Another dog-related question, sorry. I read this question but I'm not sure it applies.

My two Border Collies need/want a lot of exercise. One of the reasons I chose this neighborhood is that about 700 feet from my house is a mowed, 26 acre area (a water retention field when necessary) that no one - and I mean no one - uses. I have the HOA board's permission to exercise my dogs off leash there. The field, which is surrounded by a nice sidewalk, is considered common property.

Although dog ownership is high here, most people do not exercise their dogs except to take walks. So when I'm out in the field chucking balls and giving my dogs commands (in sign language, so as not to annoy the neighbors), people, especially kids, are apt to stop and watch my dogs and me. This is fine. I love for people to see that dogs can get other kinds of exercise, and they are beautiful on the field.

Once in a while, though, kids want to play with my dogs, and that's also fine, except when they're "working". If they want to interact before or after the session, I will make my dogs be social. They'll obey simple commands, chase balls, etc. I also teach the kids some sign language commands, which they use and seem to like. But when they're working, the dogs just want to chase balls and have no interest in stopping for some social time with kids. If I interrupt their "work", they will give the kids the most cursory attention then run back onto the field. It kind of embarrasses me how impolite my dogs seem then.

How do I tell the kids that my dogs don't want to play right now without being unkind (especially if their parents are around)? Worse yet, sometimes (like today), a kid will wait for 10 or 15 minutes to play with my dogs, not knowing that they still have 30 minutes of exercise to do. How to tell the child that waiting is useless and they maybe should, I don't know, not wait around?

I try to pick times when kids won't be around: when they are in school, suppertime, etc. Often this is good enough, but sometimes not.

  • 6
    How did you know the kid was waiting to play? Maybe he/she liked watching the dogs run and fetch balls etc? Maybe they were observing you and how well you controlled your dogs. Is "control" the right expression here??
    – user3114
    Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 22:39
  • @Mari-LouA - I put my dogs in a down when she stopped because the puppy was with me, and if he took off after her (the girl who stopped on the sidewalk), One of the other ones might follow and scare her. So there we all were; me, standing over my dogs, the dogs lying down, and her, just staring at us, like, forever. Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 2:20
  • 1
    Are you sure that the kids weren't just waiting for you and your dogs to go away? They may want to use this open space area to play soccer or whatever.
    – user2572
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 19:32
  • 1
    @BenCrowell - If thy were, it would be a first in almost a year. As I stated, "about 700 feet from my house is a mowed, 26 acre area (a water retention field when necessary) that no one - and I mean no one - uses." The only person I have ever seen on this field is the guy who mows. Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 4:18
  • 2
    You young punks get offa my lawn. I mean, what else would we say? Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 19:41

4 Answers 4


Just continue training your dogs in peace, older children understand the difference between work and play.

But if the prolonged silence does make you feel awkward you could ask in a quiet but cheerful voice:

Are you OK? Sure you're not bored watching these dogs work?

The children should reply, and you can then explain how long the session will last.

From a child's point of view.

Children generally like animals, and generally, they like learning new stuff. They also need to make sense of the world they live in. Watching a professional dog trainer working is easy to understand. You don't even need to ask the dog handler what she's doing, you can hear the verbal commands and see her hand signals, and how the Border Collies respond to those commands.

Maybe in the children's minds, they're thinking how cool you are, (she's a dog whisperer!) and how cool those smart dogs are. The fact that sometimes they watch you in silence, shouldn't make you feel awkward or concerned that they are wasting their time. Kids don't need to be told when they are bored, they are perfectly capable of leaving the field by themselves if they see nothing new is happening or that the training session is longer than they expected.

The kids who remain must really like what you're doing. I would be fascinated too, the only times I've seen a dog trainer perform is on the TV, there used to be a British TV programme called One Man and his Dog, and as a young child, I was transfixed to the screen.

picture of an old man sitting near a dog

Imagine if I could have seen a dog handler in real life, I would have been ecstatic!

Sigh... Yes, I know. Women can also be dog handlers but the programme was made donkey's years ago, it was first aired in 1976. I was born in the UK, in 1966, and I remember distinctly watching that programme as a child. By the time I reached my mid-teens I had lost all interest, but I do remember liking it. Wikipedia tells me that the show, in its heyday, attracted 8 million viewers during the 1980s.

YouTube clip, 2010, entitled BBC, One Man and His Dog

  • 1
    This really is good advice, Mari-Lou. Thank you! Also, thanks for the clip. I love watching these. When I was in Ireland (you know those narrow, narrow roads), we were stuck behind a truckload of sheep being transported to some new fields. I had the joy to watch some shepherds and Border Collies working together to separate sheep into three different fields. What a beautiful sight! Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 13:42
  • 1
    There's Farpaisean Chon-Chaorach on BBC ALBA instead nowadays. Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 8:44

From an outsider's perspective training/exercise with a dog looks a lot like play. Particularly curious kids won't recognize a difference.

