Sunday, January 01, 2012

A Demonstration of the Cooling Off Period Effect (At Least As Applied to Blogging)

This post started out a lot angrier. In fact, it started life in my head as a snarky open letter. But time passed between when I first wanted to write the post and when I was finally able to sit down and write... and my anger has cooled and my opinion of the incident that provoked it has become more nuanced. So, instead of a snarky open letter, I'll just tell a story and ask a question at the end.

This morning, my husband, my sister, and I took the girls down to our local park. It was a gorgeous day, and we were all in a good mood when we got there. Petunia went straight to the swings. Pumpkin pushed her baby doll in a swing for awhile, but then she wanted to run. The park has a playground, a picnic area (with tables) on a slight slope, a basketball court, and a big open field. Pumpkin wanted to run in the field, but she wasn't sure, because there were also a lot of dogs in the field. All the dogs were with their owners, but none of them were on leashes- even though there are signs all over the park saying that dogs must be leashed.

Now, I'm sympathetic to the dog owners on this point. It is a big open field that just begs dogs to run in it. But here's the thing: it also begs little kids to run in it.  Pumpkin wanted to run in the field, and all the dogs were with their owners, so I ignored the little voice in my head that said the dogs might think that she wanted to play with them and chase her. I convinced myself that the little voice was just the little kid I used to be, who was deathly afraid of dogs and whose sister still chuckles when she recounts the time we came upon a dog on our walk to school and I ran around and around in circles with it chasing happily after me, until I broke free from whatever centripetal force had me in its sway and shot off towards home.

I shushed the little voice, pointed to an area without any dogs in it, and told Pumpkin to run there, because if she ran too close to the dogs, "the doggies might get confused and think you want to play with them." She took off running, holding her baby. My sister and I watched her run, and commented on how the fact that she was holding the baby doll changed her gait.

She ran a little closer to the dogs than I intended, and two large dogs stopped playing with each other, right next to their owners, and started chasing Pumpkin. I cannot say whether or not the owners tried to stop this, because I was not close enough to hear them. But if they tried, they failed, because the dogs were definitely chasing Pumpkin.

Pumpkin is not a natural with dogs. She used to be as scared of them as I ever was, but with a lot of time and patience, and the help of a friendly, gentle dog who visits her day care, she has mostly gotten past that and is usually interested in petting a dog when she sees one. She is not, however, interested in being chased by two large dogs. She started to scream and run in circles trying to get away. I was immediately on my feet, running towards her, yelling for the dog owners to get their dogs away from her. Before I could get to her, one of the dogs knocked her over. I don't think the dog did on purpose- he just bumped into her. The dog probably weighed about 50 lbs. She weighs 35 lbs at most. She fell down, still screaming.

I got to her seconds later and picked her up. The entire incident probably lasted less than 30 seconds. The dogs had meant no harm. She had been licked and nuzzled, but not hurt in the slightest.

But she was terrified. It took several minutes to calm her down. She had lost her shoe and dropped her baby. I gathered those up, and I'm ashamed to admit that I told the dog owners, who had by this time come and put their dogs on leashes, that this was not actually a leash free park. That was unkind of me. The dog owners knew this, of course. They are locals, like we are.

Their dogs had not actually hurt Pumpkin, just scared her. They'd scared me, too. The dog owners were no doubt confident that their dogs would not hurt a child. I didn't know that, though, and Pumpkin certainly didn't know it. And, you know what? The dog owners didn't really know that, either. Dogs are animals, and are not 100% predictable. I do not think a child should ever approach a strange dog uninvited, and I do not think a dog owner should ever let his or her dog run over to a strange child uninvited, either. Put yourself in Pumpkin's shoes. The dogs were both almost as tall as she is, and they each weighed more than her. Their mouths full of teeth were roughly at neck height. I don't know why people are surprised that some kids are afraid of dogs. I'm more surprised that some kids aren't.

After a few minutes, when Pumpkin had stopped screaming, one of the dog owners came over to check that Pumpkin was OK. I assured her that Pumpkin was fine, just scared. She understood. She was a nice woman, and I'm sure the other dog's owner was nice, too. The dogs and their owners left, and Hubby was able to get Pumpkin up and running again, although she would only run on the slope with the picnic area, not in the big field. We enjoyed the rest of our time at the park, and then walked home and had applesauce-oatmeal pancakes for lunch. I cannot say, as I was going to in my snarky open letter, that the incident ruined our day. It didn't even ruin our trip to the park.

I now see that incident as a warning to all involved. Pumpkin and I got a fright, for sure, but hopefully the dog owners also stopped and thought about what happened. They were not able to keep their unleashed dogs under control. The dogs caused no physical harm, so they were able to leash their dogs again and go home. If a dog had actually bitten Pumpkin, that would not have been the case. I would have called 911, and the dog would have been taken away, and might well have been put down.

Pumpkin seems to be over the incident altogether, although I suspect that we undid a lot of the careful work that has gone into making her more comfortable around dogs. A little dog walked past us as we left the park, and where last week, she would have walked confidently past the dog, today she froze, grabbed for my hand, and put me between her and the dog. Still, she was happy and playful the rest of the day, save the usual drama that seems to attend the phase we're in right now.

