Why do people who take their dogs to the dog park get so hooked on the experience? I think part of it's the look they see in their dog's eyes once they get to experience running and playing free. You see dogs are meant to run freely over open spaces that are bigger than the one-eighth of an acre that most back yards encompass. They're social animals that like to run and play with others of their kind. This is something that most dogs like to do for all of their healthy and active years.
Dog owners see the difference in their dogs once they get to romp and play with their own kind unfettered by the constraints of a leash. Dogs may be fairly happy living life with their human pack-mates even if they don't get to run free. As long as their basic needs are met and they get some love and attention from their owners they will probably be fairly content. There's a difference however between being fairly content and the sparkle you see in the eyes of a dog once it gets to run free, expressing itself in the beauty and grace of an animal at one with its true nature.
Dogs are often amazing and entertaining to watch as they run and frolic with each other, playing their games of tag, or follow the leader, darting back and forth, accelerating, or changing directions all for the fun of it. I'm not sure why it's so much fun for us to watch. It may be that we share the joy with them that we experienced as young children. I do vaguely remember running and playing with my friends as a small child just for the sheer joy of it. I don't know why we lose the joy for that kind of thing as we get older. Maybe it's because being told that we should run a certain distance to reach a certain level of fitness or burn a certain number of calories takes all the fun out of it.
One thing I do know is the look in my dog's eyes when he gets to run free, especially after a couple of days indoors because of rainy weather. When he gets to run free at the park or on a trail that permits it, there is a gleam in his eyes, and there is no mistaking what it is. It is the look of a creature fully experiencing life as he was meant to live it. After a good run my buddy has a look of contentment that I don't see except after those times. When we drive home from the park or a good time on the trail, I see a look that says, " I got to be who I truly am, able to experience and express my intrinsic nature, and I am happy and content, fully satisfied with life in this moment."
When I think about it, I'm amazed that dogs accept some of the things we require of them. How many of us would accept a life in which a collar was attached to our necks and we were led around everywhere by a six foot leash? And we don't have centuries of breeding that genetically programs us to run for miles to hunt, or retrieve game, or herd and drive sheep to market. Most dogs in modern society never get to experience the life they were bred for. I'm not surprised when owners who don't exercise their dogs tell me in dismay how their dog dug out of the yard and ran all over the neighborhood, and wouldn't come back to them when called. They have tasted freedom, and they don't know how long it might be before they will taste it again. The one thing they are sure of is that it will end once their unhappy owner gets hold of them.
Now you might think that I believe dogs should run wild and free all the time. That might be okay if you live on a ranch miles from any town. For most of us though this would be impractical and dangerous for our treasured companions. I'm actually a strong believer in taking the time to train our canine companions to be well-behaved dogs, especially if we want to take them out with us in society, as I like to do. My dog is willing to accept this and gets to experience a much fuller life because of his training. I think he has come to know that walking in town, or going into the local bookstore is different than going to the park and that he must act accordingly. I believe he is still glad to be with me, experiencing a life more interesting than waiting at home alone. I have also seen him express himself as the joyful exuberant creature that a dog is when it gets a chance to run free, and like a lot of dog owners who have seen this in their canine friend, I delight in giving and sharing this experience with him as often as I possibly can.
Author: Michael Marcotte
© May 30th, 2005-10
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