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Why Use A Dog Toy When You Can Use A Boot?

 dog toys and barney

Dog Toys, Tennis Balls or Boots? - Barney has Tried them All

Unlike many border collies Barney’s not obsessive about fetching toys like balls or frisbees. In his previous home, he grew up believing teenagers were his toys - to be herded, nipped and chased. Teenagers make for much more interesting, interactive targets than a ball! Even squeaky balls don't squeak quite as enticingly as a teenage boy with a nipped nose and a Frisbee won’t change direction half so well. 

When we first met, Barney didn’t understand about “fetch” at all. I’d get him really excited about the toy, then I’d throw it, he’d chase after with great enthusiasm, until it rolled to a standstill. Barney would stand staring at it, then bounce off to look for a nice jogger or cyclist to annoy. 

He does understand the game now and when we’re at home enjoys a good game of fetch, although I still have to work quite hard to encourage him on the actual retrieval part – he tends to bring balls half way back, or run off so he can rip it to pieces. On walks though, Barney usually isn’t even slightly interested in the game. 

On walks, Barney’s usually busy exploring. The fields, woods and hills where we walk are always full of interesting new scents, sights and sounds to investigate. We do play, but Barney likes improvising herding games, or I'll just find something to throw which he can chase but doesn’t have to pick up or  bring back. 

If I ever occasionally bring along an actual toy in the hopes of enticing him into playing fetch, I'm often disappointed... He either looks at me like I’m insane, or does the old chasing-but-not-bringing-it-back trick! I almost never bother bringing dog toys anymore. 

However, while tidying my room the other week, I found an old squeaky tennis ball lurking under my bed. We seem to have balls (of the squeaky and non-squeaky variety) hiding everywhere at home. I don’t even know where they all come from – Barney destroys his toys reasonably regularly and I rarely buy new ones but there always more to be found. I sometimes suspect they’re breeding! Very strange… 

Anyway, I decided, on a whim, to bring this newly discovered old squeaky ball on our walk with us that day. I thoroughly expected Barney to be unimpressed but to my surprise and delight, he actually decided to play fetch for quite a while. He brought the ball back multiple times and ran around carrying it quite happily! 

He seemed to enjoy our game, although I suspect he was partly playing along to humour me: “Ohh, you want to play with the ball do you, human? Go on then, I suppose I can play retriever and bring it back for a while! People are weird!”.  

Finally, there came a time when I threw the ball and Barney just sat there, staring at it and that was the end of that! Maybe in a few weeks I can try enticing him again. Weird border collie. 

Actually, I’d probably stand a far better chance of getting him to regularly play fetch on walks if I ditched the balls and started throwing my boots for him to retrieve. Barney is obsessed with my boots. 

About a year ago, I decided to teach him a new trick – to fetch my walking boots on command. He’s no longer a young dog but still loves learning new things and I thought this trick would not only be cute, it would be useful (obviously, I’m quite lazy!). 

I thought teaching boot retrieval might be a real challenge because previously Barney hadn’t been keen on holding objects plus of course, he’s not known for his love of fetching! 

To start off, he was rewarded for picking my boot up off the floor for a second or two. We gradually worked up to him carrying them a short distance, before I finally started sending the pup to find and retrieve them.  

Barney mastered the whole routine with surprising speed. He needed a little encouragement to start with but once he’d mastered holding the heavy boot, he quickly became extremely enthusiastic about the new “game”.  

Every day, before I went out to let the chickens out or put them away at night, or before we went for a walk, I’d say “Barney, go get my boots!” and he’d dash off, grab one boot, bounce back, sit and present it carefully into my hand, then repeat with the other one.  

Our problem is now actually overenthusiasm about boot fetching. Sometimes, I go downstairs and before I even know I want one, I have a boot thrust at me. When we have guests over and Barney decides he’s bored and no-one’s paying enough attention to him, he uses boot fetching to regain the spotlight. 

I know what he’s up to, the moment he gets up from lying by my feet and vanishes into the hall. A moment later conversation stops as we listen to the dog running around, squealing and growling in excitement. He bounces dramatically back into the room, holding my boot and when he gets close, he chucks it in my direction. 

This makes people smile and say “aww” – ample encouragement for Barney, so he goes back and gets the other one. If I don’t stop him, he’s, he won’t stop with just my pair of walking boots any more. He will go fetch my other shoes, then everyone else’s. I end up with a pile of shoes by my feet, slightly sore shins, laughing visitors and a triumphant border collie, fully aware no-one is ignoring him now. Perhaps it’s good he’s not so keen on dog toys, I’d never get any peace! 

There’s a lesson here: beware of what you teach a border collie. They might well find a way to throw it back in your face, sometimes literally… 




Source Details

 Megan Price, regular contributor.

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