In the wake of heightened focus on pit bull problems in the Tompkins Square Park dog run, the East Village dog park’s board of directors invited Drayton Michaels, a pit bull guru from Red Bank, N.J., to tell dog owners what to do — and what not to do — to prevent future dust-ups.
There have reportedly been at least five incidents in Tompkins Square in the past few months in which people and dogs were injured by pit bull attacks.
Surrounded by dogs, who jumped up onto the table where he was standing, and who played and sometimes snarled nearby, on Dec. 18, Michaels spoke to about 50 dog owners who had brought their pets to the park for some off-leash frolicking.
“All dogs can be aggressive,” Michaels said. “Dogs are individuals and behavior is contextual.” He said that pit bulls should not be singled out as being particularly aggressive or badly behaved. Moreover, he said that there are very few purebred pit bulls, and that many dogs that people assume are a pit bull mix, actually have no pit bull in them at all.
Michaels said that a dog’s behavior would depend on how it was handled, and perhaps on its health.
“Aggression is rooted in fear or may be for a medical reason,” he said.
He went on to note that, “Play, for dogs, is ritualized aggression. They’re learning how to solve disputes without hurting each other or killing each other.”
Michaels advised dog owners to keep collars on their pets so that if a problem occurred, they could be easily leashed.
“If your dog and another dog have some sort of an altercation, the best thing to do is to create distance,” he said. “If you see a dog come in to the dog park that has had issues with your dog or with other dogs, you should leave if you’re uncomfortable.”
Michaels said that no objects or violence should be used to break up a dogfight. He advised carrying a bottle of water with a spray nozzle or a container of pepper spray — not Mace — to spray in the faces of dogs engaged in a fight.
Nancy Roberts, who owns a pit bull mix named Lily was among those listening to Michaels. Lily is “calm, sweet and loves other dogs,” Roberts said. “She’s a great dog.”
Two years ago, Lily was bitten by another dog in the park and had to have $2,000 worth of stitches. Roberts couldn’t find the other dog’s owner when it came time to pay the bill.
Nevertheless, she said, “I think the controversy surrounding this park is probably a little overblown. A friend of mine who comes here every day says that some of the pit bulls are foster dogs and maybe the people who are bringing them in don’t really know the dogs.”
Fiends of First Run, the volunteer board of directors for the Tompkins Square Park dog run, is talking with the Parks Department about clarifying the rules for the dog run and alerting the Parks Enforcement Patrol officers (PEP’s) to what the rules are so that they can be enforced.