Welcome to Pet Detective, a new column where The Globe's Amberly McAteer will find answers to the health and behaviour problems of our four-legged friends. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org (All questions will be published anonymously.)
The question: I love taking Bruce, my one-year-old German shorthaired pointer, to the dog park. It's a great place – but there are a few owners who don't respect the rules. Specifically, there's an un-neutered bullmastiff who runs rampant, dominating the other males and causing all kinds of tension in an otherwise peaceful place. Un-neutered males aren't allowed at dog parks here, and yet, he's always there. I don't want to sound like a naggy school teacher – I've never said anything to the owner. Should I?
The answer: A week ago, I would've told you to confront the dog owner – if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. Educate him on how neutering solves behavioural issues, not to mention overpopulation problems. Dog parks are canine parties, I would have told you, and those party-poopers shouldn't ruin it for the rest of us.
But that all changed the moment I found my life being threatened by a fellow dog-park frequenter last week
She was the only other person there, chatting idly on her phone, while her yappy, growling Jack Russell ran circles around Ruby, my boxer who gets her hackles up over such threats.
"Are you seriously going to just stand there?" I yelled, trying to fend off her little punk. Calmly, she hung up her phone, walked over and put her nose about a millimetre from mine. She proceeded to describe how she was going to smash my face into the cement for criticizing her perfect pooch.
"Don't hit me don't hit me don't hit me," I chanted (yes, out loud), eyes scrunched under my hands, as I prayed my dog – and my teeth – would escape unscathed.
So, believe me when I tell you avoidance is the best policy in dog parks. You can't control other dogs – or their owners – so if you feel it's unsafe, it's time to find another party.
That said, this dog park is my second home: I'm part of a real pack of dog-crazed people. When we lost Lilly, a joyous Rottweiller pup, all too early to liver disease, the dog park served as a makeshift wake, as owners and dogs alike mourned the death of a friend.
With any close-knit network, though, comes a few black sheep – the hot head with the Jack Russell is apparently ours – and like any good party, you can mingle and enjoy, but be careful of the weirdos.
And before you face your own near-face-meets-cement incident, heed this advice: If you don't know an owner, do not approach them. Don't sit, don't speak, don't stay.
"Dog people can be like crazed parents, where their babies can do no wrong," veteran dog-walker Lindsay Shostal tells me at a packed downtown Toronto dog park.
Like a child's playground, helicopter parents circle their crazed pooches, who are all, for now, avoiding a giant puddle in back of the park. "Which one is yours? How old? What's his name?" we all ask each other.
Shostal, who has about 100 clients, tells me that if there's no avoiding a misbehaving pooch, you should broach the subject with the bullmastiff's owner, but sniff him out first.
"Act curious, you act like, 'Oh, I'm interested, why wouldn't you neuter your dog?' " she advises. Let him know you're aware he's breaking the rules without making him feel like a bad parent.
If this conversation goes well, you could then try to educate him: Mention that neutered dogs can smell the bullmastiff's testicles, throwing off the pack dynamic; explain why your dog is neutered and how that's changed his behaviour – for the better – at the park and at home.
Before long, we both launch into a tirade, listing off various dog-park offences we can't stand: cellphone users; owners who feed your dog treats without asking; people who get attached to tennis balls stolen by other dogs; owners who don't pick up after their dog – and suddenly, I'm covered in mud.
My blue dress is now black and my shoes are destroyed, after a terrier sprints into the puddle and onto my torso. The owner mumbles a weak, meaningless "sorry" and looks away. (I shouldn't wear nice clothes to the dog park – lesson learned.)
Dog parks can be good fun, but like most things in life, there will always be the dog poo in the proverbial grass. Humans, far more than dogs, can baffle the mind in how they behave. (Brace yourselves before clicking on this display of dog-owner-insanity.)
As I tell Ruby when she's sniffing something she shouldn't be, the best solution is to leave it.