The Dog Park

Posted on November 16, 2019


There is a marvelous experiment in social science that takes place every day in Tuscaloosa, except for Thursday mornings when the Will May Dog Park in Munny Sokol Park is closed for “maintenance.” The maintenance includes picking up a lot of dog poop, which is the downside of the social science experience I’m talking about.

The behavior of dogs is pretty similar to the behavior of people I’ve discovered. Over the years I’ve been taking Dudley, Miller and Stanley, my two Standard Poodles and their slightly less—no papers—pedigreed and noble Golden Doodle, to the Park for a run, sniff, poop, pee, and general fun time mixing it up with other dogs and looking for petting from human owners.

The dogs exhibit all the behavior of humans, from scaredy first time visitors, very shy and guarded, tails down and submitting, to the regulars who bound past the gate at the entrance and dash into the park to sniff and check out the crowd.

One can easily see the same behavior at a cocktail party or any other gathering where you see some familiar faces and maybe lots of others you don’t recognize, strangers. While we do resist the sniffing, we “sniff” nonetheless in our own fashions, maybe standing alone for a few seconds, or recognizing a wagging tail and ambling over to them to start the business of socializing with someone you know, or simply recognize.

If they recognize you, like dogs, they may drop own to their knees, jump around, and woof, “hey, try and catch me,” as they zoom off, and you after her, or him as the case may be.

While we tend to be a bit more discrete and indirect, we too like to find someone we recognize and make small talk as we get accustomed to this new kennel party.

Our behavior, like the dogs in the park, is also conditioned, somewhat, by our sex and race. Just like in the human race, there are a lot of differences between the breeds. One may be a snooty Poodle, another a bossy Chihuahua, no matter how small, or perhaps a Labrador who will drop all conversation or social interactions to chase a tennis ball or frisbee.

Unlike humans however, where the male or female of the species can be totally distracted by a beautiful or handsome specimen of the opposite sex, dogs tend to be more like the modern members of the LGBTQ community where it is sometimes difficult to determine what sex or breed they may be.

I often have to ask, “is it a he or she?” as I compliment the owner on her pet. At the dog park, we can usually easily determine the sex of the owner since this is not a transgender bar in the city. Our canine opposites don’t seem to be too fussy about jumping on another visitor to the dog park and start the reproductive hump. I don’t know how else to disguise that verb so as not to offend someone.

The canines seem to be very modern. They will hump just about any other dog, male or female, neutered, perhaps a modern transgender, and are not particular about their brand or breed. That my three have all been “fixed,” or neutered, does not seem to be an issue. So, they are very up to date and progressive. They are, however, unabashed or little controlled by any rules, like no humping in public.

Small talk among the owners as we watch our dogs is usually very cordial. We all love dogs, or we wouldn’t be there giving them this great treat of socializing with their peers. We like to do that to. If you’ve been in a sorority or fraternity, you know what I mean.

The dogs in the park will sometimes pick on a weaker or submissive member, and a great hue and cry will ensue, marked by much yelling, barking, dust and dirt as the small mob of dogs chasing dogs and owners chasing dogs marks the event. I’m told this is the “pack syndrome” and it has to be contained rapidly otherwise the chase could really hurt. Humans too sometimes form into packs, and pick on a weaker member of the group. We call human packs “gangs” and “bullies.” It’s all very ugly but is usually contained rapidly by the owners.

The dogs left alone would go wild, just like little boys left alone, like in a movie I saw years ago, Mondo Cane, or It’s a Dog’s World. Little boys have few manners and rules, unlike little girls—I’ve observed from my own children–who have picked up a few of civilizations rules of behavior in their early years.

Boys and dogs, on the other hand, will do pretty much what they feel like doing. So, they all have to be curbed and trained. Leashes and collars are good for that. Bad dogs have some pretty strong, often metal, collars to keep them under control if the master so determines. We do the same to prisoners in jails or prisons, especially if being transported to courts, to different prisons, etc. We don’t call them “bad” people, like “bad dog!!!,” but some probably deserve the same appellation.

Most of us at the Will May Dog Park are not however “bad.” We tend to be, if anything, like our dogs, not racists or misogynists. Dogs are pure egalitarians. They will play with anyone, hump anyone, and run with anyone who doesn’t appear about to bite them. We all can learn a lot at the Dog Park, even with our civilized scruples and morals in play to keep us in check.

And the Dog Park, like all good things, is free. Woof.

Published as “People can learn a lot at the Dog Park” in The Tuscaloosa News Sunday Nov. 10, 2019.