Confessions of an Ignorant Dog Owner

I want to share with all of you an experience that I once had, years ago. I’m not sure if I am sharing this for the sake of full disclosure, to rid myself of some guilt, or to educate others, but I do know that I feel it is important to share. SO here goes…

Some of you may know that I got Tonka when I was just finishing high school, which I did a year early, and so I was only 17 years old. However, I took this responsibility very seriously. Having temporarily retired from my competitive horseback riding career, training and socializing Tonk became my hobby, and so it filled many of my waking hours. Yeah, there is probably a psychology lesson in there somewhere, but let’s just say that I put every ounce of heart and sweat into his upbringing.

Baby Tonk

Baby Tonk

When I went on to college, it was no surprise that he went with me. He was everyone’s favorite pup. He was the type of dog that could calm even the most reactive of dogs, and do it well. It took a lot to ruffle his coat.

Helping me study

Helping me study

The amazing farm where I had an equally amazing experience... but the same was not true for Tonk =/

The amazing farm where I had an equally amazing experience… but the same was not true for Tonk =/

A few years later, when Tonka was 3 or 4 years old, I took a summer internship on a horse farm in VA. It was a dream job, even though the hours were exhausting. Best of all, I could take my pup with me (as if I would accept a job otherwise!) The only downside? The owner, who I deeply respected and admired, bred Labs. That was all fine and dandy, but his male lab, Chase, was quite a handful. Of course being intact and overflowing with hormones, Chase had little respect for anyone, and nothing in the way of manners. He did what he wanted, when he wanted, and it didn’t really matter who tried to stand in his way. Unfortunately, Chase took a quick disliking to Tonka. Tonka would try to avoid him, but if I was standing between the two, he never hesitated to defend me. I did my best to keep the dogs separated, but Chase’s owner seemed intent that the dogs would eventually work it out themselves. Of course, that never happened. Over the course of the summer, Chase attacked Tonka three separate times, and did the same with two other dogs. Once, when one of the other dog’s owners interfered with the attack, she suffered a nasty bite herself, for which I took her to the emergency room an hour away in the middle of the night. These weren’t just your run of the mill dog fights… they were serious aggression issues. Tonka still has white scars on his face that tell the story.

This was Luke, one of Tonk's friends on the farm, and one of the first pitties I knew personally!

This was Luke, one of Tonk’s friends on the farm, and one of the first pitties I knew personally!

That summer seemed to instill in Tonka a mild yet lasting distrust of other dogs, particularly males. Of course I couldn’t blame him. At the same time, I felt such immense guilt for not being better able to protect my dog from Chase and his ignorant owner. However, the man was thrice my age, and was responsible for my wages, job, and living arrangements. To say it was a delicate situation is to put it mildly.

Getting to work with your dog was pretty much the best thing ever...

Getting to work with your dog was pretty much the best thing ever…

When we returned to State College that fall, I made it my mission to improve Tonka’s socialization in order to bring him back to where he had been previously. At the time, I thought that the best way to do this was to visit the dog park. For a while, this worked wonders. Tonka loved going to the park and interacting with the other dogs and owners, most of whom we knew by name. For a long time, we did not experience any issues. However, in a college town, you can expect that not everyone who frequented the park was a responsible dog owner.

Dog park dog

Dog park dog

On one sunny afternoon after I was finished with class for the day, Tonka and I were playing fetch in an empty corner of the dog park. He was totally relaxed and focused on the task at hand, enjoying some one-on-one time with his mama. Usually the center of the pack, he was content to play with me while the other dogs wrestled and played probably 100+ feet away from us. All of the sudden, out of nowhere, a male boxer who had just entered the park, ran past the other dogs and people, and literally came flying straight at my dog (like, so fast he was truly a blur), straight into his side, with such force that Tonka was instantly knocked to the ground. This dog, for no obvious reason, began attacking Tonk. Without any conscious thought, I ran over to the dogs and started kicking the boxer that was still on top of Tonka. I still don’t know what prompted me to do that, but I can guarantee that it was a gut reaction to a traumatic situation. I know that I was not kicking him with full force, or at all to try to hurt him, but enough so as to dislodge him without getting bitten in the process. I also know that it only took one or two kicks to redirect his attention… I was not repeatedly kicking a dog in the stomach. A few seconds later (although this all felt like an hour!) a young man, about my age, came and retrieved his dog by the collar. He seemed like a nice person, but he was irate at me for kicking his dog. He yelled something about his dog having fear issues, and how could I kick someone else’s dog? No apology or even acknowledgement of the fact that his dog had just attacked mine without any provocation. He quickly left the park. I was so shaken up that I don’t think I even said anything to him, either in apology or defense. I went to retrieve Tonka, who seemed to escape with a few minor injuries, at least of the physical variety. Some other dog owners came up to me to report that this was not the first time they had seen this boxer attack another dog, but nothing could really calm me. That was the last time I visited a dog park with Tonka, until this experience years later, with Gaige. (Long-time readers will remember that we had a less dramatic, but similar, experience with her.)

