Train a dog to romp
July 31, 2017 10:49 AM   Subscribe

We joined a local dog park to give our dog an outlet for her energy, but she isn’t taking advantage of it.

We have a mixed terrier, about 22 lbs., who can be a rambunctious ball of energy at home. She’s always grabbing toys and bugging people to play with her. Throw something, and she’ll bring it right back for you to throw it again.

We joined a community, fenced-in dog park so she could have an open space to romp around and get out her energy. Although she enjoys the park, she’s not doing the romping, running around, and wearing herself out that I want her to do. As I walk around the park with her off-leash, she stays fairly close by; she doesn’t run around and doesn’t engage with much with other dogs. If I sit down on a bench, she sits down next to me. When I throw a ball, she ignores it.

Her not wanting to play much outside isn’t just at this dog park. Several months ago, I was doing clicker training to get her fetch a ball for me outside at an empty lot. Whenever she’d bring the ball back, she’d get a click and a treat. It worked OK, but her doggy dedication to the task was decidedly low energy, and she wouldn’t pursue the toy if I threw it too far. After 5 minutes, she’d lose interest entirely. But at home, it's easy to get her to play.

How can I encourage her to get some exercise at the dog park?

We’ve only been to it two times. Does she just need to get used to it? Should I pursue the clicker training more for fetching a ball? Any other ideas?
posted by Leontine to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Does she just need to get used to it?
I think that explains a lot of it, if not all. The park is weird and new. It looks different and smells a lot different. The whole thing is basically covered in strange dog scent. Even if she doesn't look visibly stressed or bothered by a new situation and other strange off-leash dogs, she probably needs to settle in a bit. Next few times you take her, give her treats periodically the whole time, and especially if she shows any rambunctiousness.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:56 AM on July 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

She probably does just need to get used to it, but she might end up being like my terrier mix, who just will. not. romp. at dog parks, no matter how often we go. He doesn't much like other dogs being dogs (you know, sniffing him and doing the play bow and generally being dogs) all up in his face but he's fine with dogs one-on-one. He doesn't like the grass being too long. He doesn't like dirt. He kind of isn't a dog until it's zoomie time. But he won't do zoomies at the dog park.


Good luck!
posted by cooker girl at 11:10 AM on July 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Might be like my dog, who loooooves the park and is super happy there, but just likes to chill out near me and watch the other puppies play. I think she's just a happy introvert like me!
posted by mochapickle at 11:34 AM on July 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Our dog used to go crazy running all over the dog park for the first year or so that we had the occasional times we go she does mostly walk around sniffing stuff and checking out the people in hopes they have food. We still take every now and then because even if shes not getting a ton of physical activity she at least is getting some mental activity in the form of new sights and smells.
posted by Captain_Science at 11:46 AM on July 31, 2017

Playing for dogs means putting themselves in a vulnerable position physically play is basically restrained combat for them. Not all dogs are confident doing such things around a lot of other dogs. Time and regular exposure are the best way to help your dog out here. In the end though she just might not be up for group romping with strangers.

Do you know any other dogs she does like to play with that she could go to the park with, having a friend around is confidence boosting for dogs. Look around are there any other dogs about her size sitting things out with their person, maybe try to make friends with another regular about her size & slowly introduce them, see if they hit it off.

Walking around the park with her favorite person in the whole world & sniffing new sniffs & watching the world go by will be a lot of fun for her too and mental stimulation is also tiring for dog so it's a good thing.
posted by wwax at 11:53 AM on July 31, 2017 [5 favorites]

Well, two things, how old is she, and what's she like as a person?

Some of us are more reserved than others. Dogs tend to lean toward their age group and sometimes weight class.

I would approach this exactly like I'd approach a person in the same situation, i.e., what do I need to do to make her comfortable and also, is it possible to make her comfortable? You know how sometimes knowing one person at a party is the difference between being grounded and uncomfortable? She feels shy and needs a pal.

FWIW, we can't and don't take our shepherd to dog parks. She's big, super intense, and annoys other dogs. We love her, but she's not right for it. Most dogs are just fine and your dog is likely just fine--the thing to keep an eye on is stress-level/body language...tense, ears down, silence, stillness, shrinking or hiding behind you--those are the signs of not having a good time, so maybe a little dose of the park on those days and then leave and go somewhere she feels confidant and safe. Then come back, give her some opportunities to get used to it and grow confidence. Don't be too all or nothing about it. It's a scary social situation, if you imagine what it would be like for us as people.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:54 PM on July 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

Several months ago, I was doing clicker training to get her fetch a ball for me outside at an empty lot. Whenever she’d bring the ball back, she’d get a click and a treat. It worked OK, but her doggy dedication to the task was decidedly low energy, and she wouldn’t pursue the toy if I threw it too far. After 5 minutes, she’d lose interest entirely. But at home, it's easy to get her to play.

Well, we all have our preferences. ;) You have to find her the things the two of you both like. My dog won't play fetch. She gets bored. Or she doesn't get it. She's willful and isn't all that into wowing people with her ability to follow orders. This sounds mainly like a 'getting to know you' thing.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:59 PM on July 31, 2017

I think she'll get used to it and enjoy it more in time. She's probably not sure she should run around when she's off-leash away from home. My terrier mix doesn't love playing with other dogs (he'll happily fetch at a dog park full of dogs), but the more time he spends around other dogs, the more playful he is.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:10 PM on July 31, 2017

Probably will just take some time. Some dogs just don't like the dog park as much, some take a while to warm up to it. If you've only been twice, it will help to establish a routine of going and see if she gets more into it. But if she didn't regularly spend time playing with strange dogs as a puppy, she may never get into romping at the park.

Some of the happiest dogs I see at the park are just ambling along with their humans!
posted by lunasol at 7:00 PM on July 31, 2017

My dog - a 25 pound terrier mix - likes the dog park but will only romp with particular friends. He has a BFF shepherd mix and they run around for awhile and a BFF#2 Bernese Mt dog who he likes to play pounce and dodge with. There's a couple of other dogs he likes but if his friends aren't there he'd rather sit by me and watch the others play.

I think time, and finding his own friends that hang at the park, will help a lot. How about a photo of your pup!?!?
posted by mulcahy at 9:44 PM on July 31, 2017

The instinct to retrieve varies by breed. Some won't do it at all.

There could also be an eyesight factor. It might be that terriers are naturally near-sighted. Or, they might find it difficult to identify the thrown object once it comes to a stop. Something to check out.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:50 AM on August 1, 2017

Does your dog have a dog friend? My dog is shy at the dog park (I took her last night and she just followed me around) but when her Westie cousin who she knows from home visits meets her there, she is much more outgoing and interested in playing with new dogs.

Worth setting up a park playdate with a familiar dog.
posted by mochapickle at 11:43 AM on August 2, 2017

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