ANN ABOUT TOWN: What Happens at the Dog Park...

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Thursday, June 14, 2018, 10:23 am
Ann Nichols

Above: a Northern Tail Dog Park regular asking, once again, when she can go run free with 20 of her closest friends.

For a long time, we missed the whole dog park scene. After we adopted a dog who came to us well-socialized and trained (unlike the pre-existing dog who is…naughty) we mentioned that we could probably take her to play with other dogs in an off-leash setting. A well-meaning friend told us that “they were going to put one in over near Bailey, but they decided not to.” As far as we knew, that was that.

Then, on a trip to walk the Northern Tier Trail, we found it. Just past East Lansing’s Family Aquatic Center and the City’s baseball fields, and sharing their parking lot is a two acre heaven for any dog who can safely hang out with its peers: The Northern Tail Dog Park.

If you’ve ever taken a child to a playground, the scene at the Park is a familiar one. Owners bring their canine children into the park hoping that they will get some exercise, make new friends and improve their social skills. (The dogs, that is.) There are moments of exhilaration when everyone is getting along, sharing and playing nicely. There are darker episodes of excessive barking, and fighting over sticks. There is also lots, and lots of mud which requires advanced planning in the form of a towel.

The Park is open every day of the year. According to one regular, “it’s freezing in the winter,” and visitors should “wear everything they own.” For warmer months there are shade trees, and in the heat of summer, dog parents bring water jugs and bowls, making sure that there is enough water to keep all of the running, panting creatures hydrated. All dogs drink from all bowls indiscriminately, and no one cares. Bones are shared, balls are shared, and conversations between parents begin as they do on playgrounds everywhere.

Over time, that human contact becomes as important as that among the canine companions. There are “regulars,” who know each other, and “newbies” who worry about whether it’s okay that their dog is running around sniffing the rear end of every other dog in sight. (It is).

There are people of all ages, some coming straight from work in dresses and heels, others dressed for running the trails before or after visiting the dog park. There are bearded hipsters, senior citizens sitting on the centrally-placed bench, and whole families with babies and toddlers. People talk about their dogs, asking about breed, age and weight and training methods. The mood is mellow, as we soon learned after running around apologizing for the tendency of our dog to bark when she runs with a pack. The sign at the entrance does, after all, prohibit “excessive barking.”

“She’s a herding breed,” we explained repeatedly. “She’s really friendly, just noisy.”

The universal response? “No problem” or “It’s cool.”

In the end, a curious thing happens every time we visit the dog park. The plan, of course, is that it’s all about the dog. In reality, we also get some exercise, make new friends and improve our social skills. It’s good to have a destination that admits us for free, and sends us home a little grubby, a little refreshed and totally content. Every time.


The City of East Lansing’s Northern Tail Dog Park is located at 6400 Abbot Road. Hours are 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. © 2013-2020 East Lansing Info