I don’t know what to say about the traumatic events that day. Of course, I feel terribly about kicking his dog. To this day, I wish I could contact the owner in apology. I’m sure his dog is not a horrible pup, and now being a person with a dog that can sometimes be reactive, I have so much compassion for both the owner and the pooch. At the same time, I was there, effectively by myself, and was trying to make a decision to save my dog. Do I think his dog was trying to kill Tonka? No, I do not. But in a traumatic situation, I don’t think my brain could process that. Furthermore, the fact that the attack was targeted and completely unprovoked made me feel as though the dog’s actions could not be predicted. Had the owner been in range to assist me, maybe he could have jumped in instead of leaving me to fend for myself. I still do not know how I would react if I were to be put in the same situation… which is just one of the many reasons that I will never go to a dog park again.

As I said when I began, I don’t know exactly why I decided to write this post today. Maybe it is to free myself of some guilt… guilt for the way I handled the situation at the dog park, and most especially, guilt for the fact that I feel I have failed Tonka as far as standing up for him in stressful situations. Of course I now know better, but I wish I could have spared him some of these experiences. Perhaps by sharing this, it will help other dogs whose owners are as well-meaning yet uninformed as I once was.

Pittsburgh’s For the Dogs!

Some of you may know that I spent some of my childhood growing up in a suburb of Pittsburgh. However, life threw me a few curve balls, and I ended up living in a variety of places during my late teenage years. While I enjoyed where I grew up, I never had the opportunity to fully appreciate all that the city had to offer. One of the many things I love about Foster Dad is that he is equal parts country boy and city slicker. He is just as comfortable baling hay, driving his lifted pickup truck, and helping me at a horse show, as he is dressing to the nines and enjoying an elegant dinner in the city, followed by a show at the Benedum or a romantic ride on the incline. In falling in love with him, he has helped me to fall more in love with the beautiful city of Pittsburgh!

I once envied other cities for the plethora of dog-friendly locations and activities, but in spending more time in the Steel City, I have discovered an endless array of canine adventures. Whether you are a ‘Burgh native, planning to visit (please do!) or just curious, here are a few of the top pup spots in town.

This photo, and some of the content of this post, courtesy of Pittsburgh Magazine's Pet Lover's Guide

This photo, and some of the content of this post, courtesy of Pittsburgh Magazine’s Pet Lover’s Guide

Groceries for Grover

  • Healthy Pet Products : A pet food store that specializes in organic, natural diets and raw food! Their slogan: “Our pets can survive on most anything, but don’t we want them to thrive?” They do all of the research, scrupulously reviewing the brands that they carry, so that you don’t have to!
  • Petagogy: Not only does this store carry premium, all-natural foods for your pets, but they also provide fun and innovative toys, beds, and other products. Their name comes from the word “pedagogy,” meaning the art of teaching, as they pride themselves on learning about the best products out there, and hope to pass on that information to their customers.
  • Animal Nature: This store caters to dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, rats, guinea pigs AND other small animals! They take an active role in the community, and are strong supporters of rescue efforts. They know that quality food makes a difference in the lives, behaviors, and dispositions of our pets, and take this responsibility seriously.

