Q: Kyle, my 9-year-old Dalmatian, has no interest in playing with other dogs or with me at the off-leash park. He only wants to scan the perimeter to look for garbage to eat, which invariably causes gastric distress. All efforts to involve him in other activities have failed. Please help make park time fun! —Ignored in Ilford
A:It would seem that Kyle is disinterested in you in the dog park. Or let’s put it a little more gently…when in the dog park, he is more interested in garbage than you. Hmmm! I guess, that doesn’t sound too good either. But, first we have to acknowledge the truth before we can change things.
So, why does Kyle have little interest in you? Maybe he loves you at home but whenever given the opportunity to visit the dog park, he simply would rather engage in his hobbies—sniffing and truffling for garbage. Or maybe Kyle’s dog-park behaviour is no different from his behaviour at home. Maybe he is independent there, too, but of course, does not spend any time scanning for garbage because there isn’t any.
Regardless of the above, teach and engage Kyle in a mutually enjoyable training hobby/activity/game, first at home, then on leash, and, finally, off leash in the dog park. He needs an activity that depends on your presence and participation rather than his present activity that excludes you. Additionally, I suggest that you very quickly teach him NEVER to pick up any animal or vegetable matter. There are just too many poisonous things in the environment: mushrooms, oodles of poisonous plants, poisoned rats, leaked antifreeze, etc.
Possible joint activities include: fetch, tug ‘o war, follow the leader, hide ‘n seek, and—my all-time favourite—doggy dancing.All of these activities will get Kyle to focus on you. All may be taught at home. All are training games with numerous short training interludes integrated within each game. And, of course, Kyle should play reliably indoors before you take the game outside to your yard. He should play reliably in your yard before playing on public property (on-leash or on a long line), and should be reliable on leash before you let him off leash. Once he is sufficiently reliable to be let off leash, follow him around and give him non-stop feedback vis-a-vis acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.Don’t just ignore him and let him do his own thing, otherwise his hobby will continue to be a distraction to training and the beginning of the end of your off-leash relationship.
Consequently, I would also suggest you teach Kyle some basic relationship skills, especially attention and settling down next to you for extended periods at home and periodicallyduring walks. Since he is an adult dog, I would use all-or-none reward training techniques before expecting lure/reward training techniques to have any effect. Check out the clips on www.dogstardaily.com or buy a copy of our latest video—SIRIUSAdult Dog Training. Let’s get to it… time to rekindle this relationship.