I'm mostly over the incident, too, although I am still a bit unnerved by what could have happened if those dogs weren't friendly. I don't think I'll let Pumpkin get so far away from me near unknown dogs again. And I still feel terrible for giving Pumpkin bad advice. She asked if I thought it would be OK to run in the field, and I said it would be. I was wrong. Hubby thinks that I should have run with Pumpkin. I agree that this would have allowed me to prevent the worst of the incident- I would have swooped her up as soon as the dogs came running over, and I could have held her until the owners came and calmed their dogs down.  Perhaps the dog owners think it is Pumpkin's fault: she should not have run in a place where so many dogs were playing.  The law says that those dogs should not have been off their leashes at all. It is a law that is routinely flouted in our local park, and as I said above, I can understand why. However, I expected that anyone who had their dog off its leash would be able to control the dog. That was not the case.

So, what do you think? Were the dog owners in the wrong? Was I in the wrong for letting Pumpkin run there? I certainly won't do it again- not that she is likely to ask. But that makes me wonder: where are children supposed to run, if every park is fair game for unleashed dogs, regardless of what the signs say? The dog owners could have taken their dogs to one of several leash free parks within a short drive from our neighborhood park. Where can I take Pumpkin to run?

38 comments:

  1. I think you are justifiably pissed off - and I say that as a dog owner. If it's not an off lead park, dogs should be on their leads and kids should be able to run around the field as much as they like. I get really cranky about people who let their dogs run off lead in non-off lead areas (partly because of the danger risk, but honestly mostly because of the dog-shitting-where-the-owner-doesn't-see-to-pick-it-up issue).

    But then again, we have different laws in our local area that tip the balance of my opinion as a dog owner. Essentially, unless specified otherwise, any park/open space is leash-free for dogs. Of the seven or 8 parks within a 10 to 15 minute walk of my house, only one is specified as 'dogs-on-lead only'. However, all dogs must be on a lead within 6 m of a children's playground in any park or any organised sporting activity. So dammit, those are really minor impositions on a dog owner and they should comply! I might feel differently if I lived in area with much greater restrictions on dogs.

    Re: Pumpkin's fear of dogs, I mostly have the opposite problems. M spends so much time with our (small fluffy) dog and my mother & aunts (large, hairy) dogs - that she doesn't really have any healthy wariness so, in combination with the fact that dogs are off lead all the time around here, I have to watch she doesn't get too enthusiastic with her play with them at home or out & about. In conjunction with this, my small fluffy dog sometimes gets more attention than he's really happy with when we're out. A couple of times we've taken him down to Touch Rugby with us and left him tied up on the sidelines while we play. He's super amiable and friendly, and I have no problem with kids patting him a) if they or an adult they're with ask first and b) they pat gently with no teasing. One night, I got really cranky with one little boy who was teasing the dog (while the boy's sister was patting the dog gently) and neither one had asked about patting him first. He's actually more likely to be injured in rough play than injure, but they don't know that.

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  2. I really feel for you. Here on the other side of the world (Aust.) we have experienced something similar on several occasions. Dogs off leash where they should not be, close to playgrounds.

    It really makes no difference if the owners are secure in the knowledge that their dogs are friendly, and would never hurt anyone - their presence can impede small children's enjoyment of the park because of the fear they cause.

    While rare, there have been several incidents recently of dogs mauling small children, that mean some fear or wariness is warranted. During 2011 here in Melbourne, a dog on the loose ran through an open door into someone's home, and mauled a 4 year old to death. All she was doing was sitting on the couch. The poor family were recent immigrants from a war-torn country, who had moved here for a better life.

    I have a dog, and I know full well how much love owners have for their pets, but I think some owners fail to imagine the fear their friendly animal can cause to young and old alike, if they are unpredictable and on the loose.

    I am really glad that no injury was caused, but harm was clearly done, and you were entitled to let the owners know it.

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  3. trust me I'm a huge dog lover, really I am (dog of house has free range, fMhson and girl refer to siad dog as older sibling, most days I write with dog sitting on couch next to me, but there are parks for kids and parks for dogs for good reason. Our kids are born dog lovers as well (i'm sure their is a dog loving gene), but we've worked hard to teach them that all dogs are ANIMALS and as such will at times act as ANIMALS. Our friends have not and have had their kids nipped at by the family pet, which AS A FUCKING DOG, can only take so much BS before reacting to the kids as though they are puppies, and disciplining them when their parents won't. I am not a fan of people who think that animals should be treated as people. It is not fair to dog, which when seeing small living thing running by, of course thinks OOOHHHH playtime, not OH smallish human not suitable for play!

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  4. oh and I should say that when fMhson was a baby there was a tragedy in my parents' church community, in which someone was dogsitting for BREED REDACTED, took small child with on this error, and DOG freaked on seeing stranger in house, attacked, injured adult and child, resulting in DEATH OF CHILD. That DEF influenced how I was with kids and dogs. I think people are fools who plop their infant down next to a dog on the floor, while their is food and chaos going on al around (YOU KNOW LIKE DURING THE HOLIDAYS?)

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  5. I dunno. I'm still angry from driving home and seeing two people out with their dog and the dog pooing on our lawn. They left the poo, just like dog owners always leave the poo on our lawn. I even honked at them. They don't even pretend to bring anything to pick up poo, they just think it's their God Given Right to leave ginormous piles on our lawn.

    Damn dog owners and their damn poo. Pick up your damn dog's poo, or GET OFFA MY LAWN. Jerks.

    We need an electric fence or something.

    We do live in a red state, I wonder if dog poo leaving is one of those it's ok to point a shot-gun at the offender things.

