Thursday, May 2, 2013

Park Particulars

Since getting our dog, we've become regulars at the dog park.  I mean, we practically live there.  The dog goes at least once a day, twice on the weekends, plus we check out other dog parks in between.  And there seems to be no place better to see creepitude played out than where everyone is projecting it onto their animal.

Case in point: humping.  The dog park's third favorite activity (preceded by sniffing and peeing).  Oh how uncomfortable people are with dogs humping each other!

Of course, there's been real research into how dogs live, what they communicate and what their goals are.  Knowing that in any research, we're presupposing our own anthropomorphic ideas by the nature of asking the question, it doesn't surprise me that many dog park goers bypass animal research and just do their own anthropomorphizing.

In other words, people make up reasons for what their dogs are doing based on what would be true if the dogs were human.

Two days ago, our dog was playing with a dog a bit smaller than him.  The other dog's agenda: hump, hump more.  He would have humped our dog all day except his owners were sooper uncomfortable.  "No!" his female owner screamed, grabbing the dog and smacking him hard on the butt.  Then she laughed, hugged the dog, and smacked him in the face, giving the dog a cement-like mixed signal.

::Sidenote:: I think it's fine if someone wants to teach their dog not to hump.  We try to teach ours not to bark while playing.  Scares people, you know?  But hitting a dog is 1. not affective and 2. abuse. 

We think we know from research, that humping (since there weren't any dogs in heat) is about dominance.  I'd like to say that people are uncomfortable with displays of dominance, but I know that's not true.  Just look at our media.  People revel in displays of dominance.  Potentially, folks are upset about displays of homosexuality, but I rather doubt this too.  When someone notices their dog mounting a dog of the same sex, they laugh nervously and pull their dog off describing it as "a big homo", which means that they see humping behavior as sexual.  I think it's discomfort with sex (and perceived discomfort) that is behind the issues with humping.

This hang up, when applied to animals is silly.*  When our dog doesn't want to be humped, he runs out from under the other dog.  Or he sits down.  Sometimes he rolls over and kicks his foot into the crotch of the other dog.  Voila!  When this discomfort gets applied in real life, we end up with ridiculous decisions being made about access like this: CNM Chronical Suspended.


Here's something else that mirrors human life too much at the dog park: people who feel entitled to touch dogs, regardless of what the dog appears to want.

We got our dog as a rescue.  We know little about his past, but symptomatically it's clear that he has a hard time with some people, especially men.  We sometimes joke with strangers that he "barks first and asks questions later" when we want to soothe ruffled feelings.  We call him away from the strangers at whom he barks; no need to have people fearing they're going to be a late afternoon doggy snack.

Despite how clear our dog is in how he feels about certain people, they reach down to touch him anyway.  I'm not talking about letting him sniff a hand, or similar "make nice" gestures.  I'm talking about "I am going to pet you, and I'm ignoring your clear signals that it's not okay".  Some people literally chase our dog so that they can touch him.

Really, folks?  Really?  I know how this feels, do you?  In this past week alone a customer touched me inappropriately, I was kissed on the head by someone I don't really know when I refused to accept his advances of a hug and a friend pulled me into a hug that I would have been fine with if I'd been asked first.

To our dog's credit, when those people succeed in touching him, he only shies away and barks some more.  He's never bitten anyone as far as we know, and although I'd like to bite the people who do this to him, it's good he doesn't.

The dog park is a microcosm of little creepy things we do as humans.  It's ignoring your dog so you can honestly say you never saw her take a poo (as validation for why you didn't scoop it).  It's smacking your dog to discipline him.  It's also telling your dog a command and then permissively ignoring when he doesn't do as you say, laughingly saying that "he doesn't feel like it".  All these things that indicate that as a culture we are people who don't want to take responsibility, and we believe in violence to solve problems, that we take what we want and don't bother to think about the impact.

*Please note that this would be a different matter if the dog showed signs of not being able to stand up for himself.  Of course then we'd be interpreting his behavior, which leads to oddness.  Let's say, if this was a human, it'd be different.  But that's the point, we don't need to posit our human discomfort with sex on a dog act that probably isn't sexual.


  1. Brilliant. Mind if I share it on the facebook?

  2. I'd be delighted for you to do so.