Cozy Tales: 18. The Park

Taking a dog to the park is, to me, part of the great American lifestyle. Taking a big dog to the park, though, is more complicated than just hopping in the car for a ride. There’s the drool on the windows to deal with, not to mention the drool down the back of your neck, on the rearview mirror, and in the cup holders. There’s also the space they consume in any vehicle to contend with. Some people are fine with their dogs on the seats, but we preferred to keep them in the back of the Outback since Cozy wasn’t all that different than any other wild bear with a drooling problem and a textbook case of attention deficit disorder.

With one big dog, the operation was usually pretty straightforward. One dog was happy to be there with their person, and they generally stayed with them. This isn’t always the case, of course. For example, there are dogs that love to run, or puppies with excessive energy that need careful attention. Many dogs, upon the first whiff of fresh park air, just like to sprint from the car as soon as the hatch is opened. Cozy was just such a dog.

We quickly learned that unloading Cozy from the car was much easier with two people since with two people Cozy could be controlled. Mostly. Lauren would open the Outback’s hatch and I would stand at the ready, knees bent and arms wide, ready to catch the big black bat, freshly sprung from Hell. This is what we called easier. Easier than what, you ask? Well, for one thing, it’s easier than the same scenario with two Newfoundland dogs.

One Wookie-sized dog is simple compared with the complexity of two. You might be lured into thinking that two dogs would be twice as hard as one, and you might also be surprised to discover that conventional math has no place in a multi-dog family.

Taking two Newfs to the park is easily an order of magnitude more complicated than taking one. For the parents out there, imaging the difference between one toddler and two, and now imagine that each toddler weighs over 100 pounds, has telepathy, advanced weaponry, and a mastery of the marital art of your choice. Actually, I think an order of magnitude doesn’t properly convey the increased complexity. I’m thinking something along a logarithmic scale would be more applicable. Here, let me get my graphing calculator… 

Taking two big dogs to the park was at least four times harder than taking one big dog to the park (surprisingly, the math seems to indicate that the difficulty curve starts to even out around x=20, where x=Newfoundlands in a Subaru). In order to stack the odds in our favor for the impending onslaught of drooling furry energy, we would back the Subaru into a hill at the park. Parking in such a way meant that the dogs didn’t have to jump down from, or up into, the car. Jumping like that was bad for their hips, and usually at the end of a walk they’d be tired. Actually I’d be tired too, and lifting them wasn’t any fun at all. We were too stupid to buy or build a ramp, so the hill-parking method worked just fine.

OK, one last aside (really!)  If you look carefully at the graph, you can see that the difficulty curve is actually non-zero for values of zero Newfoundland dogs in a Subaru. That just goes to show that even thinking about bringing Newfs to the park is difficult!

After parking the car, we would both walk around to the back and open the hatch. During the time between closing the doors and walking to the back of the car, the dogs’ drooling would increase tenfold (which is an order of magnitude for the non-math readers). Excitement causes drool, and few things were more exciting than an imminent park launch. Sometimes there would be a brief moment when the dogs would realize that they were free while simultaneously processing the fact that we did not yet have ahold of their leashes. With two dogs and two people, the dogs could work together. I don’t know how they did it, but so help me they worked together against us. I suspected telepathy.

The dogs would often bolt for freedom simultaneously, so we eventually learned to leave their leashes on under the premise that we’d have a better chance of grabbing something as they’d try to escape. Sometimes that would work, and on those occasions we would walk around all smug from our victory. Other times, both dogs would bolt past us as Lauren and I fumbled after them, the open Subaru left wide open for any thieves that might prefer a car that had fur-covered cloth seats that smelled like dog.

Sometimes Daisy would get tangled on her own leash and tumble to the ground. Figuring that the plan had been foiled by Daisy’s misfortune, we’d both bend over to see if she was all right wherein Cozy, who had been waiting and watching for just such an opportunity, would dart past us to freedom. Dammit.

Sometimes Cozy would play the decoy — I swear they were working together — and Daisy would escape, but as soon as she’d get free she would stop and look at us, then sheepishly come back to Lauren with her head hung low further justifying her Eyore nickname. Daisy didn’t actually long for freedom, but rather just liked the game. It was all in good fun until she realized that she wasn’t near Lauren at which point she’d just come back for hugs.

There was a large converted farm near us that was a wonderful place to bring the dogs and and, though it was technically not allowed, people often walked their dogs off-leash there. We would  go there to work with Cozy and Daisy on their stay and come commands, but we didn’t really spend a lot of time off-leash since we didn’t trust Cozy with that much freedom.

This park was a large parcel of land with giant rolling hills, woods, streams, cornfields and miles of trails to enjoy. We would routinely see bluebirds nesting in their specially built houses and would often not see another person for hours. It was a wonderful place to get away from the modern world for a while.

