think our dog is so wonderful and friendly that no person could ever fear him or fail to appreciate him.

To a non-dog nut, to a person who’s had a bad experience with dogs, to a small child whose had no experience with dogs, a strange pooch running up to you — no matter what a sweetheart that dog might be — can be a frightening thing.

We tend to forget that. We tend to think, “this is the informal dog area, people who don’t like dogs should detour.” We — and I’m including me on this one — are of the thinking that “surely these people — even those who have not had the pleasure of meeting the world’s greatest dog, mine — surely they should know I would not let him off the leash if he posed any kind of threat.”

We have difficulty  putting ourselves in the non dog lovers shoes, and they have difficulty in putting themselves in our’s, which generally have muddy paw prints on them, or worse.

It’s all really quite simple — though we humans have a way of making it nasty and complex. Pick up the poop. Watch your dog. Spread good will toward dogs. Leash him, or otherwise control him, when children and non dog people (and of course, cops) are coming through.

For the dog people, don’t assume people outside the doggie group want to meet your dog. Ask them, if they look interested. Otherwise, keep your dog away from them.

At Riverside Park, most of the conflicts seem to arise in summer, when the swimming pool is open and groups are having parties and picnics. That’s when the nasty comments come forth. People heading for the pool don’t want to walk through a frolicking phalanx of canines to get there.

It can get pretty ugly. This summer has seen its share of barbs tossed at Riverside, but it has also seen some positive moments — some signs that the gulf between dog lovers and dog avoiders can be crossed.

One evening, a staff member at the swimming pool approached the dog people, some of whom figured it was to complain about the dogs. Instead, she said she’d decided, because of all the dogs that are usually around, to name a swim team after dogs. What’s a breed that starts with R? she asked. After a few minutes debate between the dog people, the Riverside Retrievers were born.

On the last day of the pool’s summer season, in another gesture of goodwill, the director invited all of the dog owners to bring their dogs in for a swim.

And then there was my personal favorite moment of the summer: when a boy named Daquan — pictured above, and below — came out from the pool, where his mother works, approached one dog, made friends, approached another and before long was running and wrestling with them as if he were just another dog at the park. 

Welcome to the pack, Daquan.


Comment from Anne-n-Spencer
Time September 5, 2008 at 4:28 pm

Both pictures are great. But the one at the top is such a perfect kid-and-dog picture it should become a classic. Makes you think there’s some truth to that rumor that kids and dogs are made for each other.