I used to think that taking toys to the dog park was just a recipe for trouble.
I am no longer quite so definitive or absolute on that idea.
I mean, sure, you may run into that super-possessive or obsessed dog that could start a fight if it doesn’t know how to share toys, but I’d say that realistically that’s a small minority of dogs, and I’d like to hope owners of those dogs would have enough foresight to avoid the park in the first place. (Rational self reminder: you know what they say about common sense.…)
But recent trips to the dog park over the holidays have really made me wonder if that no-toy policy is maybe a bit too rigid?
There were tonnes of people playing fetch with their dogs and I saw no such melee.
In fact, maybe toys can be a good thing.
Toys sure are a great distraction – a good way to get a dog into a socializing environment where other dogs aren’t the only things to focus on.
Playing fetch also keeps dogs moving – quickly and at great distances. This way, large, tight groups of dogs and people don’t congregate in one specific spot in the park; those always make me nervous.
And it’s a great way to provide exercise and play, with a little bit of structure, rather than just letting dogs run amok at the park and not interact with them.
Way, way back: Practicing fetch with puppy Moses. (Forgive the ridiculous outfit – all fashion rules are forgotten during dry suit diving surface intervals.)
Granted, this won’t change whether or not I bring toys to the park.
I will continue not to.
Neither Moses nor Alma is a reliable enough retriever for my frugal self to put dog toy investments at risk.
Bonus puppy Moses photo from the archives – same day as the above, curled up with our scuba gear
Moses won’t fetch anything that is thrown particularly far away. He won’t even budge. He’ll just look at you, his expression saying “that was silly – you had it right here and now it’s WAY over there – what are you planning to do about that?”
A rare Moses retrieve with Alma bouncing in the background
And if you lob it short enough that Moses is motivated to fetch, it’s just once and then he wants to find some snow (winter) or shade (summer) and gnaw on whatever it is that you threw. Or he’s happy to play tug with you. But fetch is not his game.
Alma is similarly unreliable. She likes to run and will occasionally fetch, but her philosophy is very grass-is-greener.
If another dog is there providing competition for ball or frisbee, she’ll fetch with approximately 90% consistency. The other 10% of the time she’ll fetch and then drop the object far away from where she got it, but also far away from the other dogs and whoever discharged it.
If she’s alone (or with Moses), there’s no real competition for her, and after a handful of throws she’s done with retrieving. She may still run to the frisbee, but then sniff it and walk away nonchalantly. Then, when you go pick it up, she feigns interest again just up until you throw it again. I think this is her way of getting us to fetch.
Alma returning a big stick – both Newfs’ successful fetching rates increase drastically if water is involved
Needless to say, I won’t bother carting toys – toys that I’m likely to end up fetching myself – to the dog park.
If on the move, Moses likes to carry the frisbee
Besides, I see the dog park as valuable socialization time and training time – the dogs get to meet and play with other dogs and we all get to work on our obedience skills in a high-distraction environment.
But there are still lots of people who bring toys to the park, and that’s maybe perfectly okay if the dog – and the dog’s human – is good about it.
I say human because I’ve come to realize that maybe dogs aren’t the real issue I should be concerned about when it comes to toys and parks.
Maybe it’s the people.
This became vastly evident when we were looking after Crosby and I took her to the park.
Crosby LOVES fetch!
She will happily fetch each and every time you throw something. She brings the ball right back and patiently waits for you to throw it again. And if another dog beats her to it, she hurries back to politely wait for the next throw.
“Throw it again!” – Crosby
The thing with Crosby is… very infrequently do dogs beat her to it.
That canine is quick!
She can overtake labs and collies from behind to make first contact. For a Newf owner, this speed is bewildering and impressive.
Crosby beats the competition
So this means that when another owner throws something for their dog, even if Crosby is late on the draw, she can get that ball first and very likely will.
Of course, not being familiar with the other owner who threw it, she takes the toy and runs – towards a familiar human – to have it tossed again. In other words – she is a perceived Ball Thief.
This can make some people irrational. “Your dog stole my ball!” “ Your dog retrieved our ball!”
Like some malicious intent is read into a dog’s natural inclination to chase and capture a fast-moving object.
It’s bizarre. And wildly off-base.
Even if the protesting isn’t verbal, you can see the frustration in the furrowed brow of the toy-owner as you sheepishly return their stuff.
Like it’s a pain-in-the-ass interruption that ruined their dog park groove.
To that I say two things:
1. Don’t bring toys to the park if you’re unwilling to lose them.
If you bring expensive balls to the park, you need to be prepared to leave without them. Fetch-induced losses happen all the time – balls are often lost in perfectly innocent, non-theft incidents. It’s dog park force majeure – outside of anyone’s control. Besides, I hear from other toy-bringers that there’s a sort of dog-park toy karma: one day you may lose one, the next day you may find two. Like looking for lost balls on the golf course. Someone should track this phenomenon – I’d like to see some statistics.
2. Don’t be an idiot.
Dogs are dogs. Like a squirrel, an in-flight frisbee is irresistible. Even Moses will be interested in an ariel object if it’s headed in his general direction/aimed right at his face (and if you think for a second about giving me the stink-eye because Moses got your toy slobbery, I highly recommend you reconsider that thought or keep it to yourself).
There is no nefarious intent when a dog retrieves a toy that wasn’t thrown “for” them; they have no concept of property ownership. Relax. The other owner will do his/her best to return your item. Just keep in mind a dog with a newly retrieved toy is certainly more likely to play keep-away if all of a sudden there is an unusual increased interest (by both their owner and this new stranger) in them and their loot.
Crosby fetches, with Alma in hot pursuit
Perhaps this is the real reason I don’t actually go to the dog park that often – sometimes other dog owners are just nuts.
Now I wonder if this sociological observation is just my own experience.
What’s your policy on bringing toys to the park? Have you lost or gained in personal toy count as a result? Have you seen toy-related tension between dogs and/or humans at the park? Are you a crazy person who gets all bent out of shape because some other dog retrieved the ball intended for your dog?