Devoted to the dogs of Washington Heights and their people, centered around The Rocky Run, located at 165th St. and Riverside Drive, as well as Offleash Hours activities down in Fort Washington Park. Washington Tykes doubles as a soapbox for my scattered musings on the relationship between canines and humans--the good, the bad, and the fugly.
THE ROCKY RUN is located at 165th St. and Riverside Drive, just west and south of the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital complex. There are two double-gated entrances. Be sure to latch the outer gate before opening the inner gate, to minimize the chance of any dogs in the run getting out.
You are free to bring multiple dogs (the more the merrier), but please make sure there is at least one human in the run at all times, for every three dogs you bring. That is a Parks Department rule, and you can be ticketed for breaking it.
If you see somebody breaking this rule, politely inform them of it. In extreme cases, such as professionally run 'playgroups', with large numbers of dogs being supervised by very few people, you can call Jennifer Hoppa, Administrator for North Manhattan Parks. Her office number is (212) 795-1388. Her cellphone number is (347) 865-5399 (leave a message).
We don't have running water for the present time, so please try to bring as much water as possible, whenever possible, for other people's dogs as well as your own. The deep shade provided by the surrounding trees (some of them inside the run itself) keeps things relatively cool during the hot months, but dogs getting vigorous exercise should always have access to fresh water, particularly in summer.
There are several metal drinking bowls left inside the run, which you should empty and rinse out before refilling, when you don't know they were filled very recently by someone else--stagnant water can carry diseases. You should feel free to bring bowls and other assorted drinking accessories of your own.
Things NOT to bring into the run--female dogs in heat, dogs wearing spiked/pronged collars or harnesses, dogs who are highly aggressive. Remember that you are responsible for paying any medical bills, for dogs or people, incurred as a result of your dog's actions. If this happens, you should exchange contact information with the affected party, just as if you'd been in a fender-bender.
Children under 12 should always be under the direct supervision of an adult (this is also a Parks Department rule). Children who come into the run should not be afraid of dogs, and should have been taught how to behave around them.
VERY few dogs will be aggressive towards children at a dog run or park, most will be extra-careful with them, but an over-enthusiastic dog, caught up in the frenzy of the moment, can easily knock over a small child in play. Even a tiny dog can bite hard enough to break the skin, if frightened by a child who approaches him too quickly. Regardless of whether the child is hurt, the end result can be a person who grows up fearful of dogs, and that's no way to spend a lifetime. It should go without saying, the consequences for the dog can be much more serious.
Under no circumstances should you ever leave your dog unattended at the run, even for a few minutes, even if someone you know agrees to watch him for you. You can go outside the fence to fetch a ball or briefly converse with someone, but if you have to leave the immediate vicinity, so does he.
Generally speaking, you should unleash your dog the moment the two of you enter the run, or just before. If you don't trust your dog's behavior when he's offleash, he shouldn't be in a dog run at all. If you're unsure whether you should bring your dog in, talk to the people already inside, and ask for their input. Quite often, a dog who is aggressive or uneasy with dogs he or she meets while being walked on a leash near home will behave admirably when let loose inside a dog run.
By all means experiment, but do so with the cooperation and consent of the other dog owners, some of whom may be more experienced judges of dog behavior. And if you're the experienced person inside the run, remember how it was when you first brought your dog there.
Feel free to bring balls, 'Chuckits', sticks, and other means to keep your dogs entertained. When the run is crowded, take care not to hit someone with a flung ball. Try to take it in good humor if the someone who gets hit is you.
Be warned that dogs don't tend to respect property rights (other than their own), and you should think twice about bringing any dog toy that you aren't ready to have some other dog take possession of, or that your dog would feel overly possessive towards. In particular, toys that two dogs can have a tug of war match with are to be avoided, as this type of activity tends to ramp up aggression.
In most cases, a purloined plaything can be retrieved fairly easily, with the assistance of the other dog's owner. Even if you know the dog in question well, be wary of trying to take back a toy from him or her yourself. An excited dog can forget his manners, and even the friendliest pooch can accidentally bite you when trying to hang onto a prized trophy.
Friendly tussles, chases, and the odd wrestling match are not only permitted, but encouraged--as long as they don't get out of hand. I mean between the dogs, of course. But seriously, the vast majority of the dogs at the run know where to draw the line, and how to vent their energy in a playful manner, to the delight of all present.
However, not all dogs who come to the run will be equally well-socialized and friendly, and chemistry between dogs is as unpredictable as chemistry between people--with the difference that dogs tend to make their feelings known right away, often within seconds of the first introduction. Two dogs who have never met before may become lifelong chums or deadly enemies before you've even had a chance to finish exclaiming "Oh how cute--they're saying hello!"
Always watch your dog closely, and particularly when dogs you don't know come into the run (or are already there when you arrive). Study dog behavior closely, and learn the difference between teeth bared in play, and teeth bared in warning. You will be seeing the former far more often than the latter, so relax--but don't be TOO relaxed.
If a genuine fight should erupt, or seems about to, it's your job to intervene. Do not listen to anyone who says "Oh it's just dominance, let them fight it out." Dogs fighting in earnest can cause serious injuries--which is precisely why dogs have evolved such an elaborate etiquette of greeting, sizing each other up, submissive body language, etc--to avoid this whenever possible. They understand that fights are a serious matter, and so should you.
The miraculous thing is that large groups of dogs who have never seen or smelled each other before can, nearly all of the time, co-exist amicably in a small space, without any restraint or close supervision. This is, in part, because the dog run is 'neutral turf', and being offleash, the dogs don't feel trapped, or obliged to defend themselves (or you).
But the system does break down sometimes, and that's when you have to take charge. If your dog is showing signs of aggression, or excessive dominance, towards another dog, he (or quite often she) should be taken out of the run, IMMEDIATELY.
It's for you and the other dog's owner to judge how far is too far, and whether your dogs are well-suited to be playmates. Be sensitive to everyone's feelings, canine and human alike, and err on the side of caution.
That being said, dogs are not delicate little china dolls (not even the ones who look it, I've found), and a bit of rough play can be tremendously gratifying to them, and lead to a calmer, more satisfied companion at home. Weigh the risks against the rewards, and most importantly, find out what your dog needs--he'll tell you. Just listen.
If your dog needs you to protect him or her, do so, without a moment's hesitation. But also give him a chance to learn how to stick up for himself. And although your dog is, of course, the most wonderful in all the world, remember that it's also your duty to protect other people's dogs from him. Even a good dog can have a bad day.
One of the great pleasures of coming to a dog run is meeting other people's dogs, and learning just how different they can be from each other, while still being fundamentally alike. You can learn a great deal as well by comparing experiences and trading information with the other dog owners who come there. It is quite permissible, by the way, to discuss subjects entirely other than your dogs. Not that there is any other subject so delightful, but just for variety's sake.
Please pick up after your dog, and try not to get so distracted that you don't notice he or she is defecating. Don't hesitate to tell a distracted human that his or her dog needs to be picked up after--if the owner is farther away, and if you happen to have an extra bag, it's always a nice gesture to do the job yourself, as someone will probably be doing it for you, sooner or later.
If you have read this entire ponderous sermon all the way through, without yawning once, I feel a deep sense of confidence that you will be a great addition to the extended family of The Rocky Run. If not, you'll probably do fine anyway. Have fun. Look forward to meeting you and your dog. Not necessarily in that order. ;)
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