Dog park exercises doggy social skills


The squirrels in West Park capture the attention of Otto, a Shiba-Inu owned by Samantha Crawford. (Photo/Jacob Flannick)

For more West Park dog photos, check out our West Park Off Leash Area Photo Gallery, courtesy Clif Page.

Eric Penn, the owner of two Belgium shepherds, hurled a slobber-soaked tennis ball across the dog park in Allegheny Commons West Park.

“My dogs were bread to herd sheep, and here they can run,” said Penn, “and I can get some good exercise too.”

Nestled between West Ohio Street and Lake Elizabeth sits the Off Leash Exercise Area, where dogs can roam freely and enjoy the company of other four-legged ones.

From dogs that prance around like royalty to dogs that wrestle with others like gladiators, the various personalities and breeds of canines that run around the park are as diverse as their Northside owners.

Debbie, a young Northsider, finds herself walking her fluffy Samoyed named Leah as often as three times a day.

The Samoyed is a unique breed of dog that traces its origins to Siberia where they pulled sleds, guarded property and herded reindeer. Their gentle and easy-going personality conflicts with their watchdog instincts, but their friendly nature allows them to adapt to a family setting, Debbie said.

“Unlike many of the dogs running around here, Leah is a little more self contained and enjoys observing,” Debbie added while Leah obediently sat by her side.

With a handful of regulars who frequent the park, a close-knit community of dogs and their owners fill the park with barking and chatter during morning and evening hours.

Jocelyn Horner, the owner of a pit bull/beagle mix named June, visits the park every evening to run around and play with her dog. Living only a few blocks away on Monterey Street, Jocelyn and June are one of the many familiar faces that flock to West Park during the evening.

“I know almost everyone that comes here,” Jocelyn said, “and I know the dogs even better.”

Many owners who lack backyards are grateful for West Park’s location and accessibility.

Tim Mickus, a Northside physician and frequent visitor to West Park, finds time to play Frisbee with his dog at least once every morning.

“The real advantage is its proximity,” Tim said. “We have an open space for dogs in the city,” he continued as he elaborated upon the extra breathing room West Park provides for dogs and owners alike.

While the majority of dogs at West Park seek out friendly competition or amusement, there are sometimes more aggressive, malicious dogs that look for trouble.

According to Clif and Ben Page, a father and son who own a collie named Buddy and an Australian shepherd named Dinkum, it is not often that vicious dogs crash the party.

“For the most part, city dogs have been neutered and are socialized,” Clif said.

Ben added, “However, if it does happen, aggressive dogs and their owners are shunned.”

Dawn Lobick, the owner of a boxer mix named Gretchen, joined the conversation.

“The park is very self-selective,” Dawn said. “Dogs that misbehave don’t typically come here,” she continued as Gretchen, Buddy and Dinkum engaged in a three-way wrestling match.

Soon thereafter, a miniature schnauzer named Duke, weighing around 10 to15 pounds, let his presence be known and boldly joined the action.

Duke’s owner, Jason Hibshman, said his miniature schnauzer has a spirited and strong-willed personality, as well as an eccentric approach to playing with other dogs.

“He doesn’t so much like to play fetch, but he loves to chase the dogs who are playing fetch,” he said.

For many, a visit to West Park is less of a responsibility and more of a diversion from everyday obligations. It provides a recreational space not only for dogs, but for people as well.

Like many of the visitors, Jason and his quirky dog Duke seem to share an appreciation for the friendly and energetic setting of West Park. “We just love the social atmosphere.”

As Clif put it, “this is our front yard.”

Jacob Flannick graduated from York College of Pennsylvania with a degree in Professional Writing. Currently, Jake waits tables in Cranberry Township while looking to pursue his education in writing at Carnegie Mellon University next fall and eventually hopes to write for magazines.


Northside Chronicle Town Hall Subscription