Honey, I broke the dog

By Mir
November 9, 2009

It turns out that I’m not exactly a paragon of Doggie Mama Perfection. I mean, I try—lord knows, I try—but, well, sometimes my optimism vastly outweighs reality. (For those who are new or who have spotty memories, I present supporting exhibits A and B as evidence of my dumbassitude when it comes to believing that dogs should just love me and want to be with me always. Ahem.) And the problem with Licorice is that the longer we have her, the more I become deluded into thinking I Know Things when, really, I should just consult the Dog Emailer before I do anything other than, oh, I don’t know, feed the dog or rub her belly.

Anyway, we’ve had Licorice for a couple of months, now. She is still shy with new people, but totally comfortable with our home and family. (Um, if her flying leap into my bed every time I enter the bedroom and subsequent valiant slaying of my pillow—followed by a velocity of wagging that’s almost enough to knock her right off the bed—is any indication, that is.) When we go to doggie class she is a little timid, but has warmed up to the other dogs and has even been known to sniff at them and wag.

So really, was I so wrong in thinking she might enjoy a trip to a local dog park?


It was a busy weekend; the kids went off with their dad, which meant that Otto and I embarked on a dozen projects and errands and such, and as a result we were in and out on Saturday. Licorice spent a lot of time chilling out here, alone, and when we hit a lull on Sunday I said to Otto, “Hey! It’s a beautiful day—why don’t we go try the dog park?” He agreed, and off we went.

We arrived at the dog park, and because it was a beautiful day and a weekend, it was mobbed. And I’m not making any accusations or anything, but I am pretty sure that several people had brought their pet ponies rather than actual dogs. It was… well, it was crowded and possibly overwhelming, so we did the smart thing and took Licorice into the separate area intended for small dogs. The only problem was, there weren’t any other dogs in there.

She trotted around a little and then mostly spent her time right up at the fence, checking out the other dogs on the other side.

Had we just done that, I think she would’ve been fine. But no. No, I’m an idiot. A dog abuser. A trauma causer. I will star in the hit made-for-television movie, Fear and Loathing at the Dog Park. Because what did I do? I said to Otto, “She wants to go see the other dogs! Let’s take her in the main part!”

So we did. And a swarm of dogs came up to “say hello,” and Licorice allowed herself to be sniffed, and then she ran over to a nearby bench and JUMPED INTO THE LAP OF THE NEAREST STRANGER. (His reaction: “Oh! Um, hello there!”) (Thank God all the people at the dog park are Dog People, right?) I talked to her and patted her head and offered her treats, and she just sat in that strange man’s lap and refused to even look at me, because she. was. PISSED.

I kind of wanted to take her from this guy, but she was all curled up in his lap, and he seemed to be enjoying petting her (he and his wife commenced with a long story about their dog and which dogs there are regular buddies and such), and there was no way for me to extricate her without, you know, sticking my hands directly into this guy’s crotch. So finally I said, “Well, maybe we’ll take her back over to the small dog area!” and he caught the clue and picked her up and handed her back to me.

This time a couple of people took pity on us—a woman with a pretty little Bichon, and another woman with some sort of chihuahua mix, and we went back into the other area with these two other dogs and set Licorice down and sat down on a bench to see what would happen.

Here’s what happened: The other two dogs ran and played and enjoyed themselves, and Licorice walked slowly around the perimeter, planning her escape and/or our violent deaths, while stopping to pee every fifteen seconds and poop three times. I kept expecting to see a kidney or her liver pop out of her rear end, so focused as she was on squeezing everything out.

Also, did you know that dogs salivate when they’re nervous? Did you know that a 12-pound dog who is incredibly freaked out can manufacture enough saliva in 15 minutes to be wet down her chin, down her neck, down her front, and ACTUALLY SATURATE HER FEET? It’s true! Handy little piece of information for you, there, should you ever decide to similarly torment your pet.

Really, I could’ve made this a much shorter story by comparing and contrasting the thought processes, here.

I thought: It’s a beautiful day, and Licorice loves being outside, and the dog park will allow us to take her off leash in a much larger area than she can run free in at home, and it will be TONS OF FUN! She will enjoy seeing some other dogs, and love getting to run around!

She thought: My humans got rid of the hairless puppies; they were here and now they’re gone. I’m pretty sure they left in a car. And now I’ve left in a car. Wait, now I’m in a strange place with a bunch of butt-sniffers who I think might be biting each other and will soon realize I would make an extremely tasty appetizer. The humans are going to leave me here with them! OH NO! I WILL NEVER SEE THE COUCH OR PEPPERONI AGAIN!! Maybe if I make myself VERY SMALL no one will notice me. I will just excrete until I disappear. Starting… NOW.

So… yeah. We finally realized she was not going to “warm up” and brought her home (after wiping her down with some paper napkins we had in the glove box, because she was slick with drool and angst), and although I really wanted to curl up with her on the couch and feed her three pounds of treats and assure her that we love her and won’t ever get rid of her, I did the “right” thing and put her in her crate to decompress. Five seconds after I shut the door I heard a Mighty Snoring, the likes of which generally only follows an insane amount of exercise.