We hadn’t really socialized Cozy enough as a young dog, being fearful and ignorant puppy owners, so she continued to lunge and bark at other dogs. We therefore always kept her on a leash. We did let her wander a bit with a 25 foot flexi-lead which was very long but retracted into a sturdy handle with the push of a button. It was perfect for a dog like Cozy. This solution came with its own set of problems, though, as Cozy would endlessly tie up Daisy, Lauren and anyone else in her path of destruction. I would then be left with the task of untying everyone while trying to keep Cozy from bolting and pulling the group along behind her en masse. Learning obedience was a gradual process for Cozy.

This particular park also attracted many people riding horses. I’m not sure what Cozy thought of the horses, but I can say with certainty that the horses did not care for Cozy. It could have been the fact that she would bark her her crazed sweet merciful crap — do you see THAT! bark while pulling with all her might in an effort to get to the horse. God help us if a couple of people on horseback managed to surprise us, though luckily no one was thrown from their mount while trying to escape from my deranged dog. Thanks to Cozy I always took comfort when I saw riders wearing helmets. Hell, on some days I considered wearing one myself. Usually we tried to keep our distance in a feeble attempt to maintain our own dwindling sanity.

Another park that we would frequent with the dogs was more popular with people and often had fields full of children playing soccer. The playground at this park was where Daisy had dragged Lauren, and the lake had the small beach where Cozy had learned to swim. There was even a dock with paddle boats that could be rented on weekends. From this same dock there emerged a pontoon bridge that we would come to call The Scary Bridge.

Being nothing more than a series of pontoon rafts linked together, the bridge would wobble and slide back and forth under our feet as we walked which was a problem since we had discovered that Cozy didn’t like anything unsteady under her feet. Big brave Cozy, tormentor of horses and fearless protector of the pack would crouch down low and shake at the end of the ramp where it met the pontoon sections. She saw no benefit in stepping onto the shifting floor when she was perfectly happy where she was. I imagine she felt that if Newfs were meant to use bridges then they wouldn’t have been born with webbed toes.

The bridge had no railing on one side, and I often wondered if Cozy might pull one of us into the water in an attempt to escape the terrors of The Scary Bridge. I’m sure that to her, swimming was far more preferable than navigating the wobbly bridge from hell. Daisy wasn’t bothered in the least by the shifting bridge; she was just happy to be at the park with Lauren. Lauren and Daisy would walk out onto the bridge and I would follow until the leash attached to my brave dog pulled taut behind me, anchored as it was by my suddenly immovable dog.

Newfies tend to be passive aggressive, and Cozy was a master. When Cozy didn’t want to move, she just sat where she was without comment. She would do this while hiking when she had decided that it was time to go back home after which no amount of cajoling or positive reinforcement would convince her to move anywhere except back to the car. She knew that we couldn’t pick her up and carry her, and she seemed to know that this was her ultimate form of leverage.  Sitting on the dock, the look in her eyes said it all: That bridge is going to kill us all with its diabolical shifting floor. The rest of you can go if you want to, but when you all die in a horrible bridge accident, don’t come crying to me!

There was no way I was going to let my recalcitrant dog dictate our walking route. While I would never force my Cozy to do something dangerous, this was just silly and she needed to learn that bridges weren’t scary. Cozy plopped down, completely blocking the bridge, no doubt confident that she had won. We were at an impasse.

The only power I had in this situation was Cozy’s desire to stay by my side, so with Lauren standing on the bridge and Daisy sitting next to her (who was no doubt bored with the whole bourgeois affair), I dropped Cozy’s leash and walked out onto the bridge. Cozy immediately sat bolt upright, unhappy with the sudden turn of events.

With the three of us on the bridge some ten feet from Cozy, I could see the panicked indecision on her face. Screwing up her courage, she stood up, then started to whine as she shifted her weight from left to right in displeasure. She woofed a couple of times, clearly unhappy that I would do such a thing to her. I hated to make her feel abandoned, but her desire to be with me was the only thing that could overcome her fear of The Scary Bridge.

Starting to shake, big brave Cozy lowered herself as much as possible and quickly scooted out onto the bridge with her tail between her legs. We all cheered, but Cozy wanted nothing to do with the celebration. I stood up to cross the remainder of the long floating bridge, happy to have Cozy by my side once more, but in another show of passive aggression (and fear), she continued her low scoot right past me and made haste for the opposite shore.

The bridge was probably fifty yards long and did not travel in a straight line. Still, my Brave Cozy made it all the way across. We both cheered at the end as if welcoming home the first space travelers to which Cozy finally responded with a wag as she buried her head in my lap. Cozy was no doubt just happy to be on Terra Firma once more.

She never did warm up to that bridge. Over time she would cross it with slightly less drama, though she never lost her fear of it. To this day we call that bridge The Scary Bridge, though over time it has sometimes been known to us as Cozy’s Bridge. I doubt she would approve.

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