The D-o-g P-a-r-k Rules: All about Pooping in the Park

While Ann is going on about our “sociopathic” cat it’s only fair to devote some of our blog space to the canine side of our lives.  Or, more accurately, “the canine side of my life” since I am the one who takes Oakley to the dog park.

Oakley muddy at dog park

A very happy, muddy Oakley at the d-o-g p-a-r-k

Oakley’s vocabulary may be limited, but she does recognize “dog park” even when we spell it out.  If I tell Ann that am taking Oakley to the “d-o-g  p-a-r-k,” Oakley’s ears perk up and she heads for the door.  For Oakley, the dog park rules.  On the other hand, for the sociologist in me, the rules of the dog park rule.

Of course, there are the official rules posted on the dog park gate (see below).  But, as my former SSU colleague Pat Jackson wrote in the Journal of Society and Animals, official dog park rules can be ambiguous at best and often not even followed.

Version 2

Dog park rules posted at the entrance.

Consider the rule to be “attentive to the activities of your dog at all times.”  Am I being “attentive” if I passively watch Oakley dig a hole deep enough to trap an elephant?  Or, am I breaking that rule if I glance away from Oakley to check a text message from Ann asking that I pick up some Persian cucumbers on the way home?  How ambiguous can a rule get?

ten meanest dogs

Then there’s the “No aggressive dogs” rule.  What does that mean? Are rambunctious large dogs aggressive or just playful?  If another dog chews Oakley’s frisbee to pieces is that aggressive behavior? Or, is a dog considered to be “aggressive” just because it’s a member of a particular breed?  According to the two most aggressive breeds are Chihuahuas and Dachshunds.  Should we ban them from dog parks?

Oakley with Jack Russel

Oakley facing down a ferocious Jack Russel Terrier, one of the top ten most aggressive dogs on the planet.

I’ve always heard that rules are made to break.  But in the case of dog park rules, they are made to be interpreted and enforced by other dog owners.  The informal norms in dog parks keep things orderly and predictable – at least most of the time.  The Portlandia episode of “Dogs in the Dog Park” offers a humorous example of this principle at work.

My dog park experience over the last 20 years has taught me that the most important informal dog park rules have to do with the lowest denominator of dog behavior: pooping, i.e. “clean up after your dog.”  Clearly, dogs love nothing more than doing their business in the dog park.  I find it interesting that peeing, with the possible exception of the occasional male dog lifting a leg on some object of value – like one’s shoe or small child – generates few if any informal rules.  

dog poop pickup cartoon

Not a dog park situation,  but I just had to include this New Yorker cartoon.

For those who do not frequent dog parks, the typical pooping incident is almost always witnessed by one or more other dog owners.  It is hard not to be impressed with the hawk-eyed vigilance of these fellow dog parkers.  Moreover, it’s mandatory for a witness to alert the owner of the pooping dog loudly enough to be heard by everyone in the park. I’m not sure of this, but it seems that whoever is first to sound the alert gains the moral high ground on the others.

It doesn’t matter if the owner of the defecating dog is male or female, a total stranger or a dear friend,  pooping-alerts are equal opportunity events.  The crucial thing is that the owner of the pooping dog must take appropriate action, which is not as straightforward as it may seem.

DP Poop Can.jpg

An official Elizabeth Ann Perrone Dog Park poop receptacle. Open at your own risk on warm days!

Keep in mind that dogs seldom poop close by; they seem to prefer to do their business as far away from their owners as possible, not out of courtesy, I suspect, but out of spite.  This often makes it difficult for the owner to find the poop. After years of dealing with this issue I have fostered what I call the Three Minute Poop Rule, in which I take considerable pride.  It goes something like this:

Upon receiving a poop alert the dog owner must:

  1. demonstrate that the pooping episode is an issue of utmost urgency.
  2.  immediately launch a search for the poop with either a poop bag or poop scooper clearly visible to those watching.  
  3. use a serpentine search technique similar to what crime-scene specialists use in a field to find dead bodies or spent cartridge casings. 
  4. if unable to locate the poop within three minutes 
    1. act as if you are picking up poop or
    2. dramatically shrug your shoulders in defeat and return to the gaggle of dog owners who have been watching you.
  5. If you are fortunate enough to locate the poop, pick it up and head to nearest waste can.

Let me share one more observation regarding dog park pooping.  You know that you have become one of the dog park regulars when you find yourself casually chatting with other dog owners while holding a bag of poop.  It struck me how similar that is to being at a cocktail party discussing politics with a glass of pinot in hand.  The informal rules for cocktail parties is a topic for a future blog.

After saying all of this, I fear that recent technological advances in dog poop retrieval methods may render my Three Minute Poop Rule obsolete. Witness the Piqapoowhich somehow attaches to a dog’s tail.  I’m not kidding, it is even available on line at Amazon.

But there is hope.  Until they come up for something that works for tailless dogs like Oakley and her Aussie cousins, my three minute rule will remain a useful tool for at least some of us to negotiate the complex social world of a dog park.

dog poop bag auto

The Piqapoo – goodbye Three Minute Poop Rule?

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