Pictorial: Going to the dogs

... a kindred gathering of Melrose K-9s

Photos. comments from Don Norris

I'm a dog-lover -- but haven't been allowed that choice by a rather bossy lady of the house. No, she really is sweet, but doesn't like dogs. Something like, she got scared by a big dog when whe was just a mere child.

So I caught the duty to cover a dog event on a recent Saturday morning, put on by  Diane Kurkjian, the city's canine officer. It took place at the new dog run, adjacent to the Knoll, with the guest teacher Amy Campbell of Somerville.

Amy's qualifications are realistic: Owner of Wags While You Work, a dog playground business in Somerville; she also has been professionally running 'playgroups' at dog parks in Somerville for the past five years. Further, she is also a Certified Canine Massage Therapist (CCMT) as well as a trainer.

So. What I found at the knoll was a half-acre of dogs, maybe 15 animals, all running loose, and all apparently having a ball in the fenced area. I heard no loud barking, I saw no dogs fighting, I saw no messes to be picked up by the masters. I saw huge dogs and itty-bitty dogs -- but most important, I saw all those dogs having a blast.

There were also some 15 dog-owners there to get the daily lesson. Amy's talk was directed on how the owners should act -- or react -- during play times, and especially when there is a crowd of animals. Her lecture was short and succinct, and a printed copy was available.

"When dogs are enjoying themselves fully, they exhibit happy, slightly open mouths, and relaxed tails," she said. "Their body is loose and good play is lateral, dogs dancing around each other. Pounces, play-bows, self-handicapping (a larger or stronger dog gets down on the ground) and regular pauses are signs that two dogs are involved in healthy play. Play pauses ensure that the energy stays relaxed, over-arousal doesn't occur, and that both dogs are actively choosing to play.

"When dogs are not enjoying themselves," she continued, "their body language tells us that. Tails may be down or tucked beneath them. Lips may be drawn tightly back at the corners, teeth may be bared, or lip licking may occur. Their eyes may widen into a sideways glare with white showing or a direct unblinking stare may go on for a few seconds too long. Their bodies stiffen and hackles (the ridge of hair along the back) may go up. Problem play may include vertical assaults (instead of dancing around each other laterally, the two dogs are often up on their hind legs with front limbs locked), ganging up (dog play is best one-on-one), unequal play (one dog is much stronger/bigger that the other and is not self-handicapping), or be centered around possession of a toy.

"What you can do: Know the signs of over-arousal and look for them in your dog and your dog's playmate. Initiate a pause when you see signs of fear or over-arousal. Have one cue that will get your dog away from the problem play, and then leave the park if the problem play continues."

April 5, 2013

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