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Too much acreage for one Panorama
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I was catching up on one of my favorite dog blogs, Do You Believe in Dog, because the most recent post on dog park aggression caught my eye.

An excerpt from Julie Hecht’s post:

    For dog owners, “aggression” doesn’t have to be this strange, unknown, out-of-the-blue thing. You don’t have to wait until your hand is bitten to learn about aggression. Heck, we could even argue that we learn less about aggression and conflict through actual experience. Ever hear anybody say: “OOOOoh! Now I get it! I now clearly see all the things that led up to that dog biting that other dog’s ear off. I will certainly not miss it next time”? To an untrained eye, witnessing conflict is usually very upsetting and scary, not something where you walk away with a deeper understanding of what actually went down or how it could have been avoided.

One reason I continue to advocate for the idea of dog parks, if not always the execution or the actual construction (cf. The Dog parks we don’t go to anymore) is because in an increasingly leashed world, dog parks are sites where I, as an average, conscientious dog owner, have learned much about both canine behavior and human social behavior as related to dog responsibility. The latter is the subject of an article by sociologist Patrick Jackson, “Situated activities in a dog park,” Society and Animals 20 (2012): 254-272. The article is also the target of some ire from The Science Dog, who reviewed it in depth.

I don’t have a lot of time to go into details at the moment, and I have yet to read the original article. At any rate, the professional reactions to the article and some of the follow-up responses are provocative to me. For one thing, I’m disappointed that articles like Jackson’s, based on case studies or anecdotal experience (which is also always regionally and culturally delimited), are often used to reinforce broad anti-dog park biases, especially when it’s very difficult to cast any incidences of “aggression” in a positive light. Secondly, when I peep in on conversations about dog parks, I am often struck by how people aren’t even talking about the same type of space; dog parks are as varied as parks in general. Hell, even I can’t claim consistency with what I call a dog park, as I could apply the same word to a variety of spaces within my own county — from the unfenced, multi-acre terrains as pictured above in today’s Roll of 28 post, to narrow concrete runs underneath noisy freeway bridges, to mulched and landscaped yet still claustrophobic, contained plots of land in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

Third, I often wish there was a better way to steer humans towards individual responsibility and education, instead of automatically presenting dog parks as spaces where ignorance inevitably breeds. That’s why I appreciated Do You Believe in Dog’s perspective. As indicated in the above quote, if humans are as much the problem as their dogs (if not more!), then human training is necessarily in order. Fittingly, they include a good stash of links on reading canine behavior towards the bottom of the post (as they include carefully selected resources with every post — one of the reasons this is one of my favorite dog blogs).

Though it sounds like Jackson was a bit too impartial in his ethnographic analysis to make room for much agency in dog park human behavior, I will credit his statement that canine behavior “may only be gained through experience.” That is, if such “experience” includes coupling retrospective assessments of aggressive incidences along with active engagement in observing and understanding dog behavior. One can, I believe, reflect back and anticipate forward progress at the same time, specifically when it comes to learning more about how to live with our own dogs.