It’s a beautiful morning and the dew is glistening off the grass. As your dog pads along silently a dark green trail forms in its wake. A doe turns her head casually in your direction. As you close your eyes, you can’t believe this paradise, Fish Creek Provincial Park, exists in your city, Calgary. You hear the wind whistle behind you. ‘Buster’ lunges, it’s too late to call or pull him back. As you tumble to the pavement and the leash rips from your hand, you look up to see a woman and her bike crashing to the ground. You pick yourself up and blink hard to see the cyclist pushing Buster’s sloppy apologetic head away from her face. Everyone is fine, just some nasty scrapes and bruises. It could have been a lot worse if either path user had lost control of their temper. Instead, both parties head home feeling moody and dejected.
Fish Creek Provincial Park is a great place to picnic, exercise, or explore nature with a canine companion. Activities are more enjoyable when proper park etiquette is observed. Although both humans and canines have evolved, we are still both mammals and have certain conditioned responses to stimuli. If someone makes a unexpected loud noise close to us, we startle. When something runs, dogs (a predatory animal) naturally want to chase. It isn’t necessary to pull someone off the path and make small talk to communicate effectively. Using body language, calling out a quick warning, or simply moving over can help make the park more harmonious. Knowing a little about canine body language can also help to improve nonverbal communication at the park.
It’s important to realize that animals communicate differently than humans. A pathway is designed so that users travel almost straight towards each other. In dog language moving straight and staring at one another is the opposite of polite, in fact, it’s like calling each other’s mama’s bad names. When greeting politely, dogs approach in an arc. Dogs communicate by looking away, turning their head, sniffing, licking their lips or simply shifting their weight. The list goes on with subtle signals of their complex nonverbal language. Dogs act aggressively when people ignore their “hints” to slow, calm down or move away. Instead of walking your dog down the path’s centre line you can help make people seem less threatening by moving Buster to the right side. By walking on the side adjacent to the grass your dog will realize he doesn’t have to sniff every bum that passes 50 cm from him and the pads on his paws stay scrape free from the asphalt.
When owners tighten up on the leash some dogs feel frustrated or threatened and therefore more protective. Owners can teach their dogs to walk on a loose leash that is 2 metres or less. Try to avoid retractable leashes on a small path. Reasons to be cautious of these tools are stamped on the warning label of the device. When travelling through the park and you notice a dog pulling on it’s leash or staring at you, look away or arc as you approach. This will make the dog feel more comfortable as well as let the owner know you are feeling threatened by their dog.
Fox hunters that use hounds have an old saying, “if his nose is on the ground and his mouth is closed…his ears are closed”. You may think a dog would hear a bike coming up behind it, but this old saying carries some truth. Give ample warning when approaching someone from behind. “Howdy!” or “On yer left” are two Calgarian favourites. When feeling unsure of someone, their dog, or their skills on those wheeled demons you can always use the universal cue to ignore someone. Avoid eye contact and arc way around them.
You close your eyes to take in the sounds and smells of nature in this Calgary paradise. You hear a bike bell ring. Your dog knows that sound. He sits down and looks up at you, as if he’s smiling. While passing by, the cyclist calls out “Thank You”. All is well, and you and Buster continue to explore the paths of Fish Creek Provincial Park.
By: Reanne Heuston