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  6. I think you are justifiably angry - few things make me angrier than [some] dog owners, because they so often can't be bothered to follow or understand the rules, to control their dogs or intervene quickly. I was on a bicycle once and got chased by a dog, who almost knocked me off; I could have been seriously injured. And my mom was injured once when a small dog (unleashed, obvs) went after her, barking and growling (she tried to get back into the car quickly and hit her face on the corner of the door, quite badly). Every time I'm out with my kids and there's a dog, I get visibly tense and pick up my kids or move them closer to me and away from the dog. The owners always say, "oh, he's very friendly" - sometimes in a reassuring way and something in a defensive way. In either case, I think the same thing - 1) to YOU he's friendly; to us he's unknown and scary; and 2) I don't CARE; leash him in public spaces. Dogs and little kids are a bad mix, even with the best of dogs.

    I have to say that I don't care a fig about impositions on dog owners. They've chosen to have a dog - if they live in an urban area without a yard then they should run or walk quickly with the dog on a leash several time a day for exercise. If they (the owner) feels it's cruel to have a dog leashed all the time, then *don't have a dog without a yard*. I'm not against dog parks - actually, they're great - but I think they should be in specifically designated places, and not all parks with green spaces.

    @Zenmoo - you are absolutely right, too, about the dog's right to be free from harassment/teasing from children (all people, but some parents act like because kids "don't know better" than it's okay to be rough or inappropriate with an animal). My kids are really gentle with animals, but we watch them like hawks, and they never pet a dog without the owner's presence and permission.

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  7. the milliner6:47 AM

    We have a Boxer and similar challenges in the park near us. I most definitely agree that you were well within your right to be pissed and Pumpkin was the one who should have been able to run free without any fear.

    We never let our dog approach anyone she doesn't know, on or off leash, without their OK first. For exactly the reasons mentioned above. You never know who has a fear of dogs, and especially from a child's perspective, I can see how our dog would appear scary (even though she'd really just like to give everyone a big lick). Like @Zenmoo, we have to teach DS not to approach dogs he doesn't know without asking first, and not to approach dogs without their owners at all. Our dog is very patient and loves kid's, but we know that's not always the case.

    A little note about small vs big dogs: a lot of people assume that small dogs are less threatening/problematic than big dogs. But I've seen as many small dogs as big ones that I wouldn't let my kid (or my dog for that matter) go near because their owners ae not in control and the dog clearly has the upperhand. Everytime we
    encounter a new dog I always look to see if the owner is relaxed & in control of their dog (and not coddling them) and then look to see if the dogs energy is relaxed, not erratic or overly excited, and that the hair on the back of their necks is relaxed, not raised. In general, I've found that you can see a lot from the way the owner handles the dog.

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  8. Perhaps this is a flaw in my personality, but I pretty much hate dogs. I also hate having my kids around them, even though they LOVE dogs. (Hubby loves dogs, too, so I guess they take after their dad in this respect.) I think that you're totally justified in being angry about the dogs being off-leash. That's completely not okay.

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  9. The dog owners are completely in the wrong, and I say this as a dog owner who has occasionally been in the situation of the dog owners you just described: at a local park with a playground enjoying illegal off-leash time with my dogs.

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  10. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the comments on my blog are running so heavily against the dog owners in this case. I wonder if there is a blog post out there with the opposite side of a story like this, railing against stupid parents like me whose kids get in the way of dogs? Probably, given the posts I've come across railing against stupid parents who dare take their kids to restaurants/on airplanes/out of their house at all.

    Anyway, some clarifications: my neighborhood is almost entirely houses, which most have backyards. I doubt any of those dogs are inside all day, park or no park. However, the backyards are mostly on the small side, so this park is the only place in the neighborhood where the dogs can really run.

    Except, I suppose, the canyon that runs all around the neighborhood. I just thought of that. I think that is also technically an on leash area, but given the fact that there are coyotes in that canyon, I don't think anyone in their right mind would count on that!

    I am just as wary of small dogs as large ones, and so is Pumpkin. Her initial fear of dogs came from a small dog walking (off leash, of course) down by the bay. She was a relatively young toddler- maybe 15 months old or so. We were walking on the sidewalk, and a little dog jumped up on her, wagging its tail and tried to lick her. She was not impressed. The owner, of course, assured me that the dog was friendly. Pumpkin, of course, did not care.

    Petunia, on the other hand, thinks dogs are great. We'll have to watch her to make sure she doesn't go running up to strange dogs.

    Also, I don't think I ever thought Pumpkin was in serious danger. The dogs weren't barking, their tails were wagging, and they were clearly trying to play. As a I ran over to Pumpkin, I was worried they might nip her, but not that they would attack her. At least not beyond my usual, baseline "trust no dog completely" stance.

    @Zenmoo- I don't know what the laws are about dogs in areas without signs. I've never seen a park in which the rules aren't clearly signposted, and I have never seen a park in which all dogs are leashed. People routinely flout the "all dogs on leash" rules.

    I guess the reason I feel partly responsible in this situation is that in this particular park, the rule is flouted so routinely that I suspect dog owners view that field as a de facto leash free area. The field in question is roughly the size of a football field, but a bit skinnier. It is just a big open area. I suspect some people think that the leash rule applies to the more developed portion of the park- not that they always obey it there, either. And there is a picnic bench in the corner of the field, so it is clearly part of the park.

    I'd think the city should acknowledge the fact that people are giving their dogs free run at this park, fence in a section of the field and make that the leash free area. I may even think that with sufficient force to call the city and find out what it would take to make it happen. Otherwise, I'm sure a child will be bitten at our park once of these days.

