The Boston Globe's TV critic and new dog owner Matthew Gilbert is the author of the charming and hilarious new pup memoir, Off the Leash. In the book, he details his indoctrination into the world of the neighborhood dog park. Below, he reveals six kinds of dog owners that can be found in any puppy play pen.
It didn’t take me long to discover that there are certain very specific types of dog owners at the dog park. Every off-leash space has them, from the Distracted Davids who never seem to notice their dog pooping to the Jumpy Joannas who think friendly dog play is dangerous. Here is a taxonomy of a few of the many species of owners.
When you bring a toy to the park, you have to know it will probably travel from dog to dog—especially if the insanely desirable squeaker is still alive. You have to accept that the toy or ball will inevitably be coated in the spit of many playful dogs before the end of playtime. But this species of owner, frequently armed with a Chuck-It, refuses to share. He treats the toy as if it’s his dog’s beloved binky, and he spends his precious park time repeatedly retrieving it. That means he is constantly asking you to get his toy out of your dog’s mouth—and we all know how easy the “drop it” command is.
Most of us keep a roving eye on our dog until we see the long-awaited crouch. Then we do a Poop Mime—conspicuously stepping forward like a silent-film actor, bag fluctuating in the breeze, letting everyone know we’re going to pick up our little darling’s production. But the members of this species are usually in the middle of a long story, or a recounting of last night’s dinner menu, and they’re much too busy to take care of such lowly matters. Other people inevitably step in their overlooked poop. They, of course, never do. A related species: Poopus Texta, the poop-missing dummies who are too busy looking at their smart phone.
Many members of this species are new and first-time dog owners. They can’t quite distinguish between exhilarated dog play and fighting, so they tend to keep asking you to pull your dog away despite the harmlessness of the engagement. Often, they protectively pick up their dog—many in this species own small dogs—and then coddle them in front of their friends. You can see that the owner’s anxiety is going to filter down to the dog’s in some socially unhealthy ways.
This species is part of the same genus as the Toomuchus, but quite different and potentially dangerous. The Notenuffus is cavalier about rough play, and dismissive of other owners who express concern. “They’re animals, they’ll work it out,” is the famous line these people use when their dog and another dog are close to breaking skin. And when their dog does hurt another dog, they continue to project indifference. Perversely, the members of this species become more defensive and unwilling to take responsibility the more that the other owners confront them.
It’s lovely, for sure, to give dogs treats—sometimes simply because they’re cute, and not because they’ve performed a trick. But this species of owner never puts away the treat pouch. She is a fountain of cookies for the dogs, who brilliantly decide not to play because it’s too nice sitting by this sweet-smelling person and giving her soulful looks. She’s a human Pez dispenser to them, giving love and encouraging the dogs to beg, be lazy, and get fat. At some point, she tries to hide her treats, but fails; the dogs know when they’ve got an easy touch.
There is at least one of this species at every park. She is an expert in dog training and behavior, and she is eager to tell everyone else exactly what they are doing wrong. "You’re supposed to say your dog’s name before you say the command, not after,” she interrupts a conversation to share. Her qualifications? She owns a dog.
Off the Leash by Matthew Gilbert is out now.