Fortunately, after her nap she was more or less back to her old self, and I’m pretty sure she’s forgiven us. I’m also pretty sure it’s because the kids came back and she realized that we don’t just routinely dispose of our children.

Note to self: Spend more time on the couch with the dog. Fresh air and socialization is hazardous to her health.


  1. Dawn

    She’ll be better next time out because now she’ll know it’s not a giant outdoor dog pound and you’re not going to leave her there.

    Damn dogs. If only they’d learn English so we can explain these things to them.

  2. Megan

    Dude – just shows how bright dogs really are. I mean honestly, is there anything more stressful than an unexpected social occasion with a large number of strangers who will, inevitably expect coherent talk and stuff? I can’t even image how much worse it would be to also have to cope with bum sniffing and the Etiquette of Public Peeing for the Purpose of Personal Information Exchange! Wise dog Licorice, very wise dog.

  3. feefifoto

    How sad! Maybe she’ll learn to play.

  4. Heather

    Fresh air and socialization is hazardous to my health as well ;)

  5. Tracy

    Poor Licorice and Mir. Take baby steps. Maybe next time NOT so many people/dogs will be at the park and she can take it slower with one or two furry friends. She’ll come around…promise.

  6. Kai

    The SAME thing happened to me when I took my rescue to the dog park for the first time. She hid behind my leg the entire time and refused to even go near the water fountain to get a drink. Next time we took her, she bounded about like she owned the place. It takes time, but she’ll be a convert.

  7. Niki

    Our dog used to get upset when we left in the car with the kids, but came back without them. Sort of like we took them to the orphanage and were never getting them back. Then one time we were on vacation, and my dad came over after we left and took him to his house. He never forgave my dad – whenever he came over after that the dog freaked out, thinking he was being taken away. Remember – they have LONG memories – not lucid or logical memories, but long ones!

  8. karen

    Dog parks in my opinion are the equivalent of a singles bar scene. You’re either a person who’s comfortable in the singles bar scene or you’re not. I never was.. but I did refrain from drooling all over myself… umm… minus one time. (Will never ever ever go near Peachtree Schnapps again.)

  9. Lori N

    I have to resort to initials:


  10. Patricia

    Per your twitter comment — you want reassurance that you didn’t scar her for life.

    Well, Mir, I hate to say this, but you did. She will never fully recover from the “Dog Park Day.” She will write horrible things about you in her doggy diary and think some seriously nasty thoughts about you — like even worse than the tween girl child thinks. She knows this means that you can’t possibly love her and you think she is fat and ugly.

    Oh, wait — since a dog lives 7 years to each of our years, all of that tween hate happened in a nano-second. She is well beyond it and has called you to apologized for her years 11-20 already. She is also hoping there is another treat in her near future — cause it has been FOREVER, you know. ;)

  11. Kristie

    It’s probably for the best, dog parks harbor all kinds of communicable doggie diseases and it only takes one psycho dog to start a very large and scary group fight.

  12. Flea

    PetSmart’s a good place to start dog socialization. Unless you’re my two dogs, who pretend that no other dogs exist unless they are ON THEIR LAWN. Then heaven help them.

  13. Ling

    I took my puppy to the dog park when she was 4 months old (old enough according to the sign on the front gate to get in). She didn’t enjoy herself the way I thought she would (very much like your train of thought: beautiful day, more dogs, socializing!, running around….).

    The next time we went back, she peed on herself when she saw the dog park gate. We went home instead.

    I’ve taken her back a few times and she’s slowly relaxing. I try to make it as LOW PRESSURE as possible by walking to a far area in the main place (where the dogs don’t gather) and letting her sniff around.
    The first time it was low pressure, she kept me in eye and touch distance. The second time she allowed herself to roam in 3ft diameters from me.

    It takes time and I’m sure your pup will forgive and forget.

  14. Karen

    My dad and my step-mom have a dog who hates to even go outside. He is liter-box trained and he just hates the outdoors. I cannot imagine he would be able to survive a dog park.

  15. Jessica

    Some things about dogs you never know. I took Daisy, our fearless canine who thinks she is human and has the same personality as Licorice to doggie park. We take her to doggy park, and she is salivating as soon as we get out of the car. We take her inside the confines, and as soon as we walk in we grab the complementary plastic bags and wait… and wait.. for any dog in that park can scared the crap out of Daisy literally, so we just wait.. when she is done we clean it up and then just sit back and try to watch her. When she salivates you have to remember, it is going to get on any dog she comes in contact with. Daisy was running along side of a German Shepard, and all of a sudden the poor german shepard had drool running down her side. I am mortified, wondering if anyone knows that it was my dog that did that… I look around, see Diasy with just drool running down one side of her mouth and make my son go wipe off her mouth with his jacket, shirt, whatever before anyone sees the foamy dog who spit all over the German Shepard. 5 minutes later Daisy is the poster dog for rabies symptoms and she is still running around with the other dogs, trying to fit in. We see more dogs with the Marking of the rabid animal on their side of their coat, or omg on their face. We finally give in, start walking towards the exit, and Daisy follows us without being bekoned. She then punishes us by spraying us with foam inside the car, and smelling like dog the entire way home. We do not take her to doggie parks any more. We are thinking of a dog friendly beach next!