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  11. Parents who let their kids poop on my lawn and don't clean up after them suck too.

    Except I don't think there are any.

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  12. First off, my total sympathy. That's a horrible thing to have happen.

    I'm a bit hesitant to post this, because I don't like being controversial, but I think you were wrong to let Pumpkin go run around close to off-leash dogs without warning the dog owners. Even though a place is supposed to be safe doesn't make it safe. If the slide were broken at the playground you would let her slide down it even if the sign said "Playground safe for 3-5 year-olds".

    We have several parks nearby which are used as off-leash areas (although not posted as such, simply accepted by the people frequenting the parks as off-leash areas). Whether or not the dogs were allowed to be there, you put Pumpkin in a potentially dangerous situation. I'm 100% sure that you realize this, and that's probably why you're so upset, but there are a few things you could have done to make the situation much safer: Stay close to Pumpkin (within 10 feet) and talk to the nearest dog owners.

    These folks take their dogs to the park to socialize with other dogs, and are often extremely happy to introduce their dogs to children - helping kids be less afraid of dogs and helping dogs learn how to react properly to kids (dogs don't always realize that kids are small humans). Talking to the owners would have made them aware of the potential problem and they would most likely have moved their dogs further away from where Pumpkin was running, or put them on a leash. Or at the very least, they would have made sure they were positioned between the dogs and the small running child.

    Talking to them also has the advantage of pointing out the problem they're causing for little kids who want to run around. I'm sure they're currently pretty freaked out too, but just going up to them and saying "Hey, my kid wants to run around in this field, will that be a safe thing for her to do?" is (hopefully) going to make them think about the effect their dogs are having on the other users of the park. In a much less defensive way than they're currently thinking about it!

    The other thing you can do is prepare Pumpkin better for potential problems. Your explanation that the doggies might want to play with her if she runs too close doesn't help her to realize the difference between her idea of "play" and the doggies idea of "play" which is going to be rather terrifying to her. If you'd said "they might chase you and try to jump up on you" she would have had a much better idea - but you probably didn't want to increase her fear of dogs.

    So, to sum up, I don't think it matters whether or not the dog owners where in the wrong. I think you were wrong to ignore the little voice in your head trying to warn you what was going to happen. I hope you take her back to that park and let her run around. And I hope you go ask some of those dog owners to introduce their dogs to Pumpkin - all the folks I've ever met at these sorts of parks have been super-friendly, and at the worst will say "oh, my dog isn't good with kids".

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  13. @Today Wendy, we'll definitely take her back to the park- it is our local park. She won't want to run in that field again for a long time, though.

    I mostly agree with you, and will stay closer to her when any dogs are around from now on. It is my job to keep Pumpkin safe, no matter what.

    But here's one point I don't agree on- I didn't WANT to introduce her to those dogs. I just wanted to let her run around. I think it sort of sucks that she can't just run around on her own. I literally cannot think of a place I can take her near my house where I could let her run and be sure that no dogs would be around, of leash. So that's a bit of a dilemma.

    And that park isn't just not posted as a leash free area. It is posted as a "leash only" area. That lead me to make a false assumption about the dogs that were allowed off leash. I assumed that they would obey their owners, which they didn't. I don't think the owners should take their dogs off leash at this park, then. Take them to one of the dog parks (or Dog Beach, which isn't far from us) and let them socialize with other dogs there.

    You idea of going up and talking to the dog owners is a good one. But I am 99.99% sure that they would tell me their dogs are great with kids and not realize that their definition of great and my daughter's definition of great are miles apart.

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  14. Oh, and its totally okay to have a different view than mine- I wouldn't have posted this if I wasn't OK with hearing other opinions.

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  15. Anonymous10:41 AM

    I think you were both a bit in the wrong.
    1) the dogs shouldn't have been off leash and/or the owners should have been able to control them. I have a dog who is always on leash because it isn't that friendly with other dogs. It annoys me that other dog owners regularly leave their dogs off leash and I have to deal with the stress of an unknown dog approaching my unfriendly dog. Unless your dog is 100% in your control, I don't believe they should ever be off leash.
    2) I think you should have stayed super close to your little girl/not allowed her to run there. Knowing that the dogs were close by, why take the risk?
    I believe the primary responsi9bility is at the feet of the dog owners. but, you probably should never assume that dog owners are responsible enough to control their dogs.

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  16. What a scary incident! In my ideal scenario, I would ask nearby dog owners to put their dogs on a leash and point to the sign. However, knowing that I generally avoid confrontation, I would probably have allowed my kids to run and hover closely by. However, my husband thinks I hover too closely so I might have stayed too far away if he were around, and experience the same scary incident as you. I will mention this to my husband if he ever acuses me of being too protective!

    Lastly, I own dogs and think they should be on leash unless stated otherwise. They'r unpredictable and can attack other dogs, children or adults!

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  17. I hate it when I've been less cautious than perhaps might have been prudent in the situation, but I think a big part of the frustration is when I don't feel I should have had to be so cautious in the first place--like when my son finds a (thankfully) closed box cutter in my husbands nightstand while I'm in the other room. Should I have been watching the 18-month-old? Sure. But really, should he have left such a dangerous object where little hands could find it?
    I think a good percentage of parenthood is being thankful for the close call.

    All that said, as a former ranch kid turned suburban mom, I get very annoyed with dog owners who think that these large animals should live in even moderately confined places. A big dog needs to run around. A park with children is not the place to do it.

