Mom and I just received another great question through our dog behavior advice columnabout a dog named Tyler. According to his dad, Tyler is more interested in playing fetch at the dog parks – instead of wanting to play with other dogs. Even though Tyler’s humans left the ball and “flingy thingy” at home, Tyler, being a dog, would find other balls, and get other humans to reinforce his love of fetch.
First off I say to Tyler’s dad: Nice job on management. You’ve at least taken some steps by leaving the ball and ball flinger at home… I know when I go to dog friendly places, if mom and dad want me to interact with other dogs, they leave my toys at home. They (mom and dad) wouldn’t bring their laptop, book or DVD to a party and start working, reading or watching movies – unless that’s what they were supposed to do. No, they’d interact and socialize with other guests. So why do people take their dogs to dog parks, then not want their dogs to interact with other dogs?
One other question Tyler’s dad can ask himself: “What behaviors am I reinforcing?” Well, I say you’re leaving Tyler to go off on his own and hunt for balls and willing participants. So you’re inadvertently rewarding “fetch”, albeit passively. If that isn’t the desired behavior, then you need to ask yourself: “What behavior do I want?” I venture to say: “Playing with other dogs.”
If that is the case, then that is the behavior you need to reward – with extra pieces of steak. You see, if you give pieces of steak, chicken, “good boy” etc… to Tyler whenever he looks, acknowledges, greets, shows interest, and plays with other dogs, then that is the behavior that will happen more often.
If he goes off and starts to hunt for balls, you can give him a “Too bad!” and leash him up for 20 seconds or so… You’ll also want to mention to other humans that Tyler is learning how to socialize with other canines, so if they would, please refrain from throwing balls… But they can certainly give Tyler a “good boy!” whenever he says “hi” to their dog.
I wonder when mom or dad are going to take me to the dog park again? I wonder when we’re going to take another road trip north? I wonder if I’ll ever get to meet Tyler? Hmm, something for this inquisitive canine to ponder…