Dog Park Relationships
By Allen and Linda Anderson
It is a delight to take your dog to the dog park where all sorts of people mix with a variety of dogs. This often causes the most interesting moments, collaborations, alliances, and spiritual growth experiences. It’s been our experience that closer relationships between humans and dogs develop at the dog park.
One recent afternoon we were rushed and had little time to spare. Yet we knew our black cocker spaniel, Leaf, needed at least a short time to get some exercise. We raced over to his favorite play place — the dog park.
This time, we forgot Leaf’s favorite red and white rubber ball. He loves to chase, catch, and bring it back to us. Assuming a ball is just a ball, we thought it would be okay to throw old tennis balls that were lying around in the park. This one change would turn out to bring about an enlightening experience for us all.
Over the past few months, as we’ve gotten into our routine visits to the dog park, we would always bring Leaf’s favorite ball to throw for him. He had picked out these balls at pet supply stores. It was amusing to watch his focus on the checkout process, keeping an eye on his new possession as it went into the shopping bag.
In the car on the way home, he would tear into the bag to retrieve the new ball. He knew it belonged to him. At the dog park, acting more characteristically like a retriever than a cocker spaniel, Leaf would chase the toy and drop it at our feet for another throw.
Even after letting it go long enough to have a good run, Leaf remained very protective of HIS ball. He’d tightly grip it in his mouth and run around to the dogs, making sure they all saw that this was his own special bouncy toy. It seemed to us that some of the other dogs were jealous and wanted to take Leaf’s new red and black ball away from him.
Sometimes he would tempt the dogs by quickly dropping his ball in front of them. But he was always too fast and grabbed it away before the dogs could take it. He’d run off, looking over his shoulders at the less fortunate dogs who were too slow to keep up with him.
When Leaf played with his personal ball, he seemed to have less fun. There was always the underlying concern that he’d lose his property. He took pride in owning something that the other dogs could not have.
Dog Park Without Leaf’s Ball
This day, when as we arrived at the dog park without Leaf’s ball, the entire experience took on a different tone that brimmed with spiritual significance. Leaf was about to learn one of the toughest lessons on the path to enlightenment — detachment.
At first, he looked impatiently, staring and waiting for us to throw his ball. We showed him our empty hands and pockets. We said, “No ball today! Go play with the other dogs.” So Leaf, deprived of his normal routine, resigned himself to finding something else to do.
He started looking for the other tennis balls to pick up from the ground and bring back to us. But for him, there was a big difference in playing with balls that didn’t belong to him or any of the other dogs. He no longer had the responsibility of ownership. We noticed that he was starting to relax. He stopped looking over his shoulder to see if another dog was about to steal his property.
Our cocker picked up the communal tennis balls one at a time. He brought them to us, dropped the balls at our feet, and waited for Allen to play. (He chooses Allen for this task, since Linda’s throwing is just too wimpy for our macho little guy.)
Detachment Is More Fun
We observed that Leaf started watching other people throw tennis balls for their dogs. Occasionally their balls bounced off with no dogs in pursuit. Leaf would find one of the balls that got away and carry it over to a person with a dog. He’d drop the ball at the person’s feet as if to say, “Throw this one for your dog. It’s fun!”
It was interesting to see how much more entertained Leaf became when he managed to get the people and their dogs playing with each other. No longer concerned about his property rights, he could enjoy the dog park and orchestrate its games.
He knew that none of the dog park balls were his and he didn’t try to keep them for himself. Like a little party-planner, he attempted to get everyone to participate and play together. Soon, people were throwing tennis balls every which way. Their dogs loved it and were running with great energy and focus to catch them. Leaf’s gift of service and his lesson in detachment had manifested in a much more joyful bonding and relationship between humans and dogs than we had ever witnessed on our regular outings.
Often people at the dog park get involved in conversations with each other. Except for an occasional pat on the head for their dogs, they pretty much ignore the animals. Leaf caused the people to engage with their dogs and deepen the human-canine relationships on this one special afternoon.
Leaf demonstrated and reminded us life is much more rewarding when a person, or dog, places attention on service without the burden of attachment. He showed that giving without expecting a return creates harmony for all.