    Our neighborhood park is designed similarly, with the same rules, and I have NEVER seen someone with their dog off the leash. The nearest dog park is in short driving distance and we have a canyon that runs behind our houses, but I think that people would prefer to go to the dog park then risk the coyotes.

    I'm not a "I'm going to say something" kind of person, but I would say something if I saw something similar in our area. It sounds like a culture of law breaking has developed in this particular park and (at least in Irvine) a call to local police would gently stop the offenders--before someone gets hurt and a dog has to be put down.

    Dog owners will not lobby for an enclosed space until they are prevented from using that field. And there's the whole poop issue. If it is supposed to have leashed dogs, it's also supposed to be poop free (and currently isn't) I'm guessing.

    There's no reason you should have to personally confront dog owners who are choosing to flaunt the law when you go to the park. This does, however, seem like a good time to alert animal control or your local police to the problem. They'll send a car down, maybe issue a ticket or two, and people will get wise to the new enforcement.

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  18. Thanks for all the comments, guys. It is interesting reading the different perspectives.

    I don't think I was clear in my post- I agree that I shouldn't have let Pumpkin get so close to those dogs. That was definitely a parenting mistake, and I'm lucky that the consequences of that mistake were pretty minor. I'm not sure if it would have made any difference if she'd run where I intended her to run, but I wasn't clear enough in my instructions when I pointed to the dog free area in which she could run, and she angled over towards the dogs. She wasn't close to them, though- they came over to her, not the other way around.

    Anyway, my question was more: is it right that I should have to tell her she can't run in the field at that park? And, if every big open grassy area is de facto free game for dogs off leashes, where can little kids go to run?

    On the poop issue- actually, the dog owners are really good about that at our park. Now, I haven't gone out in that field a lot, so I could be missing a giant problem there, but I've never come across any poop anywhere else in the park, and I've seen people cleaning up after their dogs.

    My husband and I just got back from a walk on the beach (day care is open, our work places are closed- SCORE!) and I noticed that dogs aren't allowed on that beach at all right now. I noticed because the lifeguard was actually telling someone off. I have no idea why that is, but it did mean that while we saw several dogs, they were all on leashes. So I suppose we could take Pumpkin there to run around. She'd probably rather dig in the sand, though!

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  19. Cloud, I think you're justifiably annoyed, but I would tend to focus on the "no harm done" part of this. I agree that the dog owners were kind of irresponsible, but it does sound like neither you nor they ever thought Pumpkin was in serious danger. (THANK GOODNESS.)

    I guess the thing is, Pumpkin's getting bigger and she will encounter more and more things that could scare her that you won't be able to protect her 100% from. And that's a normal and good thing, mostly - definitely not something to feel guilty over. Her world is getting bigger and much of that will be amazingly good, but there will be some wrinkles too and she'll need to learn to manage them. I've found that from preschool to elementary my job has shifted from protecting Mouse proactively (just not possible now with an elementary kid) to helping her work with her reactions and understand that she is resilient and can recover. (Since I don't know everybody here, I'll just say for the record that of course we lock doors, have smoke alarms, point out dangerous situations, discuss and remind about outdoor and traffic safety, etc...) We're definitely toward the free-range end of the spectrum, but we try not to send Mouse fear messages or you-can't-do-this-on-your-own messages unless they're really justified. So to me, it sounds like you did just right - you encouraged Pumpkin to try something, gave her some guidelines, and when things went a little bit south and resolving them was beyond her ability, you jumped in and got them sorted. She learned that dogs can be a pretty chase-y, but then they usually just want to lick you - and they don't know if you don't want to play; and that her mom is totally there for her if she gets over her head.

    None of these are bad lessons, but do I wish Pumpkin had a place to run with no worries at all? Yes, that would be nice.

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  20. Wow, lots of feelings on this topic!

    I struggle with this issue every day, as both a parent and a dog owner who routinely lets my dog run off-leash in a public park where it is not technically legal. I struggle with this because I generally think the leash law makes good sense, and I am in pretty much all other respects that I can think of, a law-abiding citizen. However, I have a conundrum. I have a dog who desperately needs to run every day. On most days, I am taking care of both a toddler and said dog without a car. Running with both a stroller and said dog is no fun and not something my knees can handle every day. So, on most days, we walk to our local park, which has several large playing fields that are considered de facto off-leash and not being used for sports this time of year. I throw the frisbee for my dog, who stays very very focused on the frisbee. The only thing that will cause him to veer off course is if another dog runs at him, and usually they do a quick butt-sniff and then he carries on with his frisbee job. BabyC toddles around in the wet grass, getting muddy and collecting leaves, something she wouldn't be able to safely do if we drove to the dog park.

    I'd say that both you and the dog owners are at fault. As a dog owner, if I see kids run onto the field, I move my dog to the other end of the field and keep him under strict voice commands (no, I am not 100% sure that he will always follow him, you are right that none of us are, so I accept this is a small risk). If I feel at all nervous about the situation, I pack up and go home, exercise or not. So I think the dog owners at your park should have immediately gotten their dogs on a leash when they saw you and your daughter. As a parent, though, I am vigilant about my daughter's interactions with other dogs. I always pick her up if another dog comes onto the field. As she gets older, I know it will be a hard lesson for her to learn that she can't approach all dogs like she can approach her own. On a side note, if a parent responsibly asks if her kid can come pet my dog, I always say no, because I'm not 100% sure about how he will react to a new kid approaching him. And a pet peeve of mine is when parents allow their kids to approach a dog without asking first (I realize that isn't really what happened here, that the dog approached Pumpkin), even when I am at fault for having my dog off-leash in the first place. In this situation, I get him on-leash as quickly as possible. Great discussion here!

