As mentioned earlier, Lindsay, Glacier, Balloo, Jetta and I headed to our local dog park. Actually, it hasn't been officially designated a dog park and there is a group working very hard to kick the off leash dogs and their owners out, but that is for another time. It was a gorgeous evening here; a balmy 15 degrees C and people and their four legged friends were out in full force. Where the dogs run is a really cool little part of a bigger park. Here the land juts out into a bay and the dogs can play in the forest, run through a field or swim to their hearts' content.
When we first arrived Glacier was pulling like crazy, so I put him in a "sit stay" a few times to get him refocused. I didn't make him guide me as we had such a good work session this morning, but next time I may resort to that as it establishes a good pattern. When we reached the little secluded field, Lindsay and I put our dogs into a "sit stay" and unsnapped the leashes. Jetta and Baloo were off, but I made Glacier wait with his leash unclipped until I released him. Once I said "all right" quietly, he too sprinted across the field toward the circle of dog owners and frolicking pups.
There was a large variety of dogs-a few labs, an Irish Wolf Hound, Great Danes, Husky crosses of some sort, a Standard Poodle, Basset Hound and a few more mixed breeds. There were quite a few young puppies as well, ranging from five months up to a year. Glacier immediately took to a mixed five month old puppy and played with him. Lindsay accidentally called him a "her" at one point and was corrected sharply by the owner,
"first of all, he's a boy..." Woops.
Jetta did her own thing as she often does. She sniffed through the forest, rolled in the dirt and every once in a while a dog would catch her fancy and she decided to play a quick game of chase. These games never lasted long as she's still quite fast at ten and a half and also because she marches to her own tune and doesn't want anyone interrupting. I thought the group out there was a really good group. Everyone played really nicely with each other. Let me amend that statement: they all played well, but Glacier was having a "mounting" issue.
I can't tell you how embarrassing it is when your dog wants to constantly hump a dog. He left most of the dogs alone, but there was this one in particular he took a liking to and wouldn't leave it alone. He also thought some other dogs were good as well, but he kept going back to this one dog. The problem is, I don't know how to stop it. If I knew he was doing it, I said "off" and he stopped, but the problem is knowing when he was doing it. As a blind handler, I rely on others to keep an eye on my dog and even though I ask them where "Glacier" or "Jetta" are, it's not enough to catch him in the act. I put him in time out a few times when I actually caught him, but twenty minutes or so later he was back at it. The worst part is that I think the owners were getting mad. I can't blame them. Glacier is a pretty big dog and they were worried he would hurt their dogs. One was even convinced that he wasn't fixed. I tried to explain that he is a service dog and therefore must be fixed by law, but she wasn't listening.
Part of me doesn't want him to do this. I know it's a dominance behavior and so it should not be encouraged. Plus, it is slightly unbecoming and it makes people angry with me. On the other hand, Glacier is such a passive dog that I was glad to see him assert himself. I would never encourage him to engage in this behavior though and tried to catch him and put him in a time out. That is easier said than done. I can't call him to me and then make him sit and stay because then I am punishing him for coming to me. If I make him sit and stay too long after the behavior he will have no idea what he is sitting out for. The other thing is I rely on someone else to grab him so that I can get him to sit. This in itself doesn't always work and often Glacier doesn't know who is giving out the punishment.
I know dogs will be dogs, but part of me wants my dog to be above that. He's a guide dog! Shouldn't he be beyond such primitive behavior? My realistic self tells me that he is not. He works hard and stays focused for so long, I like giving him the opportunity to blow off some steam, but perhaps with other dogs is not the place for him. But then that begs the question, where should I take him to run?
This has been a lesson in humility. I am quite certain one person was not happy with my response to Glacier's behavior and are probably griping about it. We've all done it; pass judgment on other dog owners for their dogs' unwanted behavior, but how often have we stepped back to assess the situation and realise that perhaps we aren't getting the entire picture? Some people there didn't even know I was blind. How would they know that my lack of action was due to the fact that I just didn't know the exact location of my dog? Is there a time for us humans to step back and let our dogs sort themselves out? Should we suppress natural behaviors and the ways our animals communicate with each other? I feel really badly that he was mounting those dogs and I guess the answer would have just been to leave, but that doesn't prevent the problem from happening in the future. He has done such excellent work all week long that I wanted to provide him with an opportunity to be a dog, but where do we draw the line? When is being a dog rude?