Ugh, we had a hard time at the park today. First background information: I always keep Maulkin on a long line so I can easily control him if need be. If there are no dogs around, I have the leash drag; if there are dogs around, I hold it and work Maulkin within the leash range. (Usually, we do heel work and other obedience and reward with a tug or floating disc.)
We got to the park, and there were three small dogs in the playground area. They all looked to be on leash, so I attached Maulkin’s long line and released him. Then I set my stuff in the shade of the only trees in the park which happen to be 50ft or so from the edge of the playground. As I was working Maulkin with his disc, a kid ran up to us flailing his arms and telling me to hold Maulkin because his family has small dogs. This was entirely my mistake, because I should have grabbed Maulkin and fed him before answering. Instead, I called back to the kid that Maulkin’s on leash and my shouting triggered Maulkin to bark.* Naturally, the kid being a kid and having delivered his message, he ran off flailing around and shouting at his family, so Maulkin also chased him probably thinking we were playing a game. I held the leash short and called him and he came back with no problem and was right back in the game, but I’d still rather he hadn’t barked at a kid.
Probably 20 minutes after the episode with the kid, Maulkin barked at a guy walking two dogs (one large and one medium-small). Again, this was my fault. The tree line where we were sitting is right near the path and blocks our view of people coming into the park. I was sitting with my back to the entrance, and Maulkin usually alert barks at anything approaching me from behind unless I indicate I’ve seen it.** So of course, the dogs pop into view just behind me, and Maulkin alert barks, and then both dogs start barking and lunging towards us, which gets Maulkin defensively barking. I had to pull Maulkin away a few feet before he could focus enough on me to move away on his own, though he wasn’t able to actually disengage from the other dogs until we were probably 50ft away or more. In Maulkin’s defence, the other dogs kept barking and lunging at us when we were probably 300ft away on the other side of the park and Maulkin was sitting calmly playing LAT. So definitely a situation I’d rather have avoided (and will be more careful to guard against in the future, only shady area be damned), but I’m pretty pleased with how quickly Maulkin recovered.
Just as the other two dogs were leaving the park and we were about to head back to our spot, one of the little dogs in the playground area broke loose from the little girl holding them. Naturally, the little dog ran directly to our old spot under the trees, because my bag full of treats and toys was there! Maulkin was absolutely fantastic! Even with the little girl running after the dog, screaming and crying and her brother running after the dog shouting angrily, Maulkin was able to lay down calmly and LAT with them. He actually got bored of LATing before the kids caught the dog so I just rewarded him for holding position.
After the big dog catching us off guard and the little dog breaking away, I decided our resting place wasn’t a very safe one. I packed up Maulkin and took him to the baseball area where hardly anyone ever plays. After a little while, the family with the little dogs left and I was able to drop Maulkin’s leash and play some recall games.*** He was fantastic with everyone else coming through the park including a few bikers, a senior with a limp, and a few baby carriages. On our way back, we passed a baby carriage on the sidewalk. I moved into the street so the woman wouldn’t have to worry about Maulkin sniffing at the carriage. (I knew he wouldn’t but some people get very defensive about that sort of thing.) I guess she took that as an indication Maulkin is aggressive, because she pushed the carriage into the grass opposite the road to create even more space! Maulkin, for his part, stayed in tight heel position and focused on me entirely without prompting, and he couldn’t have cared less about the carriage or the nervous lady. To be honest, I’m pretty offended by that sort of behaviour. I was being polite and my dog was under perfect control. It’s mostly just annoying because I know if I’d had a tiny dog completely out of control and barking and lunging towards the carriage, the lady most likely would have stopped to make a fuss and try to get the baby to play with the “nice puppy”. I’ve seen it a dozen times, and it’s infuriating because it puts small dogs and kids at risk while punishing my dog for not being tiny.
Anyway, sorry, ranting. I’m proud of how much better Maulkin’s become at recovering on his own after being startled, but I need to more vigilant to prevent it in the first place.
*Maulkin always barks if I shout at someone without feeding him immediately. I think it freaks him out or gets him excited, because I usually only raise my voice to reward him during training.
**Which is actually a REALLY fantastic behaviour, especially because I often walk home with him alone at night.
***I’m trying to teach Maulkin to actually RUN to me instead of crouch and stalk me. Border collies.