I love this photo. I am not sure who is more intense at this ball playing interaction. I mean, Nava is in it, you can see it. She is right there. But my husband. He is in it, too. His face, the position of his hand, his stance and his gaze. A gaze that goes deep into Nava's eyes which are, in turn, locked on him.
I heard once that dogs don't look directly into people's eyes. Nava never heard that. She stares right back into us. Always with love, frequently with excitement and, as in this photo, often with an intensity that borders on obsession.
What is so fun about this ball playing mixed with obedience and some mind games and often a battle of wills is that she focuses on him. My man. She certainly is aware of the ball but it is the connection to my Husband - or to me if I am the one playing the game - that is so amazing. She watched our eyes. And she takes in our body movements. She sees when we lean in, or take a step or turn slightly and she knows then, exactly where the ball will be sent. She runs before it's even left the thrower, unless we make her stay, her legs shaking in anticipation, until we release her to chase her prey.
Nava has always loved to play ball. We've been playing with her since she was an oh so cute and sweet smelling puppy. And always she was focused. She of the working breed is working at this ball game we play.
I went back through my old posts, to see when else I have written about...not my dog...perfect that she is I write about her all the time....but specifically about ball playing, and I came upon a post from two April's ago. About a fight at the dog park. That started with a ball. I thought I'd share it again today. It's intense. Like my dog. And scary.
We have evolved now from parallel play at the park, that is written about in this past post, to only being there if we are alone. There are two parks. One for the small dogs and one for the large ones. We use the small dog park a lot. The grass is in better shape and there are no deep holes left by dogs who's owners don't think to fix the damage before they leave (yes there is judgement here).
We go early in the morning. There is a white German Shepard named Travis who is often in the big dog area and he will run up and down and up and down along side Nava, on the other side of the fence as she works her ball chasing and catching and retrieving skills. I am basically exercising this other dog each day. He is obsessed with my dog in the same way as Nava is obsessed with her ball.
She honestly does not even notice he is there.
Ok, so here is the past writing - Fighting At The Dog Park
I knew the minute the ball left the plastic ball thrower that I should not have thrown it. It was not Nava's ball. It was Meng's. An awesome reddish colored dog that is as focused on playing catch as Nava is. They have played at the park together many times. Well, not played exactly. Both focused on their own game of get the ball rather than on each other, still they are great together. Leaving each other alone and working hard at their ball retrieval.
Men's ball is blue. A blue rubber ball that fits neatly into the chuckit that his owner uses to toss the ball the length of the green that is the fenced in dog park. Nava is partial to tennis balls. Once yellow but quickly a dirty brown that blends into the grass of the park. And wet with saliva so that they don't fit quite as well in the cheap chuckit knockoff that I got at target for $5.49.
I bought two of them. One is still in the plastic and hidden in the kitchen cabinet. The other - the one we use - is broken as of day one but still great.
I used this cheap chuckit wannabe to pick up Meng's blue ball, settled against my foot in the grass, and toss it for him. I've thrown balls for him before. But always with my hand and so Nava does not respond in the same way that she does when a ball is propelled from the plastic ball thrower that I throw the tennis balls from.
So I throw Meng his blue ball and Nava takes off. Meng close behind. I knew - before the ball actually left the thrower - probably before I even raised my arm to toss the ball into the air - that I should not be doing this. But my body did not catch up with my mind and the ball is sailing through the air before I can stop it.
Nava takes off. Meng close behind.
Nava gets there first, the ball quickly settles between her teeth only to be dropped in an instant when Meng catches up. And barks. And bites her side. Not quite a bite as a deep scratch, I discover later and see merely pulled hair from her skin and a raw red mark.
So Meng bites her side and Nava turns, fast in response. She is not a fighter. At all. Unless she is provoked. And this was provocation. And so she turns fast and they are in it. Hard. Teeth bared, deep barking from each other them. And in the time it takes me to make it across the park to where the ball first landed these two, once friends and now not, dogs are connected in an altercation that proves hard to break up. They are attached.
Both myself and Meng's owner are in it with them. Calling their names. Putting our legs and our ball tossing tools in-between them to try and break them up. I lean in to grab Meng's collar to see if I can pull them apart that way but they are too intent on each other. Nava has what I thought was Meng's neck between her jaws. Tight and hard. This is not good.
And then I pour my hot water on their heads.
It is hot water and lemon. With some cayenne pepper and stevia for sweetness. It is delicious. I had brought it with me to the park on this morning because my husband was with me and so I was able to enjoy the sweet warmth rather than have to be the only one tossing the ball to Nava. But I had taken over on the ball tossing, the carry cup of hotness still in my hand. And I had not dropped it throughout this dog fight.
And so I poured the hot water and the dogs separate. Both wet now, with the water and the remnant of each other's mouths on their fur.
Another dog park friend checks out Meng. He has a new collar around his neck this day. A thick, brown leather piece that Nava had sunk her teeth into. Deeply. You could see the marks made by her bite. It was this collar, not Meng's skin that my dog kept hold of for the entire interaction that these two had. A good thing as the marks in the leather were deep and defined. Meng was unscathed. And within seconds they are both over it. And chasing their own balls once again as if nothing has happened.
Meng's owner and I stand together and talk through the event until we are ok, too.
I only go to the dog park in the mornings. With only a handful of other dogs there who don't pay attention to her as she works hard at our game of ball. I know these dogs well. And sometimes, when we have worked the ball, for quite a while, she will play with them the way dogs play where they know each other and understand each others personalities. And whenever the play escalates - even though it is still only play - I pull her away to our ball game again. Though the other dog owners are fine with that intense interaction, I do not want her engaged in a way that riles her up.
It's not fair to her. Because she is so powerful. And because she is a Doberman. And so can easily be blamed if something does go wrong.
I text Meng's owner the day after the ball fight. Is he fine? I asked. And he is. As is Nava. And I will make a point of having them play at the park together again. Parallel play. Each chasing their own ball. Focused not on each other but on the task at hand that is their job at that moment.
Mother, Wife, Friend, Sister, Daughter, Dancer, Rower, Runner, Dog and Cat lover.