Recently, I had a man at a dog park tell me my dogs were "out of control" because they wanted to play with a stick. A stick he had and only his dog was allowed to play with. A stick my dogs were trying (playfully, never aggressively) to get as he held it above his head. At the dog park. Listen, my dogs aren't perfect, but they're definitely not out of control! I was infuriated, and because of this didn't really take the time to stop and talk to the man about a resolution. He was toy hoarding, big time, and I find this a constant problem in dog parks everywhere.
If you're the toy hoarder, I'm going to tell you why this is a big no-no and try my best to be very polite about it.
The concept of a dog park is to let the dogs play together, socialize with each other. There are puppies still learning to not be afraid of other dogs, old dogs who maybe don't get out like they used to, and rescues being taught how to play nicely. Introduce a toy, whether it be a stick or a ball, and all those personalities are now competing instead of playing. This was explained to me by an elderly woman at the Fort McMurray dog park. It didn't click for me either until she had said that.
Of course bringing a ball or frisbee to the dog park seems like a great idea to run off extra energy. You probably don't realize there's huge potential for fights to start over your fun toy. Furthermore, expecting only your dog to play with the toy you brought is ludacris. If I ever bring a toy to the dog park, I expect to not even take it home with me.
Dogs don't and never will understand that they're not allowed to play with other dogs toys. If you've ever tried to explain the concept of sharing to a toddler, you know it isn't an easy task. Dogs? HA! They don't even speak the same language (and they're harder to catch). I can assure you, your dog isn't going to have a meltdown over it; if they are, they should definitely not have a toy around other dogs. Not to mention, there may be other dogs with aggressive toy behaviours themselves.
I've found it's better to leave the toys at home. Or in the trunk. If you get to the dog park and no other dogs are there to rip around with, hell yeah, get that toy out and make 'em run. But if there are other dogs, please let them play. You're doing your dog a favour by allowing them to make friends, and you're ensuring there are no toy related issues. Easy, easy.
If you think only your dog gets to play with the toy you have, you should not be at the dog park with other dogs, period. You do not get to tell other people off when their dogs take your toys. This is what backyards are for.
If you happen to be on the receiving end in this situation, let us not forget that animals feed off our behaviour - angry humans mean angry dogs. Get the toy back if you can, patiently and kindly. And ask that the toy be put away if it is becoming an issue. I've done this before and people have happily gone back to put it in their cars. You will inevitably come across a grump who cannot understand this concept, and sometimes it's best to just be the bigger person and leave a negative situation. Explain calmly that maybe next time they wouldn't mind leaving the toys at home so the dogs can play.
Maybe you don't care that other dogs play with the toys you've brought, but didn't realize the fight potential between dogs over them. Perhaps you, too, will consider leaving toys behind next time.
I constantly battle between telling people off in frustration and trying to be an ambassador for dog behaviours and training techniques. Patience does not come easily, but I have to remember (so you do too) that not everyone has been taught these things!
Let's let the dog parks be for the dogs.