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Monday, January 16, 2012

Abbey at Play

Abbey loves nothing better than a jolly game. She likes to have one after dinner and sometimes will request a weekend morning game or a I've-just-been-outside-hurray! game in the afternoon. There's a certain ritual involved and chances are she won't play unless you get it right.

The game always starts out with the tennis ball. The tennis ball is kept in a cabinet in the family room where she is not free to take it in and out at will. We didn't like her chewing on the ball until it gets soft and sodden. When the ball is removed from the cupboard, the person who is playing the game with Abbey stands on the far side of the family room and bounces the ball hard on the floor and Abbey tries to jump and catch it after the bounce. Sometimes she is very good at it and will turn 360s and barrel rolls and grunt like a female tennis player while making her catches and other times she misses and has a good time chasing the ricocheting ball around the room. When returning the ball, she will sometimes attempt to toss or kick it to you, rather than just dropping it at your feet.

Abbey's toy box and crate.
Sometimes, Abbey will want to play a nice long ball game, but other times she will return the ball only once or not at all before she goes running to choose something new from her toy box. The tennis ball rule must be observed, though. If you take one of her toys out of her toy box and try to start a game that way, chances are she won't play. SHE'S the one that chooses what the game will be, not you! I get a kick out of the way that she'll stand for a moment with the ball in her mouth, give you an evaluative look, and then she'll run to her toy box, kept beside her crate, to make her selection. All that can be seen of her (from the ball-bouncer's perspective) is her wagging tail as she rummages through the toys to pick just the right one!

Quite often, the right toy will turn out to be her squeaky bone. We keep a whole sack of these around because they are a great toy. The bone bounces wildly and erratically, it has a nice cheerful squeak that isn't too strident, and because of her muzzle shape and the shape of the bone, she can't hold on to it if you try to take it away, so there's no tug-of-war possible. A squeaky bone game is very fast-moving. There is a little bit of chasing, but mostly it's about the bone being thrown low so that it skitters and hops at high speed across the carpet with Abbey skittering and hopping after it. Sometimes she'll be chasing after it so fast that she'll slam into the wall! If we're really in a groove, she may actually toss the bone to me as she runs toward me in a nifty little handoff maneuver. It involves the most crazy running of any of her games.

This toy, which goes by the name "twirly-whirly'" at our house, is a fairly recent edition. The game that is played with the twirly-whirly, however, is not. Abbey used to always have Big Mean Kitties, but they stopped carrying them at our local pet stores. After I bought this toy, I introduced it to Abbey as a substitute for the Big Mean Kitty game, and it has done a great job in that role, better, in fact, than the slightly more fragile kitties did. The twirly-whirly game involves some tossing and fetching, but there's also a component where she likes to be chased and to have you try to take it away, and then to have a little bit of tug-of-war before surrendering it for another round of fetch-chase-tug. There is usually a lot of spinning and other fancy keep-away moves as well as playful growling when you try to steal it from her. Those twirly-whirly arms have squeakers in them and are great for both the dog and the human player to hold on to.

Abbey leaping after a Big Mean Kitty. Note the red version of the
squeaky bone visible in the background.

One of Abbey's other favorite toys is her "puppy."  Some members of the family will call it her squeaky ball, but to my mind, the squeaky ball is the ball that is only used when she is off-leash, either swimming or running in a park. It might seem strange to call this a puppy, but that was Abbey's conclusion, not ours! The very first time she ever heard this toy squeak, she immediately started treating it like a puppy. She carried it around the house, only leaving it unattended if it was resting in some special place like her bed or on the study couch, and even tucked it in bed with me one time when I was taking a nap. It seemed like it was stressing her out to have to take care of this "puppy," though, so we took it away from her for a few years. When we gave it back to her, she once again treated it like a puppy--at least for the first few days. She liked to place it directly behind my desk chair, so I'd scoot away from my desk and roll over the "baby," causing it to squeal, and Momma Dog would come running! Her puppy's potential as a great toy was not lost on her, however, and after a few days of struggling with the ethics (not to say the morality) of chasing one's own puppy for sport, she mentally shifted this nubby ball into toy category. The squeaker is nearly disabled now, so it no longer emits puppy distress calls even when being played with. The game that goes with Abbey's puppy is one that is primarily enjoyed by Abbey and no one else, since it is almost entirely a game of keep-away, with lots of play growls and a few pirouettes. She can hold on to this toy and I am the only family member who is wholly undaunted by her play growls and willing to actually wrestle it from her. I don't find that very fun and no one else likes to play what amounts to a long game of "drop it."

