Dog Park Etiquette: What You Can Learn From My Mistakes

Swimming With the Big Dogs

One unfenced dog park opens up to the Potomac River and Hank, with his new tennis ball obsession, was able to run, fetch and swim after his ball — all without bullying other dogs. In fact, he even made a few high-energy buddies. I was feeling pretty good about everything when suddenly Hank dropped his ball and sprinted to the river. We watched as he paddled furiously toward Maryland, apparently in pursuit of a family of ducks.

Hank is not built to swim. He’s thickly muscled and dense, in contrast to the Porties and Labradors who glide through the water with ease. He dog paddles with a frantic energy powered by a prey drive so strong it overcomes natural ability. I yelled like a maniac, “Hank, come back,” as he zoomed toward the ducks. Soon, he was in the middle of the river, barely more than a speck from the shore.

Spectators gathered. “You will probably have to go in after him,” says a horrified dog parent. That would, of course, require me actually drowning but I nodded anyway. It was a possibility.

Another bystander expressed his concern for the ducks.

Finally, Hank gave up and paddled back. Even the Labs seemed impressed.

I dragged my sodden, exhausted pup to the car and put him in the backseat before anyone asked us to leave.

Severity of rule breaking:10 bones (super scary)

Dog Park Wearing a Life Jacket

We returned to the scene of the crime, now outfitted with a life jacket, his tennis ball and no treats. “He’s going to look like a dork,” says my husband, worried that we had the only swimmer wearing a vest. Dork or not, Hank now wears his life jacket while we keep him closer to the shore and leashed when the ducks are out.

Things are looking up. In fact, though I am treat-less, a few of the regular pups greet me with enthusiasm, even as their owners keep their distance. I know how it goes. I can’t be popular at the dog park and keep one paw up on Hank the Handful. The most I can hope for is that my own pack wants to hang out with me. So far, so good.

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