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I’ve been playing a sort of “ball chase” +  soccer with our new puppy, Sadie. She’s extremely good at it, IMHO. She instinctively chases a ball & brings it back. I’ve reinforced it but it would be a stretch to say “I trained her to do that.” I sort of expect most dogs to view this as a game not completely unlike chasing a bird or rabbit & bringing it back. 

The more interesting part came when I combined it with soccer. She learned (?) to judge carom shots off the baseboard and half closed doors. She tries to stop a ball before it hits the wall but judges that if she can’t stop it directly, she can stop the rebound. That she even tries to stop it is interesting. That also seemed “natural.” I probably reinforced her differentially, but again, it would be giving me far too much credit to say I trained her to “defend” against having the ball go past her. 

I begin a few weeks ago to play with two balls at once. This makes it more challenging for me not to break my neck as well as Sadie. What I find interesting is that she immediately tries to hoard or herd; i.e., control, both balls. She has tried picking up two in her mouth at once, but she can’t manage it. So, she holds one ball in her mouth and “corrals” the other between her front paws. When she gets bored, she relents and lets me throw or roll or kick the balls. 

I now sometimes use three balls at once. (I’ll let you know which hospital for flowers). Actually, I’m careful, but Sadie is sudden in her movements. Anyway, once I put a ball “in play”, I usually control or kick it with my foot. Sadie imitates (!?) me in this. She “controls” a ball by putting one of her front paws on it and she also pushes the ball with her paw, though she did try “nosing it” once but I think she found it uncomfortable since she shook her head and reverted to using her front paws. 

On some occasions, I “grab” a ball with the bottom of my foot and move it slowly back and forth and feign kicking one way and then kick another way which routinely makes Sadie growl as she scampers after the ball. There’s something else. The slow movement followed by quick movement energizers her more in her quest for the ball than if I simply & directly hit it. 

These types of patterns are found in human sports around the globe. Did they co-evolve with dog play? I’ve seen videos of many species of mammal playing “soccer.” From the video alone though, I have no idea how spontaneous the play is. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s pretty spontaneous. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Soccer, American Football, hockey, rugby, field hockey, and basketball share this notion of trying to “make a goal” by getting past the defenders. In every one of these games, there is also the notion of “fake” or “feint.” It feels as though Sadie and I, if not reading from the same script exactly, both of us have the same “playbook” of things that are fun in sports. 

On a not completely unrelated topic, I am wondering whether any other new dog “owners” have noticed that their own sense of smell has been enhanced since sharing lives with a puppy. Perhaps it is not so much enhanced as that I pay more attention to it than I did a few short months ago. She goes sniffing and I go wondering for the most part, what it is she’s sniffing on about. 

To some extent, it’s the same with sounds. I’m typically a pretty visual person and when I walk alone outdoors, I mainly noticed what I see. When walking with Sadie, however, she reacts to many sounds that I would ignore. I know what it is and give it a name and then reassure her that it’s okay; that trucks and cars and airplanes and helicopters are okay, at least in the distance.

I sure hope I’m right.

The Walkabout Diaries 

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