Abbey and her puppy. Apparently, the baby takes after the father.

My parents bought this crown-shaped dog toy as a last-minute souvenir for Abbey when they were in London a couple of years ago. She thinks it's pretty fun! The crown game is similar to the puppy game, except unlike the puppy, the crown is hard to hold onto! I usually get down on my hands and knees for crown games and make an effort to bat the crown away. It rolls erratically, which always enhances the pleasure of chasing an object! Abbey's got a pretty fierce prey drive, so any toy that goes shooting off at unexpected angles and must be pounced on is a good game in her book!

The tug is the one other toy that is kept in the cabinet with the ball because Abbey would play nothing BUT tug if given the opportunity (and then would chew the tug up) and at fifty pounds, she's a bit heavy to lug around all the time. (You may notice I was unable to get a picture of the tug without Abbey in it.) And I say "lug" because when Abbey plays tug, she doesn't brace herself and resist you, like most dogs or anyone else playing tug-of-war might do, no, Miss Abbey likes to flop down on her side and be dragged in circles on the carpet. It's very funny, especially the way she wags her tail the whole time as she's sliding across the floor and how she lifts her front legs high to make sure they don't interfere with the dragging. She only wants to be dragged on the area rug in our family room (it is smoother, after all), so playing tug with Abbey requires not only dragging her in circles, but dragging her in TIGHT circles. It's ridiculous and she'd love to do it more often, but tug is a game that happens on OUR terms.

I am also in control of the hoop jumping. If she seems like she's got a lot of energy to burn off and is indecisive about her toys, I'll bust out the hoop. I trained her to jump through the hoop using Cheerios and so now she thinks she ought to get Cheerios for jumping through it, but I can usually get a half a dozen jumps or so out of Abbey before she demands a prize. She doesn't get one; the hoop just goes away. It's a fun trick, though, and she's a good jumper!

Abbey is puzzled. Why did I get her toys out of the toy box? Choosing the toys is her job!

So, other than the tug and the hoop jump, the games we play are in her control and she usually likes to pick at least two per session. Lately, there's a been new game that she's wanting to play (I first eluded to it in this blog post) and unlike the other games, it doesn't revolve around a toy in her box. I personally don't consider it a game, but she insists that SHE gets to choose the game and the game that she wants to play is Abbey Goes in Her Crate and Gets Treats! I suppose I should be grateful that she's enjoying the crate retraining so much that she considers it a game that could be tacked on to the evening revelry, but I like her to be able to burn off a little energy when she plays, not get snacks! Sometimes she will refuse to play a game at all if she doesn't get to play the Treats in the Crate game. It does seem like it helps if I do some general obedience training plus crate training during the day; if she's already had her fix of fun in the crate, she's more likely stick to the fun that can be found in her toy box in the evening. Believe me, though, if we do play the Treats in the Crate game, Abbey has to work for her rewards! It's just so funny to me that she has put Treats in the Crate in the same mental category as doing barrel rolls in the air as she catches a ball or being dragged across the rug by a rope held in her teeth. I guess games, in her mind, are about the fun, not the exercise, and sometimes there's just nothing more fun than getting Treats in the Crate!

Here Abbey is playing a fun game of "Go In Your House" AND "Leave It!"
You can see the row of Cheerios she's nicely ignoring on the sill of the crate door.

She makes me laugh, my Abbey does, whether she is eagerly flopping down on the pillow in her house in hopes of getting a snack or noisily rearranging the contents of the toy box as she seeks the perfect toy for how she feels like playing right this moment. I love to watch her skittering, bounding, bouncing, zooming, jumping, twirling, leaping, whirling, pouncing, prancing, wagging, growling, bowing, bucking, spinning, rolling, and running. She is joy in motion when she plays, unless, of course, the game is Treats in the Crate, in which case she embodies joy at rest.

The whirling blur of Abbey at play.

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