Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Only 1% Watchdog

Lesson Number Four: The Family That Plays Together Stays Together

Anyone who has ever had a puppy in the house will tell you that there are hundreds of different ways to be entertained. Although we allowed her to play tug-of-war with a pair of socks that we had knotted together, we needed to find other permissible items to keep her busy so that she wouldn’t end up, say, ripping our dirty laundry to shreds or putting more holes in our couch. We were constantly coming up with new games to play with Bijoux, especially once it had been established that squeaky toys were definitely not part of our future.

Next to squeaky toys, most puppies love balls. They love the unpredictability of the movement. They love to squeak them, roll them, push them with their nose, chase them, and fetch them. We soon discovered that a tennis ball was a great toy, because Bijoux didn’t rip into it (not right away, anyway…after a while, tennis balls had a short life in our home before they were too badly chewed to bounce!)…As an added bonus, they were inexpensive.

Since Bijoux, at that time, was our only “baby”, we came home from work and school every evening, ate dinner, and spent the next couple of hours before bedtime playing with her and that tennis ball. We spent countless hours throwing the ball so she could fetch it, and it was always fun to see if she was in the mood to bring it back to us for another throw, or run madly in the opposite direction, persuading us to chase her down. As one of us zoomed in on her to grab the ball, she would crouch down on her front legs with her rear end up in the air, and she’d wait until we were thisclose before veering off to one side and taking off again.

When it was too cold or too dark to play outside, Jim and I sat on opposite ends of the living room and played “Monkey in the Middle” with Bijoux. Each time, she eventually grew tired of running back and forth, chasing a ball that would rarely be hers, and she sat in the middle of the room just staring at us as if to say, “Next game, please?”

As she grew bigger and stronger, Bijoux could fit the entire tennis ball in her mouth. While we played, she would come towards us, ball in mouth, and then stop. She would gaze at us, eyes blinking, as she opened and closed her mouth, loosening and tightening her grip on the ball. She could squeeze and squash the ball in her mouth, as someone would squeeze a stress-relief ball in his hands. We think it was her form of “intimidation”, but it was so cute!

Eventually Bijoux learned to catch the tennis ball in her mouth. The “Plop!” sound it made as she captured it was quite funny. After she was good at catching the ball, “Monkey in the Middle” was much more fun for her, as she leapt from her position to grab the ball from mid-air.

The tug-of-war with a pair of knotted socks was always a hit, but when Bijoux got a hold of a single sock and took off running, it was always a different game. Eventually she learned which socks were hers to play with and which ones she couldn’t. (In her later years, she would playfully pick up one of our socks, off limits to her, and gently, teasingly, “chew” on it until we took it out of her mouth. One of our favorite things to do with a sock was open it up and shove it over her entire nose. She would often then just sit and look at us with the sock all the way up to those pleading eyes, the other end hanging pitifully from the end of her nose. Sometimes she allowed us to put the sock on her; other times she would playfully dodge us. Other times she opened her mouth as wide as she could, so we could only get the sock over her upper jaw, and she clamped down on the sock so we couldn’t take it off and try again.

Occasionally, we decided to provide Bijoux with a fun challenge. We took two of her favorite toys—the tennis ball and the sock—and combined them. We teased her with the tennis ball and then shoved it way down into the toe of the sock, and then let her struggle to get it out. It provided us all with hours of entertainment, to be sure.

During Bijoux’s first holiday season, even wrapping presents became more fun. One day I finished off a jumbo roll of gift-wrap and looked down to see Bijoux take off running with the cardboard roll. I gave chase and she ran through our townhouse, only slowing down occasionally when she had to cock her head to the side to fit the roll through the doorways. Eventually I caught her and grabbed the roll from her mouth. She barked and barked, wagging her tail, encouraging me to toss the roll.

I held the cardboard roll with one hand and repeatedly hit my other palm with it as I chased her through the house, and we played with that paper treasure until it was shredded to bits. From then on she even got excited about an empty paper towel roll. Easy to please, our dog was!

As the mall filled with holiday shoppers that first year, I didn’t have to look too hard to find the “perfect” gift for our puppy. She loved rawhide bones and I found one that was about three feet long, in the shape of a candy cane. I even wrapped it (and the empty gift wrap roll was a bonus for her!). When we gave her this gift, we were shocked to find that she was actually afraid of it because it was so large! It was much bigger than she was!

A couple of days went by before she even got near it, and even then she only nipped at it before leaping away. After a couple more days, she started dragging it through the house, and at that point she chewed on it for hours. That three-foot-long rawhide bone was gone in about three short days! The Jumbo Bone became a holiday tradition that lasted for the next ten years.

One day, completely by accident, we discovered the joys of “tormenting” Bijoux with light. The face of Jim’s watch had caught the reflection of the sun, and the tiny light spot it created on the floor and wall as Jim moved his arm caught Bijoux’s attention. We were having a conversation, and suddenly Bijoux jumped up from her nap on the couch and pounced on the floor. It took us a minute or two to realize what she was after, because we were laughing so hard at her swift change from complete relaxation to “attack mode”, but once we figured it out, things were never the same at our house! It was a happy accident, and Jim used his watch to lead a light spot across the floor so Bijoux would chase it and attack it with her overgrown puppy paws. We giggled as Jim made the light zig zag across the floor at different speeds as Bijoux pursued it. My parents thought this was a cruel game, but we thought it made her happy. Eventually, what originated as only a daytime game evolved into nighttime entertainment when we brought a flashlight into play. Bijoux enjoyed this for years and years, until she became a “senior citizen” and grew tired of our little game.

On occasion, we needed no props to conduct a play session with Bijoux. We were fond of crawling towards her, placing our mouth on one of her paws, and singing “Doo doo doo!” in a high-pitched tone. This drove her completely batty, and at first she only pulled her paw away from her tormenter. When the torture continued, she was prone to yelping as if to say, “Leave me alone!” After a while, she would alternate yelping with a high-pitched whine, and I began imitating her, starting out with a low growl that worked up to a whine. We were quite the pair, “talking” to each other like we did. Of course, just as we didn’t see the consequences of her “adorable” digging habits, we also didn’t anticipate that “Doo doo doo-ing” on her paws would make her extremely nervous when we took her to a groomer for nail clipping.

We realized that although Bijoux was great at “protecting” me from Jim in case of a tickle fight, she was quite useless in defending our humble abode. When visitors knocked on our door, Bijoux barked as if she were typical watchdog. When we let people in, however, Bijoux jumped up to greet them, wagging her tail and licking them as if they were long-lost relatives. If a burglar ever broke into our home, she’d wag her tail and escort them out with anything they wished to carry, licking them all the way to the car. She had proven to be 99% Companion and only 1% Watchdog, and that was fine with me.