You could just try explaining it to them in age appropriate terms.

Sorry kiddo, the dogs are training right now. It's like they're doing their homework, it helps if they're not distracted.


These are very special dogs. They have lots and lots of energy because they're bred to herd sheep. If they don't get this kind of exercise they go a little crazy. Let me get them ready for playtime, ok?

In both cases if you're open to letting the kids play with the dogs, specify a time, whether that be 30 minutes or tomorrow. If you don't want them waiting around, let them know when to return.

It may be a while till they finish their homework, would you mind coming back at time?

School age kids will be used to hearing this sort of thing from their parents and their friends' parents, so it will probably make sense to them.

  • 2
    "You can't play with them, but you are welcome to watch if you don't disturb." Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 9:40
  • 2
    You can also teach the kids to always ask the dog owner if hey can approach de dogs. Your dogs can be social but other may not and if their parents don't teach them to ask first you can do it so in other situations won't happen the worst. But always with a good attitude.
    – patricia
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 11:11

I think you are missing an important responsibility as a dog owner, and as a member of a community; while your interaction with these children should be polite, it is more important to teach them basic safety.

How to be both polite and teach basic safety? The best way to do this is to teach them, and their parents, to engage in basic dialog.

Local children should be asking two questions:

  1. "Does this dog bite?"

If the dog owner says yes, the child will stay with the parent. The second question should be:

  1. "Can I pet your dog?"

The idea is this: when you engage in dialog, and a child is asking permission to do something, there is an idea that the answer can be either "yes" or "no". Children are very accustomed to being told directly and clearly "no, you cannot do something." In fact, in my experience children under age 8 really must be told clearly what the boundaries are - and saying "no, not right now" and saying it clearly is very important.

If a child is not asking you questions of this nature, then you have a IPS responsibility to stop them from interacting with your dog and teach them (and their parents) that they should engage in this dialog with you.

In summary

If the children are not asking these two questions, you should explain to them that they should always ask these questions if they don't want to be bitten. This is a responsibility of parents, but also of people who have dogs in public.

If the children are asking these questions, tell them that they can pet the dogs and the dogs would enjoy being petted, but the kids must wait until the dogs are done working. Tell them clearly without ambiguity. If they are asking this question, they will understand that a "no" answer is possible.

  • the kids must wait until the dogs are done working the question specifically asks how to convey this to the kids. Most of this answer doesn't address the question, and the pertinent bit at the end just glosses over it
    – rath
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 15:03
  • @rath I'm trying to say that they kids should be taught to ask permission so that they can be told no. How can I better convey this? Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 15:04
  • 2
    Hi, and thanks for the answer. I agree people should always ask permission to approach a dog. This doesn't address how to address kids who want to approach my dogs while they're "working", though. :) Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 15:05
  • @anongoodnurse Do they approach you or the dogs? Children should be taught to approach the owner first, and never to approach strange dogs. This is an important safety issue. My point is that you should be teaching them this lesson. Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 15:06
  • 1
    @anongoodnurse I understand better what I missed in my answer. I have edited and clarified with a focus on interaction. Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 15:34

You have permission from the Homeowners Association to use the field. But perhaps not exclusively. If you're expected to share the use of that large field with others, then you owe your neighbors (of all ages) an explanation of your activities, and why you and your dogs can't be sociable during the sessions.

Does the Homeowners Association have a way of building community? Does it have a newsletter? A listserv?

If none of these exist, I suggest you get together with a few interested neighbors to get some of these things going.

If they already exist, use them to build awareness of what you're doing.

In other words, don't take the exercise session for a long explanation, but do look for another venue for education.

A couple of photographs of you and your dogs in action, along with some text about agility training (or whatever the right term is), would make a great article. You can explain that in the middle of a training session, you won't be able to answer questions... and then let people know when IS a good time to answer questions.

You don't need to worry about your dogs giving neighbors the cold shoulder. They're dogs!

My neighborhood built community through a community picnic, publicized with flyers in mailboxes. (I wasn't the instigator.) At the picnic, everyone was invited to join a listserv. That's one way it can be done.

  • 1
    The question is, "How to tell the child that waiting is useless and they maybe should, I don't know, not wait around?" I'm not sure you answered it; if you did, I don't see it. "...you owe your neighbors (of all ages) an explanation of your activities..." I asked at an association meeting, and I asked the folks around the field. I no more owe anyone else an explanation than someone choosing to walk their dog(s) around the neighborhood owes one to me. The HOA has a FB page, but I'm not looking for publicity, just a polite way to tell a kid we're busy. Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 20:43
  • @anongoodnurse - Well, if the children are already aware, then it boils down to either (a) you don't mind them watching, in which case if your work permits a friendly but limited greeting, go for it, but otherwise, let them watch or not watch, as they choose; or (b) you'd rather not have an audience, in which case additional education is needed; perhaps while you're in the middle of a session isn't the most comfortable time to do that.... Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 20:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.