Puppy Love Takes on a Whole New Meaning: Love at the Dog Park

More on PawNation: date, dog park, DogPark, dogs, love, puppy love, PuppyLove, relationships, romance

dog wedding pictureHeidi Weber

Nearly every dog owner will tell you that their pet gives them unconditional love. But in some cases, dogs also help their owners find unconditional love. The scene for this canine-inspired matchmaking? That playground for schnauzers and singles alike: the local dog park.

According to Mary Lee Nitschke, a Linfield College psychology professor who specializes in human-animal bonds, pets naturally increase your odds of meeting people. This makes the dog park a particularly fitting setting for romance -- and not just around Valentine's Day. "Someone walking a dog is more likely to have opportunities for social interaction," says Nitschke. "Pets attract comments, and that opens the door for conversation."

Andrew Seidenfeld took advantage of that open door 10 years ago, when he met the woman who would become his wife at the dog park near his home in Lincoln Park, New Jersey.

"I met my wife at the park down the street," Seidenfeld tells Paw Nation. "I would walk my dog, and frequently I'd see this beautiful woman, also walking her dog. Finally I got up the nerve to talk to her by asking if her dog was friendly."

The dog's lovely owner, it turns out, was also friendly. "We went out for three years and got married," says Seidenfeld. Though the pooches that brought them together have since passed away, the couple (now married seven years) still has four cats.

Heidi Weber of Saratoga Springs, New York, never imagined she'd meet her future-husband through her beloved mutt, Nelson. In fact, she got a dog because she was tired of the dating game and wanted a loyal companion. But a late morning visit to a Schenectady, New York, dog park in May 2007 eased her back onto the playing field.

"I'm not sure how long I was at the park, but at one point, in strolled a cute guy and his handsome dog, Hunter, half Lab/half Plotthound," Weber tells Paw Nation. "Our dogs hit it off right away and began playing together. Pete and I struck up a conversation and I learned he was in the Navy and had just returned from Italy."

Weber worked up the courage to suggest they get coffee sometime. Pete called her the next day.

"We began dating, and we often took our dogs to a park in Albany, followed by cocktails at various pet-friendly establishments," says Weber. "We went on picnics and hikes.

"Five months later, he and Hunter moved in with me, Nelson and my cat, Misty. We got engaged on Christmas Eve and married October 12, 2008," says Weber, pictured above with Pete and their dogs on their wedding day. "Our dogs served as our ring bearers. It wouldn't have been right if we didn't include them."

The story doesn't end there, though -- they're expecting a baby next month, and Weber says, "[We] fully expect our daughter to be a dog lover, too!"

Alison Larkins

Alison Larkins of Gainesville, Florida, met her current beau, Dave, over nine years ago, but it wasn't exactly love at first sight. "I was introduced to him by a neighbor, but we didn't really 'meet,'" she tells Paw Nation. "Then, we were in our apartment complex's makeshift dog park. He was playing with Guinness (his chocolate Lab), and I was bringing my dog out, and we just started talking. He invited me bowling, and I went!" Alison, Dave and Guinness (pictured left) are all still happily together.

Even if they've met elsewhere, some pet lovers find that the dog park makes for an ideal first date. Hilary Reiter of Park City, Utah, connected with a recent date online, but decided to meet him for the first time at the local dog park. "He had three dogs and I have two, so it seemed like a logical place to meet and not much of a time commitment," Reiter tells Paw Nation. "A love of dogs provides a right-off-the-bat commonality, and watching them wrestle and chase each other tends to stimulate conversation."

Meeting at the dog park can also lessen the awkwardness of that moment when potential dates discover there's not much chemistry between them. "It's a good distraction if you're not digging the person," says Reiter. "Plus, if your dogs don't like your date (or vice versa) or the dogs don't like each other, you know it's not going to work out!"

The problems arise when a dog park romance fizzles, but both owners still want to bring their dogs to the park, says Paw Nation contributor Rose Martelli who met her (now ex-) boyfriend at her neighborhood's unofficial dog park.

At the beginning, the connection was strong. "Our dogs got along famously," she says. Fast-forward three years to the break-up, which drove Martelli into avoiding the park she used to frequent with her pooch. "My entire life revolved around not running into him with his dog," Martelli recalls. "Not only did we have the dog park at the end of the block, but our street had one of those grassy islands in the middle where we used to play fetch with the dogs, so I'd actually spy outside my window every time I wanted to go out to make sure he wasn't already on the island.

"My dog couldn't understand why our walks navigated away from the dog park. After about a month, I decided it was easier to move all the way across town, so I did."

Grace Cleaves

For those couples whose relationships are going strong however, the shared experiences and relaxed happiness of the dog park can make it the perfect place to take the relationship to the next level. Last August, Grace Cleaves was at a Portland, Maine dog park with her boyfriend, Mike, and Jake, "the lover-boy Lab mix" that they had adopted in April. The couple (pictured left), met a few years ago on Craigslist.

"I had just made the requisite poop pick-up," Cleaves recalls, "when Mike dropped to his knee and asked me to marry him. Doggie detritus in hand, I said yes. The wedding is May 23rd."

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