Every dog I’ve ever lived with has had a favorite game. For several pet dogs and a few of the CCI pups, it’s been Ball. That was the favorite of Brando, our sole CCI puppy who graduated (and who now lives with the Zmysly family in suburban Chicago). For Dionne, our last puppy, it was Keep Away (an absolutely terrible pastime for anyone aspiring to be a service animal — which I guess Dionne never did.)
I could say that Kyndall’s favorite game is eating hibiscus flowers or chewing sticks. But neither of those are really games; they’re more akin to smoking cigarettes — addictive and somewhat socially irresponsible. The truth is that her favorite game is tug of war. Joy lights up her face every time I pick up a rope toy and dangle it before her. It’s the one game she’ll drop everything else to play.
Frankly, Kyndall is also the only CCI puppy I’ve ever tugged with. Years ago, when we first got Tucker, Steve and I were instructed never to engage in this behavior; we were told it encouraged the puppies to be dominant. So we dutifully avoided it. But within the past year or so I’ve read reports of various research indicating that it’s actually good for dogs (and their owner/handlers). One report in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science found no evidence that playing tug-of-war made dogs more dominant; instead it seemed to have some positive effects. Dog scholar John Bradshaw approves of it, as does the ASPCA, which offers a 2500-word set of instructions on how to use tug of war to encourage healthy behaviors.
So when we got Kyndall, I played tug of war with her occasionally, to her great delight. The only problem? I don’t like it much.
For one thing, whenever we play, she likes to stand up and claw at me. Her dew claws in particular are nasty little weapons, and she routinely gouges me with them. Not only that, but she’s strong now. My arms quickly tire.
The game that I love most to play with any dog is Ball. It takes very little energy on the part of the human, but requires large amounts from the dog. A true Ball Brain (like Brando), will play it endlessly; they never tire.
Alas, Kyndall is about as interested in Ball as I am in Bingo. If there’s absolutely nothing else of interest going on, she’ll engage in it. For a minute or two. IF she chases after the ball, chances are excellent she won’t bring it back.
There is one alternative to ball or my playing tug of war. It works only rarely, but when it does, it can be a pleasure to watch:
(Note that Tucker’s the one who’s growling (with pleasure)). CCI trainers are not supposed to do that. Of course the tussling is hell on the wood floors. But keeping them pristine is a game we lost long, long ago.