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  21. Wow, lots of feelings on this topic!

    I struggle with this issue every day, as both a parent and a dog owner who routinely lets my dog run off-leash in a public park where it is not technically legal. I struggle with this because I generally think the leash law makes good sense, and I am in pretty much all other respects that I can think of, a law-abiding citizen. However, I have a conundrum. I have a dog who desperately needs to run every day. On most days, I am taking care of both a toddler and said dog without a car. Running with both a stroller and said dog is no fun and not something my knees can handle every day. So, on most days, we walk to our local park, which has several large playing fields that are considered de facto off-leash and not being used for sports this time of year. I throw the frisbee for my dog, who stays very very focused on the frisbee. The only thing that will cause him to veer off course is if another dog runs at him, and usually they do a quick butt-sniff and then he carries on with his frisbee job. BabyC toddles around in the wet grass, getting muddy and collecting leaves, something she wouldn't be able to safely do if we drove to the dog park.

    I'd say that both you and the dog owners are at fault. As a dog owner, if I see kids run onto the field, I move my dog to the other end of the field and keep him under strict voice commands (no, I am not 100% sure that he will always follow him, you are right that none of us are, so I accept this is a small risk). If I feel at all nervous about the situation, I pack up and go home, exercise or not. So I think the dog owners at your park should have immediately gotten their dogs on a leash when they saw you and your daughter. As a parent, though, I am vigilant about my daughter's interactions with other dogs. I always pick her up if another dog comes onto the field. As she gets older, I know it will be a hard lesson for her to learn that she can't approach all dogs like she can approach her own. On a side note, if a parent responsibly asks if her kid can come pet my dog, I always say no, because I'm not 100% sure about how he will react to a new kid approaching him. And a huge pet peeve of mine is when parents allow their kids to approach a dog without asking first, even when I am at fault for having my dog off-leash in the first place. In this situation, I get him on-leash as quickly as possible. Great discussion here!

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  22. More great perspectives... @Charisse, you are right that I'll need to learn how to let Pumpkin explore more on her own now. That's sure to be a fun transition for me!

    I'm particularly glad that some dog owners are weighing in here- since neither my husband nor I are "dog people" we really don't know what dog owners expect of parents, so it is good to read these comments. Thanks!

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  23. This really struck me. I was, like you, pretty scared of dogs growing up (though my poor sister was much worse). I don't have kids but I do jog a lot and dogs are interested in humans running in the same way they might go after a little kid. There's a park nearby I jog in where the majority of the park is no dogs allowed whatsoever, and a smaller area where dogs on leash are allowed. My inlaws own dogs and hate how the park is, to them, so "anti-dog". I'm sympathetic. You have a big animal you need to find a place in the city to run it around. But on the other hand I'm so appreciative when people control their dogs when I am running past. Many with big dogs will have their dog move to the side and sit while I jog past and I really appreciate that. Some of the owners with little dogs will just let their little dog nearly get at me. I suppose they think because it is a little dog it will do no major harm to me. However, I still don't want dogs licking me while I'm out jogging (picky, I know).

    I think the dog owners were completely in the wrong. They were responsible to keep an eye out to non-dog owners in the park and then call back their dogs and leash them once they saw you in the area. It's fine to surreptitiously avoid the leash law but I think as soon as a family with kids comes in that's when you as a dog owner call your dog back and leash it. I think there's sort of a law of priorities. If I am jogging I will move out of the way for walkers (whom I always give right of way to) and similarly expect a bike to move out of my way. So while I don't think the dog owners were completely in the wrong to start with, I do believe they were in the wrong the moment they did not stop and leash their dogs. It was their responsibility to control their dogs around your kids.

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  24. I'm late but I'll comment anyway -

    We just got a new puppy and we let her run off leash at a very similar neighborhood park. Playground area, sand volleyball area, swings and a huge grassy open field. I have actually never seen anyone let their dogs off leash except for us. I've been using the excuse that she's a puppy and wouldn't really hurt anyone BUT she is not trained at all and does jump up on people still. The little kids that have been there all loved her and played with her but I can definitely see how a dog shy or scared kid would be not so happy to have her running after them, even as a puppy. So she won't have anymore off leash runs except at a dog park. Thanks for the post.

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  25. Puppies are the worst because they're not trained yet! They don't know when they're playing too hard. (Actually, untrained or poorly trained grown dogs are the worst, but even with a responsible owner puppies don't know what to do yet.)

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  26. Like scienceofmom, I am the owner of a large dog that needs to run. I often take her to not-off leash park areas and let her run off leash. However, the minute another dog, person, child or anyone is even near the vicinity, she is leashed. It is MY responsibility to ensure that she is under control. She is a dog and UNPREDICTABLE.

    At a public, non-designated off leash area, dog owners should immediately leash their pets when others come into the vicinity.

    Whenever small children are involved REGARDLESS of what the parents say, I keep SMDog leashed. Because small children are unpredictable and can scare a dog.

    Cloud, you asked for a stupid parent story, here it is:

    right after bear was born, I took monkey, bear and SMDog out for the day. SMDog was just getting used to bear and is already uber protective of monkey. While monkey was playing in the wading pool, I kept bear in the stroller and SMdog leashed around my waist, in the corner away from other people.