Food WITH Fido

  • Big Dog Cafe: They serve delicious coffee and light food, while welcoming pets to their outdoor patio. That’s my kind of meal!
  • Cappy’s Restaurant: This is my favorite stop for people-watching, outdoor seating, and a delicious burger! But then again, maybe it just tastes better to have Tonka by my side while enjoying a night on the town! They have great nightly specials, making this a popular spot for locals.
  • Jergel’s Rhythm Grille: This is a must-see! They are a live-music venue with outstanding food to boot. Not only do they allow your dog to accompany you on their outdoor patio, but they boast an actual doggie-menu for chowing down!
  • Redfin Blues: Aside from their fido-friendliness, the best thing about this spot has got to be the outstanding river views from the docks of Washington’s Landing. (OH, and all you can eat crab legs! YUM!)
  • Dozen Bake Shop: If you know me, you know that I have a serious problem when it comes to sweets. I love this spot because of their delectable delicacies, but they also offer ways to satisfy Fluffy’s sweet tooth, via dog-safe cupcakes!
Through my research for this post, I was pleasantly surprised to discover MANY restaurants in Pittsburgh that boast dog-friendly outdoor seating. Check out more, here.
 

The Sweet Tooth’s connected to the Dog Bone…

While we haven’t (yet…) personally experienced any of these, I found three bakeries that SPECIALIZE in sweet treats for your pets. Check them out!

Hot Dog Hotels

While we do not choose to board our dogs when we travel, we have visited all of the places below for a variety of reasons, and can vouch for their reliability, attention to detail, and pet-centered approach. It is safe to say that if you choose any of them, you had better be prepared to come home jealous, as your dog may enjoy more fun and pampering than you!
  • Lucky Paws Pet Resort: Rather than blab on and on about them, I will simply let their offerings speak for themselves… they boast a swimming pool, spa treatments including blueberry facials and fur butter deep hair conditioning, indoor/outdoor dog parks, luxury suites (complete with heated floors, cable TV, and sound systems) a multilevel cat condo that features a fish tank, and on, and on, and on…
  • Misty Pines: Set back in a beautifully wooded area, Misty Pines is what I call a doggie adventure park. They possess numerous outdoor enclosures for separation of dogs via play style, size, or age, each complete with various obstacles and agility courses. They offer doggie yoga classes, a swimming pool, spa treatments, agility classes, and obedience training. My favorite part? Miles of winding wooded trails, which lead to an amazing lake and dock, perfect for dock-diving training and retrievals.
  • K9 Kingdom: While you will be hard pressed to find a nicer exclusively indoors pet boarding and doggie daycare business, perhaps more impressive is their amazing staff, who put their heart and soul into caring for your pets. They boast a huge play space and lots of opportunities for socialization, all under the watchful eye of a caring staff member. After a day of treadmill workouts and loving attention, overnight guests are treated to a frozen peanut butter Kong at bedtime… and you know how we feel about Kongs around here!

Nature Adventures

  • McConnells Mill State Park: I had been begging Foster Dad to go here with me for literally YEARS. Once I finally convinced him to visit, he couldn’t stop talking about our return. Shaded by giant trees, their trails wind along a rapidly cascading river (flanked by giant waterfalls, and of course, an old mill!) and boast occasional sandy beaches… perfect for throwing sticks into the water for the dog that loves to swim, or to relax with a picnic lunch. You can take it easy on a leisurely walk with your dog, but for the more adventurous, there are white rapid kayak spots and intimidating climbing areas.
  • Rails to Trails- Butler-Freeport Community: This is a scenic trail that is dog-friendly. There are numerous parking spots along its 20 miles stretch, meaning that you can start and end at a different location each time. It boarders the Buffalo Creek, providing ample water access.
  • Frick Park: Located just outside of downtown, this parks offers a creek with a dam, perfect for swimming, as well as a popular off-leash area with doggie water fountains.
  • Hartwood Acres: This is on of the area’s most beautiful locations, and with 200 acres, it is not uncommon to leave without seeing another soul! Romp around the mansion and its gardens, visit the off-leash dog park, explore the wooded trails, or venture out to the barns and stables…
  • Animal Friends: Though known for their animal shelter and rescuing efforts, they also rent out their off-leash area for private frolicking.

