Me, in an unexpected canine encounter.
At the park, on the sidewalk, hanging out the window of the car beside me, even posing for the camera in my email inbox (thanks to everyone who sent in pet photos, by the way) — something about those happy, furry faces, with the eyes and the tongue … next thing you know I’m on the ground getting sloppy, wet-nose kisses and chanting in high-pitched singsong, “well, hello there; yes hello to you!”
And I suspect if you’re reading this column, you react in much the same way.
Dogs just naturally know how to flip our joy switch. Why? Because they’re naturally full of joy. Just watch them play.
No creature plays as often and with as much abandon as a dog. And lucky for all us wound-up workaholics, it’s infectious.
As a lifelong dog-person raised in a family of dog-people, I’ve seen every version of puppy playtime imaginable.
My cousin’s black Lab, Bud, was a fetcher and partial to sticks, the bigger the better. If you could throw it Bud would fetch it, drop it at your feet and bark repeatedly till you threw it again.
My sister’s dog Ruxie, a toy poodle-Shih Tzu mix, is also a fetcher, but her delicate little teeth prefer plush toys to kindling. Don’t let the highlights and prissy rhinestone collar fool you though. She’s fast and wily, and she holds her own with her big, strong brothers whether in tug-of-war or plotting an escape from the backyard fence.
One of the best examples of the unadulterated canine spirit of play is my dad’s dog, Cole. The 9-year-old, 85-pound your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine mutt is a natural-born alpha dog and conducts himself accordingly, most of the time. But when Ruxie starts fetching, and the rest of the family dogs join in, that alpha air turns into unabashed excitement just like the rest of them.
Cole’s just not real sure what it is he’s excited about. He does his best though. When the other dogs clamor for the toy, he clamors with them. And when they go chasing after it, he’s leading the way. It’s once he reaches it that he seems to remember he has no interest in stuffed toys, and that’s where the game falls apart.
Since my idea of playtime these days is a full eight hours sleep — and has been for quite some time — I’ve turned our official playtime itinerary over to Koopa.
And what’s on Koopa’s agenda, you ask? All of the above.
Clever dog that he is, Koops has devised a pastime all his own, one that’s part fetch, part tug-of-war and part keep away with a healthy does of wrestling for good measure. I highly recommend it.
He kicks things off by bringing me the de-stuffed carcass of the previous bout’s toy. A charming gesture, until I try to accept it. A round of tug-of-war ensues during which I stealthily swap the shredded toy carcass for a fully stuffed replacement. When I’m able to wrestle the toy away, it turns into a game of fetch with Koops anxiously waiting to pounce as soon as I toss it. When he wrestles the toy from me (and sometimes he does, believe me!), he turns and runs in what would seem to be an earnest attempt at keep away, if he didn’t keep looking over his shoulder to make sure I was following, that is.
The cycle repeats until he gets his first taste of stuffing, then the hunter instinct kicks in.
You see, Koopa’s toybox — filled with a colorful and squeaky assortment of stuffed ducks, frogs, hedgehogs, Jack-o-lanterns and red-nosed reindeers (from the clearance rack), tigers in purple and gold jerseys (fun to watch him chew), and a goatee and bandana-clad Bret Michaels* (more fun to watch him chew) — is not the only evidence of playtime in our house. It can also be seen in the layer of stuffing perpetually strewn across the floor.
More than one person has asked if I’m aware they make stuffing-less toys. I am, I say. But if you saw how much fun that boy has spreading a stuffed hedgehog’s plush guts all over a freshly vacuumed carpet, you’d wouldn’t take it away from him either.
It’s a small price to pay for a playdate with the happiest playmate in the world.
* FYI, Koopa’s bandana-clad Bret chew toy, though now deceased, was very real, right down to its scruffy facial hair, and purchased at the PetSmart in Oxford, should morbid curiosity get the best of you...
Dog Dish pet of the month
Zoe, a 9-year-old yellow Lab, loves lounging by the pool, especially when Xena and Brutus stop by for a visit.
“They’re like little kids,” says Zoe’s proud pet mom, Mari Chandler. “You open the gate and they run right for it. They love it.”
Five-year-old Brutus is a brindle Lab/rottweiler/mastiff/…“who knows!” Mari says. Xena, a 3-year-old black-and-white spotted pit bull terrier, has to do everything her big brother Brutus does. But she can out swim the whole pack. Aunt Zoe puts up with the playful twosome, something that’s easier for her to do while relaxing on her (yes, her) pool float.
Want your dog to be Dog Dish Pet of the Month? Do you have the adorable pet photos to prove it? Send them in! Email photos to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Pet of the Month” in the subject line. Or send them to Brooke Carbo, Assistant Features Editor, The Anniston Star, P.O. Box 189, Anniston, AL 36202. Be sure to include your pet’s name, age, breed, and tell us a little about your pet baby.