Last Friday (February 2011), Romeo and I met up with our good friends Mary and August at the dog park in Larkspur to burn off some energy after being cooped up inside so much with the recent cold weather. I'd like to say that Romeo did great and we got some much needed exercise. But I would be lying. That is not what happened.
Let's look at what led up to our trip to the park first. The recent cold weather and snow really curbed our usual twice daily walks, which are mostly done on a long line so that Romeo can burn off a lot more energy than he would on a short leash. With cold weather and deep snow, getting out for walks has been either nonexistent or much shorter than usual. Even though I had been mentally exercising Romeo indoors, he hadn't had his usual physical activity. Strike number one.
We also had not been to the dog park in a while – again, due to the weather and snow. This meant Romeo had gone for a few weeks without much interaction with other dogs. This was strike number two.
Since we had not been getting outdoors as much, we also had not been practicing our training and Romeo's “listening skills” outdoors, so his responses were a little rusty. Even though we'd been working a lot indoors, his lack of getting out made him much more excited about getting out and much less likely to listen to me. Strike number three.
Hindsight is always 20/20, and if I'd known then what I know now, I would not have taken him to the dog park until we'd had a chance to get outdoors working a bit more and getting back into our routine of actually listening when outdoors.
We went to the dog park because I knew he needed some “running around, burn off a ton of energy, play with your best buddy” kind of exercise. And he was doing fine with his best buddy, August. But he started having issues with a few of the other dogs there. His excess of pent up energy, his overload of excitement, and his lessened listening skills, all led to big T-R-O-U-B-L-E.
We didn't last long at the park. When he demonstrated to me that he was not making good choices, I made the decision to get him out of the park as quickly as possible and leave. Unfortunately, he has a knack for demonstrating his poor choices at the far end of the park, so it takes several minutes to actually get to the exit.
As upset as I might have been at his behavior, I could easily have made poor choices myself out of anger. Instead, I simply needed to remove him from the situation so he could not continue to make poor choices. I removed him from the situation, let us both cool down, and developed a plan to progress and do my best to avoid the same perfect storm in the future.
Why do I bring all this up? It would certainly be easier for me – and less embarrassing – to only talk about the successes we have. But I want you to understand that we ALL go through these things with our dogs – adolescent dogs, in particular. Romeo is not a bad dog. He does make some bad choices at times, but I need to remind myself that he is still a teenager. We've all made poor choices – as teenagers, and even as adults. I make mistakes too, and I don't always make the best choices in the heat of the moment. So I can't fault him. He's not perfect, and neither am I. But we can work together to get closer to that ideal!