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I Let My Dog Learn the Ways of the Doggie World at the Dog Park

When Riggins was a puppy, we frequented the dog park because there are some lessons only other dogs can teach.

Wendy Newell  |  Oct 15th 2015


My dog, Riggins, spent the first year of his life living in a third-story apartment right off the infamous Sunset Strip in Hollywood. It’s tough to raise a puppy. It’s tougher when you get a note from your downstairs neighbor telling you that someone is breaking into your home each day to play billiards on your kitchen floor. My reply to that passive-aggressive note was one of my own, which said if he really did think there was a billiard-playing criminal hanging out in my kitchen, versus my puppy playing with his Kong, then perhaps the neighborly thing to do would have been to call the police!

Puppy or billiard playing thief?

Puppy or billiard-playing criminal? (Photo by Wendy Newell)

For the sake of my neighbor’s sanity as well as my own, I did everything I could to wear Riggins out. We would go on hour-long jogs together, which sometimes led us to a dog-friendly patio for a glass of wine. Puppies can drive you to drink!

Riggins, however, preferred the freedom he was allowed at a dog park. Luckily, we had — and still have near our new home — a number of parks at our disposal. One park is even open after sunset, a real gem in the dog-park world. We are an hour away from on off-leash dog beach, and there is even a dog park that is actually a hike, allowing everyone to get exercise.

Riggins and his friends find a shady spot at Runyon Canyon -- an off-leash dog hiking area.

Riggins and his friends find a shady spot at Runyon Canyon, an off-leash dog hiking area in Los Angeles. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

I really wanted to be a good dog mom and introduced my puppy to as many dogs, kids, and adults as possible. I failed miserably with the kids, however, which is obvious whenever Riggins sees one and growls in mistrust. I feel like I succeeded in my goal of socializing him with other dogs, though. I like to believe it is one of the reasons he is so great with all the guests who come in and out of his life because of our dog-sitting business.

I also didn’t want to be a doggie helicopter parent when he young, and I wasn’t. Almost to a fault, although there are times I think it worked out well for Riggins. He learned how to be a puppy and then a member of a pack because I allowed other dogs to help me teach him the ways of the doggie world.

Riggins hanging out at Rosie's Dog Beach in Long Beach, CA.

Riggins hanging out at Rosie’s Dog Beach in Long Beach. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

The big lesson

One day, baby Riggins and I were at an ENORMOUS chunk of leash-free, fully fenced-in piece of dog-park real estate. (Enormous for Los Angeles standards, I mean. I’m sure it is the size of some people’s backyards in Iowa, but for this town it’s insanely huge.) Riggins bounded through the gate with the crazy energy he seemed to have an endless source of. I kept close to him, for the most part, and let him lead the way. At that point, he hadn’t been schooled by other dogs yet. He would go all puppy on them, getting up in their faces, and nipping at every limb, begging for attention and then shying away when he got it, only to go back and do it all over again.

Riggins takes part in a game of chase at Runyon Canyon.

Riggins takes part in a game of chase at Runyon Canyon. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

At one point, he did get a good distance away from me. I looked over to find him and realized he wasn’t listening to another dog. Riggins didn’t know what to listen for yet. No dog had told him. This particular dog’s growls, baring of teeth, and walking away didn’t stop Riggins from pursuing him. Finally, the dog had enough and turned on Riggins to teach him, once and for all, who was boss. What happened next was an actual dog pile with Riggins at the bottom. He was not being hurt. I can’t emphasis this enough — HE WAS NOT BEING HURT. Humans rushed over to untangle the mess, but I knew if I acted crazy that this lesson was going to go out the window and perhaps make Riggins afraid of the parks he loved.

Instead of freaking out, I walked over to make sure Riggins was okay. He looked at me, and I told him he was fine, to go play, and this time to mind his elders. Once he figured out he wasn’t getting any more attention from me, he bounded off to find another doggie playmate.

To this day, if there is a fight brewing at the dog park, Riggins, unlike other pups, will not run toward the trouble. He has been at the bottom of that pile. He knows he wants nothing to do with that!

Riggins enjoys a rainy day at Alice's Dog Park in Pasadena, CA.

Riggins enjoys a rainy day at Alice’s Dog Park in Pasadena. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Riggins wrestles with a friend at the Griffith Park Dog Park in Los Angeles, CA.

Riggins wrestles with a friend at the Griffith Park Dog Park in Los Angeles. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Smaller but just as important lessons

As a puppy, Riggins was a fast runner, and when not on leash he used his “flight” reaction. When another dog was bothering him, I would tell him to just walk away, or I’d say, “You better run.” It may sound heartless, but I knew he wasn’t in real trouble, and he needed to know that the best way to get out of a brewing altercation was to leave instead of getting overly excited, which could lead to a fight.

“Shake it off” was another one of my favorite commands. If dog a dog was humping him, he heard the “shake it off” command. He learned fast that it was up to him to get out of unwanted situations.

The dog park seniors Riggins and his pal Mckenzie at Alice's Dog Park in Pasadena, CA.

The dog park seniors Riggins and his pal Mckenzie at Alice’s Dog Park in Pasadena. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Student becomes the teacher

Now, at 10, Riggins is the elder at the dog park and with the pack we take care of. During a client drop-off, I will often tell parents of young dogs that Riggins may school their dog — and their reaction is almost always, “Good!”

Of course, either at the dog park or at home, my job is to make sure that Riggins and the other dogs have a safe place to teach and learn. If things get out of hand at home, dogs are calmly separated. If an area of the dog park seems to be too rough or I don’t feel it is safe, we either go to another area or head back to the car. I’m not a helicopter parent, but I’m still there — always watching — ready to help.

I’m glad I turned to other dogs to help whip Riggins into shape, but I know that it isn’t something all dog parents are willing to do. What do you think? Share your thoughts with me in the comments.

Read more by Wendy Newell:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of “always be closing” to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy’s new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.