    A small child came running up to SMDog, waving erratically and basically scaring the crap out of her. S/sh was going to throw her face into our dogs face. I had SMDog leashed and was able to control her and prevent her from nipping the child. SMDog would've nipped becasue the child was approaching in a manner that SMDog would've felt threatened. This was AFTER I told the child to stay away from the SMDog as she was nervous that monkey was away from us in the pool.

    Did the parents keep the child away? Did the parents warn the child that you should NEVER approach a dog without asking?

    Monkey LOVES dogs and SMDog is amazing around him and other children. I still would not let her lose around random children in a park. I also would not let children approach her in a random manner. Only when she is leashed, sitting and the kids are calm to I let them approach.

    SMDogs leash is always tied around my waist, so that I can be hands free to deal with my kids, her leash doesn't have enough give for her to harm someone if she is scared / threatened / to control her from all those lose small dogs.

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  27. I should add that if a child loves dogs / animals (monkey does) then they need to be taught to ask the owners first. Monkey has been taught that from day 1. You want to pet a dog, you ask first.

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  28. As a born "Rule Follower" type, personally, I can't get past the fact that the dog owners here clearly broke the law. So to me, any notion of anyone being in the wrong is on them. At least the one came over to check on Pumpkin after the fact. That was nice.

    I'm with @Calee: "It sounds like a culture of law breaking has developed in this particular park and (at least in Irvine) a call to local police would gently stop the offenders--before someone gets hurt and a dog has to be put down."

    Next time, call the police non emergency # anytime you see unleashed dogs.

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  29. is it bad that my second thought (after calming fMhson down) was to race up to post my stupid parenting with dog story for you?

    here is the scene, me attempting to get back into writing while parental still visit. Race out a 3pm to acquire groceries which never got purchased New Year's weekend. Dump bags of floor. Deal with obstreperous girl child who gets sent to room to write sentences "I will obey"

    start chili

    race back up to check on girl in room - no progress on sentence front

    boy screaming the DOG HAS the baguette, the DOG HAS the baguette (his and apparently the dog's fav food).

    Dog growl/warning barks at boy who attempts to retrieve his beloved bed

    boy collapses on floor sobbing hysterically although dog has not actually harmed him and he LOVES dog, refers to it as his older brother

    me calmly explaining dogs are dogs and when it comes to food one should let dog eat a baguette rather than risk getting bitten

    the stupidest part, we ran through this whole scenario the day of the GPs arrival (baguette on dining room table that time) and the week before when child was helping put away groceries and had bacon in hand.

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  30. Heh, super-late to this party, but one I have strong feelings about.

    We are Dog People. Our guys were all the family we needed, but it turns out, we got lucky and had BabyT as well.

    But in a place that has designated off-leash parks, I see NO REASON to let your dog off leash anywhere else. Seriously.

    Other peoples' irresponsible behavior leads to things like a local town banning certain breeds from *living* in its city limits, responsible owners or not.

    I'm with @hush and @Calee when I say let the police deal with law enforcement. Call the non emergency number, file a complaint and get the dog owners to move to the nearest off leash area.

    Kids should have the right to run in the park all the time without having to "ask permission" from dog owners breaking a posted law. End of story.

    Where we live, there are a LOT of people from other cultures/countries, many of whom are afraid of or unfamiliar with the idea of dogs as family pets. So we leash all the time, and stop and let others pass if they look like they don't want to come near the dog.

    And we are absolutely teaching T that she needs to ask before petting a strange dog.

    I should post a related rant about people bringing their KIDS to run *in* the off-leash dog park, and then get mad when our dog tries to steal their ball or whatnot. That drives me nuts, considering the other 100+ acres of the park all all for people, with strict leash laws...

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  31. Ok. I'm going to join this discussion. I have small children and have had two large dogs that need exercise. My dogs have NEVER been off leash, except at a designated off-leash dog park or my fenced yard.

    BTW -- many off-leash dog parks have an AGE MINIMUM because small children and dogs are an unpredictable combination. I can't take my son (age 4) AND my dog to the dog park, even though they do great together. There is good reason for that -- not all dogs do great with kids! How do my dogs get exercise? I walk them on-leash or we play in a fenced yard. I also appreciate when children ask to interact with my dogs, and I explain to them how to "introduce" themselves properly.

    It is a dog owners' responsibility to keep their dogs on a leash (unless they are at dog park). If you can't follow the law, then you shouldn't have a dog. Sorry for being so harsh, but I love dogs and I hate when people think that they can skirt the rules for their own convenience. Leash laws protect DOGS and people.

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  32. OK, its bad when my own blog eats my comments.

    I just lost a long one. This will be the short version!

    @feMOMhist- since I was composing my post in my head by the time we were walking home from the park, of course I don't think its bad that you came here to post right after you calmed the kid down! Bad would have been coming here first.

    I've been thinking more about what a fair configuration would be. There are three groups of people to accommodate: people w/kids and no dogs, people w/dogs and no kids, and people w/both. I think all groups have to give a little. I went and looked online for the leash-free parks near me. There is one that is less than 10 minutes drive away from our local park. It has a mixed schedule- sometimes it is leash free, other times not. I wonder if that is the best solution? I could bring my kids when I know it isn't leash free. People like @ScienceofMom could go when it is leash free.

    FWIW, there is also an entire island in Mission Bay called Fiesta Island that is designated leash free. It is literally a five minute drive from my local park.