So we wanna know… are you planning a visit? Or perhaps you have already been to some of these great businesses. Any you would add to the list? As always, we want to hear from you :O)

It’s a Dog Eat Dog World

Hope everyone has been enjoying a beautiful and relaxing weekend! At least here in PA, the weather has been perfect. So perfect, in fact, that we decided to head out on a new adventure with our darling pups. We took Tonka and Gaige about 45 minutes away to Misty Pines Dog Park. We had never been there before, but were impressed by their website and wanted to check it out.

The dog park is a full service facility that includes a dog park, dock diving and pond, agility courses, training classes, boarding, and a retail store, to name a few! They are vigilant in requiring every visitor to bring updated proof of vaccines, including bordatella. Additionally, they welcome dogs that are working on socialization issues, simply requiring that they be fitted with a Gentle Lead halter that prevents biting.

We pulled in to a beautiful 25 acre wooded property, complete with safety fencing and many trails. Much of the doggie play areas are set in heavily shaded areas, allowing for fun to be had even in inclement weather. Sunday is the only day of the week that Misty Pines is open by appointment only, which allowed us to enjoy the facility with limited traffic by other visitors. We registered at the main office, and were checked in by a very friendly and helpful staff member. We then walked down to the pond area, which was complete with a covered pavilion and multi-level diving dock! Of course, Tonka was in doggie heaven! He showed off his skills, making impressive leaps and dives to catch toys off of the dock. Gaige watched in appreciation, and tried her best to copy her big brother. There were only two other dogs at the lake, and they politely kept their distance from ours.

Once the dogs had their fill of the water (or, more accurately, once we were soaked and decided we had had enough), we followed the trails to the fenced-in agility area. Although Tonka has been properly socialized from a young age, he has been twice attacked by an intact yellow lab, so he can have some fear issues with other dogs. We let Gaige watch from the sidelines, as this was her first time in an area with many other unfamiliar, unleashed dogs. Tonka entered the area confidently, and was greeted by a young yellow lab. This dog was boisterous and untrained, but harmless, and perceptive to the body language of the other dogs. They played well together. After a few minutes of introductions, we brought Gaige in, leashed. Things went well for a while, until an older woman came in with her aged shepherd mix dog. This dog was unleashed and also harmless, but a bit of an instigator. Gaige, who was still leashed, was working on an agility obstacle with Jonathan. The shepherd rushed up to her from behind, and began barking and nipping at her sides. Gaige turned away multiple times, and let out a low growl. The woman saw all of this, but never once called her dog away. Neither did the dog hear Gaige’s signals, and back off. He kept barking at her and pushing into her space. Jonathan pulled the dogs apart, looked pointedly at the owner, and went to another obstacle. The shepherd lost interest for a short period of time, and then came rushing back to bark and nip at Gaige. She growled again, and when the other dog still would not back off, she did try to bite. Although she never made contact, and calmed down as soon as the other dog backed away, we ended up taking her out of the park to cool off.

We really need some help here from our readers. What are your reactions? We need to take Gaige somewhere to improve her social skills. She has never had an issue with other dogs, and my instinct is that this dog was a bit of a bully. If someone got in my space and refused to back off when I made repeated requests, I can only imagine that I would react similarly. My new worry is that her only association with a dog park is now a negative one. I know that many responsible dog owners swear off of dog parks entirely, due to issues such as these. Do you feel that we could have done something differently? What do you suggest for socializing our dogs in the future? Do you take your own dogs to dog parks? Why, or why not?

I do NOT think that this was a situation of an ‘aggressive’ dog, or a terrible owner. Rather, I think she lacked the control over her animal, and worse, lacked the acknowledgement of this fact. Tonka listens well, and so he has the privilege to go off-leash in safe areas. Gaige, however, has a much shorter attention span, and sometimes lets her own free will over-ride her obedience. Because of that, we do not allow her off-leash in areas other than our own property. She has never displayed aggression with other dogs, but has not been exposed to a large variety of new animals. I am really anxious to hear what some of you might suggest for us.

In other news, we will unveil our foster dog on Monday! Please tune-in then 🙂 Enjoy some pictures of our pups until then. Thanks for stopping by!

Playing keep-away!

That’s one happy pup!

Best friends, always.