When new dog owners come into the run, they will sometimes bring a fancy toy in for their puppy or dog to play with. They are obviously excited to be interacting with their dog, so sometimes no one will say anything to the owner. Everyone wants the dog to have a great experience at the run. At the same time, we are all cognizant of the potential dangers posed by a squeaky toy at the run. Stage whispered rumblings of “Somebody needs to tell him,” or “There’s going to be a fight,” can be heard around the dog run.
The problem is this. You have a dog run full of dogs who are used to playing with beat up tennis balls and thinking they are pretty fantastic, and then a brightly colored, brand new stuffed animal or squeaky toy is brought into the run, and all of sudden everyone wants that toy. The squeaky toys are my least favorite because as soon as one dog squeaks it (and it’s usually not the dog who came in with it because it was stolen in less than a minute), everyone wants it.
You might think, “Oh well, they’ll just get some exercise as they run after the dog with the toy.” Unfortunately, that usually doesn’t happen. It’s like toddlers on the playground: One kid wants the shovel for the sandbox and when he doesn’t get it, he snatches it away and bangs the other kid on the head. Well, in the dog run, the fights caused by squeaky toys are legendary.
Because the rules at the gate a) don’t adequately address this issue and b) are never read by anyone, it falls upon those of us who use the run most often to try and maintain some semblance of order. I’ve been called upon to play “Sheriff” on more than one occasion. I don’t mind being the appointed bad guy. If it means that none of the dogs in my care are going to get bloodied, it’s worth it to intervene. My approach is to try and head off any problems as soon as I see a hand reaching into a pocket for the toy. If I had a dollar for every conversation I’ve had about the possessiveness of dogs and their toys, I’d be moving to Italy in a much grander style than what is actually in the works. Sometimes you’ll explain the issue to an owner over and over again and still they insist on bringing in the toy. “My dog doesn’t like tennis balls,” is the most befuddling response. Really? Well I’m guessing the rest of the dogs, if they had a choice, might enjoy a toy other than the where-tennis-balls-go-to-die, dirt-encrusted offerings of the dog run as well, but that’s not the point.
Today I found myself in this role once more. The crazy part of it was that the guy who brought in the squeaky toy is a regular dog run user. We’ve chatted tons of times, and he’s been coming with his Wheaten for over a year, so I can’t believe he hasn’t seen a fight or three over a special toy. “That’s not a good idea,” I tell him as he takes it out of his pocket. I then add a winning smile since my friend Will tells me I am scary when I’m angry. “I have a few possessive dogs who might take it and I don’t want it to cause a fight.” Sasha is the only one of the Pink Ladies that would take the toy, and she wouldn’t fight to keep it, but I figured laying the blame on my group would put him less on the defensive. He put the toy away and we went on with our morning, but I could see he was chafing at being told what to do. I tried to smooth things over with him a little later, but he was having none of it. I knew as soon as I left the squeaky toy would be pulled back out. I was also sure he’d be back with the toy another day…but I was pretty confident it wouldn’t be on my watch.