Dog parks are like Holi

Published : Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Mar 9, 2015, 08.26 PM IST

dog parks, socialization, socialisation How to handle dog parksIt’s Holi! I hear children gathering. Over the sounds of buckets filling up with water, I hear the more enthusiastic of the kids discuss how they are going to drench each other in coloured water. Some have brought little pails and jugs. Others have fancy water pistols. “It’s Holi!” they scream and start playing their high energy game.

The excitement kept mounting. I was wondering if it would, and it did – one kid bursts out crying. From what I had overheard, one kid instigated bullying, then a little mob gathered and a shy one got picked on. As if on cue when the kid started crying, more members joined the mob. While this was happening I also heard some of the more cautious ones calling it quits and leaving. In fact, the most cautious kids had opted out right at the start when they heard the plans for the game. The sounds of the crying kid brought adults into the scene. As they tried to do damage control, tensions rose. Two adults argued about what to do with the shy kid while another one was sternly setting boundaries to the instigator. The kids were getting more agitated by it all. And there it was. A shrill cry of a kid at a distance. Hurried footsteps. All seemed okay. But play was to end. All shy kids were removed from the scene. The mob dwindled. It was done. Just like that. In minutes. I thought about it and could not contain a chuckle. Now where have I seen this before?
Young ones of all species have a very similar social dynamic if left to interact unsupervised. Energies rise. An instigator invariably emerges and finds a shy one to pick on. A small mob gathers. Others who do not want to be part of this style of play just opt out. Adults invariably intervene at this point, adding to the stress. Eventually, the adults decide to break it up.

I think about the kids and wonder what would have happened if this game had to happen in a locked room and the calmer and cautious kids could not leave. What if adults never intervened and the shy kids did not get taken away? What would this have done to all the reluctant participants?

If you are ever in or near a dog park, observe the dogs. Especially when tensions rise. You will see these roles. Which one would your dog be? The shy one? The instigator? The mobster? The reluctant participant?

Identifying and removing the instigator is not only a tall ask, but also an inadequate response to the situation. When fights break out, the first to leave must be the shy dogs. Right on their heels must be the cautious participants who do not want to join the mob. That would leave behind just the instigator and the mob. If they are allowed to continue, they are likely to identify one of their own to pick on. It’s just the way mobs work. If you defuse the mob, who’s left?

Mobs can be avoided if playmates are paired well, play groups limited to two and playtime is about exploring together – exploring each other’s walk routes, bus depots, parking lots or even the lovely cross-country trails just an hour outside the city. Exploring keeps hyperactive minds busy, engaged and helps with social bonding. It’s like us watching movies with friends.

Dog parks are like Holi play. Perhaps okay for one day in a year, if supervised, session kept short and the shy, cautious and reluctant ones removed as energy escalates.


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