    I haven't decided whether or not to report this problem to our local police. My husband is pretty strongly against the idea- he likes the laid back environment at our park and worries that reporting the leash issue will change that. But I'm worried that someone's kid is going to get bitten eventually, and I will feel terrible if that happens and I didn't say anything about what I see as a potentially dangerous situation.

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  33. I'm super late to this party, but I had to weigh in.

    We have a dog, and a kid. We NEVER take our dog to parks that aren't leash free, but we do take her to a ravine trail that is supposed to be on leash only. The way we approach it though? She only stays off leash when no one is around. The minute we see another person or dog, she goes back on the leash. Mostly, she likes to run down in the ravine chasing birds and rabbits, so it's rarely a problem of being around people. But if there are people on the trail, well, we have the obligation to follow the rules.

    I can imagine taking our dog off leash where she's supposed to be on leash. I *can't* imagine not leashing her if other people were around. She's a border collie/lab mix, and the sweetest, most docile animal ever (seriously, she gets cowed by the birds), but she's still a DOG. And it's our job as pet owners to acknowledge that other people and kids may be scared of her, may not like dogs, may have traumatic experiences. She *is* friendly, and will just about wiggle her tail off in excitement about new people, but MY claims that she's friendly don't mean jack to someone else.

    So I clearly think the dog owners were in the wrong.

    But.

    I do also think that in that same situation, I wouldn't have let my kid run in the field without me there. It sucks, it seriously sucks, but you also can't assume that dog owners have trained their dogs correctly, or that they have voice control of their dog, or that they care about following the rules/making others safe.

    I think it was kind of a lose/lose all around.

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  34. I have small dogs (~6lb. each), and I am well aware that little kids are even scared of the small dogs. Some little kiddos will boldly come up to greet my dogs and then back away in horror when the puppy (almost a year old), in his excitement, tries to put his front paws on the child. This is why I do not let my dogs run free unless we're in a dog park.

    I think the dog owners you encountered were irresponsible at the very least. You are absolutely right that no animal (even humans) is 100% predictable, and I even fear for my small dogs when other dogs are allowed to run unleashed.

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  35. I just came back to post the technique I've used to train both dogs & kids to interact calmly. This is obviously not going to protect from a dog attack, but if the issue is just a small to medium sized dog that likes to jump up to say hello (like my dog does) - then it is pretty helpful.

    I haven't much worked on this with Moo yet, but it worked okay with her older cousin when she was a little younger than Pumpkin and we first got our dog as a 6 month old puppy. It's best as a two adult job, but do-able with one.

    For the kid part, I coached Moo's cousin to practice folding her arms, turning around and putting her back to the dog while saying "No. Sit doggy" (and only that, no squealing.) It's not actually going to listen to her squeaky little voice, but it does help because the dog is being ignored rather than wound up further. And folding her arms is a good idea because there's no waving body parts to either get nipped or hit the dog.

    Then, for the dog part, I had already trained him to sit on command using treats. So the first few times, I would turn around and say 'No, sit doggy' when he jumped up and when he sat, rewarded him with a treat. Then we'd introduce the dog & child and put both techniques into practice (here is where two people is handy, one to coach the child & the other to manage the dog)

    Once the dog was sitting, the child can then turn back around to see the dog and pat it (if the child wants to, otherwise, the adult needs to reward the dog with pats/a treat to show it did the right thing).


    And @nicoleandmaggie - I can't believe people would let their dog shit on your lawn in front of you (or at all really.) Gross. My parents lobbied our local city council to install more rubbish bins (that are also stocked with plastic bags) along the main dog walking route in our neighbourhood. It is intensely irritating to see people ignore them and leave the dog shit on the ground.

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  36. scantee7:33 AM

    You were 100% in the right. Rather than labeling the incident as bad parenting on your part maybe a better way to assess the situation is that you now know you'll have to approach the dog owners prior to letting P & P run around, whenever that next time comes.

    I'll admit I may be biased about off leash dogs by the several encounters we had over the summer with a neighbor who did not leash, and could not control, her dogs. One of the dogs was a stray and they were constantly getting away from her and tearing through the neighborhood. We have a fence but it's a short one that either of the dogs could easily jump and there are families with small children that live on our block that do not have fences. After several of these incidents I had words with her and we haven't had problem since. Don't get me started on the people who got a Doberman puppy this last summer that will be huge by the time this coming summer starts. They have Beware of Dog signs posted all over the place. And a two foot high fence. I'll probably be having words with them come spring.

    There's a large park a few blocks away from us that is lead-only. There are a lot of off-leash dogs there but most of the owners we've encountered have been very responsible by leaving the park or leashing their dogs as soon as people without dogs arrive. I'm completely fine with that approach. They seem to understand that it is their responsibility to cater to other patrons of the park, not the other way around.

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  37. @kt_moxie - interesting re: min age for dog parks. I've never seen that here in Seattle! Makes sense, though. We usually put our daughter in a stroller @ the dog park and that keeps everyone happy. obviously that won't work for the in-between preschooler stage...

    @Cloud - if you report it, I don't think it'll change the environment of your park. Likely the cops won't do anything until they get a couple of complaints (or more).

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  38. So start racking up those complaints! I think a nice, calm letter to animal control, phone to police, etc., will start to establish a baseline that this is an ongoing issue. Then if there ever is a real problem, hopefully they will respond more quickly! Even if nothing happens, writing those letters and making those phone calls will help you sleep at night. I don't even have kids and I would find that situation unacceptable. Leash laws are a *law* that need to be followed for a good reason. If you can't properly exercise your dog in a safe and legal manner, you need to get rid of the dog. Period.

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