  16. Catherine

    Oh, our family still laughs/cries about our efforts to take our youngest/remaining pooch to The Dog Park. Upon losing her sister shih-tzu to the grand ol’ age of 17, we thought that socializing at the park would be the way to go to. NOT! Daisy curled up into a ball at our feet and ignored all of the dogs in the vicinity. She shook the entire way home.

    We learned our lesson.

    She. was. pissed. also. She threw up on my rug as soon as we got home.

  17. Megan

    I’m not a dog expert by any means. But I adopted an extremely fearful shelter dog a year ago, and as a psychology student who also works with special-needs children I read wayyy too much about learning theory and behaviour. So here are my two cents based on what I have learned (feel free to ignore me):
    A lot of dog people (including vets) think that dog parks are a terrible idea. You have no way of knowing how well socialized the other dogs are. You don’t know the other owners, and it is an extremely over-stimulating situation for a dog. It seems like your dog was flooded and overwhelmed by the situation. It isn’t about her punishing you – it was just about her needing time to recover. You might have a better experience with having licorice meet one other dog who you know to have good manners and social skills. Go for a walk around the block with this dog and its owner and if all is going well then let the dogs play together offleash in a fenced area. This will let licorice learn that other dogs can be fun and then you can gradually work up to her being in the small-dog area of the dog park.
    Rescue dogs are hard because you don’t know their background. You don’t know what kind of socialization she had as a puppy. It’s possible she has never been around that many dogs off leash at once in her whole life.

    The author of this article http://www.petconnection.com/blog/2005/06/08/big-dog-little-dog/ states that the big dog area of dog parks is not safe for little dogs as some big dogs (like mine) have a prey response to little dogs.

  18. Heidi

    Poor Licorice. At least she has good taste in complete strangers. And yeah, just think, you can be one of the people who let their dogs ride in the cart at PetSmart!

  19. Debra

    My dog just hates getting in the CAR. She turns into a drool dispenser and usually barfs all over her crate. :( I’m sorry your furbaby didn’t have a good time.

  20. Brigitte

    Did you know cats can do that nervous drooling thing too? Ah, I still miss poor ol’ “Foamy!”

  21. Sue @ Laundry for Six

    I don’t do dogs, but based on my experience with kids, Licorice has social anxiety. I wonder if they have occupational therapy for dogs?

  22. mamaspeak

    Sue–they do have therapy for dogs. Which make me laugh to think of. I’ve had a couple rescue dogs & was given info to help them along socialization wise, including the names of local Dog Behaviorists (think Dog Whisperer, but I referred to them as Doggie Shrinks). We were able to go it alone, but we read a lot & worked a lot w/them. I also have the BEST DOG EVEH, so you know, her issues were more or less easy to take care of. ;-)

  23. GrandeMocha

    You should check Licorice’s blog to see if she posted about it.

  24. kim

    Mir, you so hard on yourself. So it wasn’t a rousing success. Doesn’t mean you’re a failure at dog-mamahood, or that Licorice is a failure at dog parks. Who hasn’t pushed a kid or dog a little too far out of their comfort zone at some point? It sounds like she did pretty well on her own in the small dog part before you took her into the main area. That may be all she needs/enjoys/can handle. SHe may just like doggywatching rather than playing.

    My dog always preferred to play with one or two dogs. From puppy training on, she was never interested in the rough and tumble of a big pack. But we still spent lots of time at our dog park, and all of us loved it. Still – I would absolutely stick to the small dog area. I have seen the dynamics between big dogs and little ones go wrong very quickly, and these are animals we’re talking about.

    But honestly, woman – lighten up on yourself. She’ll be ok.

  25. Katie in MA

    I think she would also prefer that you watch something fun like Mythbusters whilst cuddling on the couch. I swear I heard her say it.

  26. Bloggymommer

    Go to Dog Park on a weekday during the day, there will be fewer dogs. And, the dogs that are there will be there with dog trainers, petsitters and other people who know how to wrangle their own animals. It’s a totally different experience.

  27. Leila

    Wow, I just came back from the doctor’s office, and am catching up on your postings. This doggy day trip is so funny that I’m still laughing.

  28. ashley

    You should share any tips you have for crate training and basically living with a new dog. We just got a four month old Frengle (don’t ask), so I could really use some Dog Whisperer advice.

  29. Drew G

    This post was hilarious. For the record I am pretty sure you didn’t break the dog but the others might be right about taking baby steps in the dog park. Good luck !! Email anytime.

  30. Michele Bardsley

    Sorry. Still wiping tears from my eyes. Gawd. It’s wrong for me to feel like less of dork when I read your blog. I know it is. But I feel better anyway.

  31. Jodi

    My 12 pound terrier doesn’t like to play with other dogs either. Really, it isn’t a judgment on your fitness as a dog parent. Or if it is, we both suck.

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