I was looking forward to writing this blog all last week but somehow time has passed me by once again and here we are, almost onto the next week! This past week or so I did an experiment with the dogs - no toys. I wanted the dogs to get back to basics; running, playing and interaction with one another, not relying on me for their fun.
My toy philosophy used to be the complete opposite - I had a whole array of the newest, coolest dog toys to spoil my dogs with at the park. I picked toys from my collection based on what dogs were on that particular park trip and who would want to play with which toy and who was going to get the most exercise and most fun with whatever toy. I know a lot of dogwalkers who have certain toys that they can't go without because it is a tool necessary to keep a dog focused and well behaved. Or we get stuck into the routine of having a squeaky cuz ball with us so that our dogs don't steal a squeaky cuz from another dog at the park. It's almost as if the dogs and their owners or dogwalkers have developed a dependence on these toys. I decided it was time to break the habit! At least for the week...
Miles loves the frisbee, Chesa loves the Jolly Ball, Harley loves the squeaky Cuz ball, Milkshake loves the Chuck-it... Each dog has a particular toy that really gets them going. I love finding these toys and seeing what makes that dog "tick" so I can understand them a little better and know the best way to get them exercised and have fun. While I love watching the dogs play with their favorite toys, it changed the whole dynamic of the group, and the dynamic between myself and the dogs. The dogs would look at me just as the toy and treat lady. As soon as we got to the park they would just stare at me and bark because they knew I would eventually give them the toys they wanted. So, out of curiosity and frustration with the barking, I decided to forgo toys (at least 90% of the time) for the week.
The results were amazing! The dogs stopped barking and became much more responsive to me. I was worried they would just ditch me and steal other dogs ball to play with but they actually listened to the "leave it" command better than ever. The most wonderful part of this experiment was seeing how the dogs played so much differently without the distraction of toys. They ran and ran and ran and chased each other and played and wrestled and were just dogs! Even the dogs who normally would just sit and stare at a chuck it were playing.
Here's one of my favorite videos of the dogs doing their favorite run at the park. Julie, look for Tucker in here! Favorite part of the dog park!
I hear from my clients all the time that when they take their dog to the dog park on their own that all their dog wants to do is play fetch with them and not really interact with other dogs. I totally understand, Bailey is very much the same way. One of the really cool things about having such a strongly bonded pack is that they play with each other. Not just chasing after the same ball, but chasing and wrestling and play bows and all of that. This type of play is really important for ongoing socialization and fulfilling a need for interaction with their own kind.
The dogs treated me with much more respect since it was clear I was the pack leader, rather than the toy distributor. It's funny, giving them less of what they want, they actually had more fun with each other and were better behaved for me. I loved watching them just run and be dogs... instead of throwing the ball I was standing on the sidelines as their cheerleader trying to get them to keep running!
While I think there is a time and place for toys and we will definitely still be using our favorite "tools" like the chuck-it and frisbee, it is nice to know that we can kick the habit and enjoy the simple life a few days a week.