Sunday in the park with your dog
MANILA, Philippines – My dog, through all fault of my own, is quite aggressive with many male dogs he meets on the street. It makes me sad because I think, instinctively, that dogs should get along.
Everything I'd been told, read, or watched on YouTube said there was a fight or flight dynamic here. That if a dog feels threatened, he would rather take flight. But if he can't flee because he's on a leash, he'll fight.
I tried to make him play, interact, or even just coexist with dogs of relatives and friends at home, with mixed success.
So I was thrilled to hear that BetterDog Canine Behavior Center had started running weekly off-leash dog parks at Bonifacio Global City (BGC). I wondered if it would be like the only dog parks I knew, the ones I saw in American movies, usually in a rom-com.
The first time I brought my dog, I was nervous as I took him off his leash. He was nervous too: he wouldn't venture out far or long before he started looking for me, then coming to me. But he had no problem with the other dogs. (Though he grumbled at some who got a bit too nosy.)
A combination of being off-leash – and having enough space to flee, which few of us have in our homes – must have helped. Maybe it even helped that instead of just having one or two other dogs in the same area there were 10, 20, 30, defusing the me-against-you dynamic.
I was so happy to know that my seemingly aggressive dog is normal. Quirky, maybe, but normal. That his worst tendencies are due to me and situations, and are, with time and thought, addressable.
Cesar Millan, the self-styled dog whisperer, says dogs need exercise, discipline, and affection – in that order. Jojo Isorena, owner of BetterDog, has his own similar trinity.
"All dogs, and I'm speaking from the smallest Chihuahua to the big German Shepherds, they all need 3 things to be happy in a human home: exercise, mental stimulation, and training," Isorena says in an interview with Rappler's "What's the Big Idea?" series.
"Unfortunately they've been lacking a lot in the exercise and mental stimulation part. This is the reason why we have a lot of behavioral problems coming our way. And what happens is, when a dog is misbehaving, it ends up being caged for the rest of its life especially on or around the age of one which is when all the problems start to happen.
"And what dog parks offer is the chance to exercise, to have the space where your dog could be allowed to run, they have other dogs to meet, other humans to meet, and they get enrichment from doing that."
Aside from the off-leash sessions, BetterDog sets up an agility course as well – obstacle course to you and me – where you can teach your dog to jump over and go through various obstacles. This helps supply some of the exercise and mental stimulation the dogs need, and provides a bit of exercise for the owners, too. Each tandem is named after the dog, as in "Team Bella" or "Team Charlie" (not their real names).
BetterDog's My Sunday Dog Park isn't the only dog park in Manila or the Philippines. There are others, part of an unmistakable boom in owning and pampering dogs and cats. (There's also an active, admirable surge in efforts to rescue and neuter dogs and cats.) And BGC isn't near, familiar, or easily accessible to many.
My Sunday Dog Park, however, may be the only one organized and closely supervised by certified dog trainers. That's important because even dogs with the best dispositions and trainings are still dogs. A loud sound, another dog, or a human or, worse, a child, can set a dog off. And with most dogs, once they are triggered, it is difficult to talk them down. Organizers or patrons of other dog parks – and I'm for more, not less dog parks – should just bear that in mind.
In fact, one difference between BetterDog's dog park and the ones I have seen in the movies is that here, the owners are in the fray, rather than laying down on the fringes, leaving the dogs mostly to themselves. That's partly to help make sure things don't get out of hand between the dogs, and partly because, as Isorena and his colleagues will tell you, the dog park is as much for dogs to play with other dogs as it is to play with their best friends. Or team members. – Rappler.com
Coco Alcuaz is a former Bloomberg News bureau chief and ANC business news head and anchor. He now hosts Rappler's "What's the Big Idea?" interview series. Reach him on Twitter at @cocoalcuaz.