Dog Park Etiquette: Having A Ball…Or Just Stealing Everyone Else’s

Picture this: You and your dog are at the dog park playing ball. You’ve picked a quiet area out of the way of the regular play group crowd so that you’d have some space and wouldn’t draw the  attention of the other dogs.

Suddenly, a dog from across the park comes over, grabs your dog’s ball and starts a frustrating game of “Keep Away,” dodging your every move to grab it. You’d be happy to share the ball with the other dog if only he would give it up so you can keep the game going. In an effort to get the ball back, you pull out some treats, hoping the dog will trade, but all the dog does is stare blankly at your hand like it’s Styrofoam that you’re trying to offer him and maintains a death grip on his new prize.

The owner comes by and you ask them if they can get the ball back from their dog. They grab their dog and try, with futility, to pull the ball out of the dogs mouth, but it’s a losing game. “Oh, no,” they reply, “the only way I can get it back is if we leave the park.” And then you stare at them in disbelief as they stand there and proceed to chat you up about how their dog just doesn’t listen or how they don’t know what to do to fix the problem or maybe they just want to talk about the weather, all the while their dog happily plays with your dogs ball, refusing to let it go, and your dog politely stands there with nothing to do.

Sound familiar? I see this scenario almost every time I’m at the park. Many owners have confided in me about how frustrating it is for them when it happens over and over again. Usually, if I’m around, I’m the one pulling the ball out of the dogs mouth.

Just to be clear, I’m not referring to the dogs who come over and share in the game you’re playing, the ones that politely run with your dog as he chases the ball, and always bring it back if they’re the one to get it first. The ones I’m talking about are the dogs who come up, grab your ball and for the rest of your time at the park, refuse to let it go. Like the kid at daycare who grabs a toy from another child while he’s playing with it and refuses to share or give it back.

Any of you who’ve had this type of encounter have probably learned who the ball thieves in your park are and plan your outings accordingly. When you see them arrive, you either put your ball away or leave the park altogether. Some of you have resorted to bringing the lowest budget ball you can find so that not if, but WHEN, these dogs show up and take your ball, you can shrug it off with a minimum of hassle and without losing another costly ball. But now your time out with your dog has been cut short because of someone else’s unwillingness to train or effectively manage their own dog.

As the owner of one of these ball thieving dogs, no doubt you’ve experienced some frustration over this issue. However, it is your responsibility to keep your dog under control so that it doesn’t impede on anyone else’s good time. The good news is there are plenty of simple ways you can start to turn your dogs behaviour around.

1) Teach your dog a “Drop” command. This can be easily accomplished in a couple of training sessions with a professional if you haven’t been successful in doing it on your own.

2) Keep your dog on a long line (10 or so feet) or let them drag their leash so that you have something to grab when your dog runs off after someone else’s ball, or when they run from you with the ball already in their mouth.

3) Bring your own ball!! And I don’t mean the cheap kind. Every ball stealing dog that I know prefers the same kind of ball – the orange and blue rubber Chuck-it ball or the even more expensive Kong brand balls. Let’s face it, dogs have preferences for nice things just like we do, and most prefer the texture, sound or feel of the more expensive balls. Many times I have heard owners say, “I brought her a ball, but she’s just not interested in it” as they pull a gross old tennis ball or something made of a weird foam material out of their pocket. Folks, comparing cheap balls to expensive ones is like comparing apples to oranges. At the very least, bring an orange Chuck-it ball to offer as a replacement for the one your dog has stolen.

4) If the above three options don’t work for you, than keep your dog on a leash until there is no one playing ball anymore. It is just common courtesy.

If you like to play ball at the park with your dog and find it frustrating when other dogs keep taking it away, here are some tips:

1)  Don’t play in the same area where everyone congregates. Pick a quiet spot off to the side.

2)  Say something. Start a dialogue with the owner. Some of these owners don’t realize this behavior is a nuisance – and some don’t do anything about it because no one has ever told them it was a problem.

3)  Suggest to the owner that they work with their dog using one or more of the above listed strategies and give them the name of your favourite local trainer.

4)  Let people know that you aren’t interested in having other dogs share in your game, if that is the case.  Ask them for your ball back and let them know you are moving to a different part of the park so as not to be interrupted.

5)  When all else fails, pick less populated times at the park to play with the ball.

If we are going to make our trips to the dog park as successful as we can for everyone, we are going to have to work together. That means respecting each other’s space and understanding that some people aren’t at the dog park to socialize with everyone else, but are there because it is the only safe place to run their dog or possibly the only place dogs are allowed to be exercised off leash in the area.

Stay tuned for more posts on the subject of Dog Park Etiquette. If you have ideas or comments on this subject, email me at darcie@communicanine.ca.

Until then, Happy Training.
Darcie
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