Sadie and I have been playing various games indoors with tennis balls since we were fortunate enough to have her adopt us. Anyway, my philosophy is not to “teach her” games that I make up in my head but to have as close to a truly collaborative process as possible.
Don’t get me wrong. It is fun to train a dog or any other animal. In some cases, it’s life saving; in others, it’s just a major convenience to train them. I’m not against it. And, we certainly continue to try to train her.
But when it comes to playing games, why not enter into a partnership of equals in collaborative invention. I try to be sensitive to her hints about what comes next. And she tries to be sensitive to mine. We’ve come to develop certain conventions around the playing of games. For example, if the ball rolls somewhere inconvenient, I let her try to retrieve it. She objects if I try to retrieve it first. That’s her job. But if she can’t reach it, it’s fine for me to reach it, first with my foot, or if necessary by getting “a tool” as I explain it to her. This is generally a crutch or a back-scratcher.
It turns out that Sadie has a pretty clear preference about the type of ball to play with. The clear winner is the tennis ball. They are all better than any of five other types of ball. The biggest loser ball was the pickle ball which Sadie completely ignores and beneath even the dignity of an eye roll. Anyway, one that she sometimes interacts with is what she named—or possibly, it was me—“The Lighty Ball” because it lights up when it bangs into anything hard enough or anything bangs into it. Generally, I realize that when I kick or throw a “mixed bag” of balls, she pretty much ignores all but the tennis balls.
So, tonight, I was playing with five tennis balls and the lighty ball. She was ignoring the lighty ball but I was kind of ignoring the fact that she was ignoring the lighty ball. I kept re-introducing it into the mix. She kept ignoring it. Fine. This is what it means to have a partnership. Sometimes.
She just wasn’t getting her message across. And, I’m not blaming her. Not at all. But how else can she get her message across?
To understand what she did, we need to take a short detour to the “holding pen.” As you read about someone in the their 70’s playing tennis ball games in the hallways, it might have occurred to you that this is asking for a broken whatchamacallit. But I take the view that “constant vigilance” should be practiced to minimize your overall chances of falling catastrophically or, in this case, dogistropically. Anyway, I do some things to minimize the risk. One is to shuttle the balls into a space between the wall and the bookcase. No-one will trip on them there. I call it the “holding pen.”
So tonight, I was playing this mixed ball game with her and I had to go feed the cats and then I came right back. Guess what? Sadie had put “The Lighty Ball” into the holding pen.
I think the moral of the story is, if a dog is smart enough to find more than one way to communicate, why should so many humans stick to one?