We love dogs for several reasons, not the least of which being their astonishing range of invigorating personalities. Dog park visits are amusing and thought provoking when we notice the diverse dynamics that develop within pairs or groups of dogs in neutral territory. These adorable knuckleheads always seem to know whether it’s time to gang up, chase, bark, or just get that ball.
The Barker has much to say and is extremely excited to be here. The smiles start crackin’ as you hear him (with that noticeable doppler effect) barking out the car window, riding to the park. Each park regular wants to be the one who knows the Barker before they actually arrive. As they bark through the parking lot to the entrance gate, claims such as, “Oh that’s Abby” or “No, it’s Finn” are offered. Once in, he’s barking at every dog, ball, hole, and, well, what’ve you got? It’s stunning that one dog can think of so much to say.
The State Trooper doesn’t like speeding. Should their scrutiny disclose that a dog is running, their body language can be read as: “Hold on there! Where’s the fire? You need to pull over.” This engaging and quirky reaction often serves, but some dogs like to speed and will argue about it. Of course, State Troopers WILL knock over a running child, and it’s one of the reasons whippersnappers under 12 are warned to stay away from the dog park.
Humping, rough housing, or suspicious contact will not be tolerated by the Enforcer. They are similar to the State Trooper but only enforce boundary violations. If you do harass another dog, they jump out of nowhere like Batman and take you down faster than Duncan on a donut.
Special Note: It probably seems like Enforcers tend to protect members of their pack first. This is correct and is in no way considered confirmation bias or an unnecessary anthropomorphism.
Most parks have a small dog park adjacent to the large dog park. Woofers are the dogs who love to antagonize and “chase” the small dogs along the fence line. Clearly, the small dogs love this too. In fact, it’s difficult to tell who really starts this attractive assemblage of anarchy. In any case, it is an efficient method of play, and to watch them weave between benches, utility posts, and each other, is nothing short of breathtaking.
The Escape Artist likes the dog park for a short while, until they decide to scamper up and over the 6-to-8-foot sections of fence. Thankfully, very few dogs know they can do this.
Everyone likes to eat, but the Goat will eat anything, including tennis ball bits, gloves, wallets, and even poo bags (full or empty doesn’t matter). Hydrogen peroxide is the go-to to make your pining puppy urp up their latest catch.
Dogs are not interesting to the Love Bug. She wants to meet people, perform a quick treat check between pats, and move on to the next friendly person.
Lazy Bones only goes to the park because their owner makes them. They are tired and need a nap. Clearly, some owners only go to the dog park to talk to friends or drum up some pet sitting business. Lazy Bones’ have ironic names such as Nitro, Turbo, or Speedy. You’d think it would be difficult to catch a nap in the dog park, but it isn’t.
The Explorer likes to check on every new mushroom, sapling, and anything else that’s changed since the last visit. They leave compelling messages for the next explorer, and tend not to bother with people or other dogs.
The Party Pooper cannot resist poop. They will roll in it, eat it, and make more of it. Poop happens. Poop!
Dog Play Styles
The Player is going to sprint in and jump on the first guy he sees. My pup Duncan is this way, and he doesn’t quit. I’ve nicknamed him Tenacious D, and he drives the Helicopter Parents bananas (but that’s a short trip).
Scrappers are a special type of Player that operate right on the fringe of a fight. They growl, snarl, nip, leap, and hurl their entire body at their challenger. Admittedly, you will want to watch your scrapper closely because some dogs (and owners) attain anxiety from this deranged method of play.
I have a special term for Scrappers that have the ability to successfully engage even the most submissive, or dominant, dogs in the park. I call them Equalizers because they compel timid dogs to play, and clash with the dominant dogs without escalation. From a pet sitting standpoint, these are ideal charges because everyone goes home unhurt and exhausted.
Every day is hump day for the Humper. This preposterous playstyle is funny until it mounts to a pugnacious predicament with overreactive dog park members. Spray bottles, e-collars, time-outs, and even good old fashioned obedience training are commonly used to belay relentless rovers. Incidental humping with your friends is ok, but serial humping becomes problematic.
Very Special Note: If you’re lucky, you may witness the ludicrously bizarre “air hump” in one of its many forms, since Humpers continue their gesticulations even after separation. If used as an approach tactic, the air hump will mesmerize any target, as dogs and onlookers alike are rendered helpless by this implausible display of absurdity. Air humpers use a blend of mirth and dismay that serves to epoxy a state of inaction in their victims.
The Quarry loves to be chased. They stir things up with a body check or playful nip to the hindquarter. When their target stops chasing them, they circle around for a nudge (or five) to get it going again. Chases are so exciting. They zig, they zag, they duck under benches, and this game is contagious so look out. Get behind something and look forward to that satisfying moment when you spot the interceptor that’s clever enough to head it all off.
Everybody knows a Fetcher. He’s obsessed with the ball, and anybody and everybody should, and will, be encouraged to throw this filthy, slimy, and frequently peed-on projectile (whether they want to or not).
Sometimes you’ll notice the “I Want What You’re Having” edition of the Fetcher. These guys like to chase the Fetcher and have every intention of stealing that ball and burying it somewhere for themselves.
The Troublemaker loves to steal balls and toys (or scarves, sunglasses, phones, and whatever will fit into their mischievous mouth). They jump on tables, benches, and people to keep things interesting. Just wait until it’s time to leave the park – Hahaha good luck catching him!
The Collector is rare, but this is a true story. There are dogs that collect toys and tennis balls and put them in a little pile somewhere in the park. They will guard the pile for a minute, then go hunting for more treasure.
I didn’t even mention the gate-watcher, who can’t wait for a better dog to arrive. The Leonidas orchestrates the situation that ensures they are hopelessly outnumbered. The Paddler loves to splash his paws in the water bowl, and owners like to discuss whether they do it to cool off, or because they’ve kept a vestigial instinct from when their ancestors went ice fishing in Beringia. Most likely, they do it because it’s fun, and it makes a holy mess.
All I know is that I cherish these slobbery ragamuffins who share their short lives loving us and charging our homes with joy. Granted, the barf eating and carpet poo is a little weird, but nobody’s perfect.
Featured photo – Rex at the Godbold Dog Park in Cary, NC (2014).