Small Talk

Park play dates have gone to the dogs

The scene and the sounds are very familiar.
“Stop jumping around!” “Ralphie, come back here.” “Play nicely, now” “Behave yourself and I’ll give you some snacks.” “Uh, oh. Somebody needs to go potty.”
I could swear I had been transported back 15 years when we neighborhood moms gathered at the nearby park with our toddlers every afternoon. We spent our time trying to teach our bambinos basic social and safety skills — how to play together, share toys, not leap off the top of the slide or run up that way-too-steep hill. You’d hear those same refrains when one of them occasionally strayed away from the pack following the odd butterfly, collided with another child in their dash for the swings, or grabbed the other kid’s bag of pretzels.
So who the heck are we hollering at and chasing now? It’s not grandchildren yet. Nope. It’s the four-legged, very hairy family members.
Most of us are still walking the dogs we bought for
our now-grown, I-promise-I’ll-walk-her-every-day-forever-please-please-please children. Some of the braver parents with softer hearts have actually gotten new puppies and, just like our toddlers, all these critters need to get outside at least once a day, often twice. In the natural flow of things, we bump into one another at the top of the hill, start to chat and eventually, once again, gather at the park for much the same reasons as we did back when.
We’re neighbors and friends, and we still have a really cute, but not-really-trained, rambunctious charge in common. We relish some adult conversation and we want to give the beasts the same chance to get out there and wear themselves out playing that we gave our youngsters. The attitude is still “the more, the merrier” and, to everyone’s surprise, they all get along pretty well.
As the owners relax a bit, catch up and swap dog-care tips, the pups get a chance to romp and run on neutral turf. They aren’t as demanding as the herd of kids we used to have, but sometimes it’s very, very close. Before long, we realized that, unlike the
diligence we had to give our babes, caring for dogs allows for some new options. Next thing we knew, Friday dog walks ended with a happy hour, with everyone bringing something yummy to share. It truly promotes neighborhood camaraderie and who can’t love an outdoor cocktail party?
Even though we can drink the occasional beer now, the old park habits come right back into play. We don’t allow fighting, we keep a close eye on where our critter is and what it is up to, and we clean up after them. It was a hilariously natural transition.
Whether you jog along with your dog or simply stroll, you really should consider jazzing up your ongoing dog duties with a party. I find it really helps my attitude when I’m home scraping black fur off the new tan sofa.

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