Monday, February 15, 2010

Games Dogs Play

Wrestling, keep-away, and fetch are games my dogs love to play outside. But what do you do when it's -35C (-31F) outside and you've got two frisky dogs on your hands?

Gabe n Arch n I have a few ball games we play indoors. I will stick the ball under a blanket or quilt, and they have to figure out how to get it out. Or, I will march around the house, waving the ball around, and then suddenly, through a nifty slight of hand, the ball is gone, tucked into a laundry basket or an open drawer. The second game has two purposes, really - entertainment and confidence building. I try to put the ball places Arch is scared to go, hoping he learns as he bravely retrieves it that that place (under the ironing board, on the chair) isn't going to fall down on his head or trap him after all.

We also have a few games that are a little more sophisticated. One, I got the idea from youtube. I have an extra-large muffin tin with just 6 cups. I put a small treat (a piece of kibble or a part of cookie) into each cup and then cover each treat with a ball. It's more difficult than it at first appears, as the dogs cannot simply pick up the ball with their mouths. Gabe has learned that the fuzzy balls can be carefully picked up by grasping the fuzz; but overall the ball have to be nosed out or pawed out. This takes each dog perhaps a minute or two.

Last winter, I splurged on a couple Nina Ottenson games. We have the DogBox. This one perplexes Gabe n Arch a little bit. The basic premise is that the dog has to drop something into the top of the box, in order to eject a treat from the bottom. Two wooden "spools" are included; but because Arch is a ball guy, he uses a ball. Any object that fits in the top would work. Both dogs seem to understand that getting the object into the box will eject the treat BUT they are confused about how to get the object into the box in the first place (or, more likely, too excited about the treat to think straight). I keep hoping for an eureka moment, but for the time being, I let Gabe knock the wooden spools off the top of the box with his nose; and I bounce the ball towards Archie, and then steer the box towards him so that he can deposit it as needed. This is the game that takes us the longest. Depending on how many treats you use and how well your dogs "get" the concept of the game, this one can easily last 5 minutes or better.

The other Nina Ottenson game we have is the wooden Tornado. This one has four round pieces of MDF stacked on top of each other, and held together with a central bolt. The top three pieces spin. The bottom three pieces have little compartments carved in them, where treats can be hidden. The dogs need to spin the layers around, to try and figure out how to uncover the compartments. Both dogs love this one BUT (1) I have to hold it down or they would just push it all over the place and (2) dogs with small noses will be able to cheat, as Archie demonstrates time and time again. He is able to fish treats out of the bottom compartment without having to line the layers up correctly (you can see him trying this out in the second picture). Like the muffin tin game, this one takes only a minute or two, as well.

I chose the wooden toys because I thought they would last my dogs longer than the plastic ones. My dogs are chewers and they think it's great fun to steal things (like the plastic parts) and then parade around with them. Wood is harder to clean, so it's a bit of a toss up that each dog guardian needs to consider before purchasing.

And then the old standbys - our beloved molecule balls, which are also marketed as "atomic" balls. This is one of many variations of a treat ball - you insert kibble and the dog has to figure out how to get it out. Gabe has had his since he was a puppy. He figured it out lickedty-split with no help from anyone. He has some trouble picking it up, but he can do it, and he carries it around a bit. It's indestructable. Archie had no idea what to do with his when he was introduced to it at the age of one. I pushed it around for him, and when a kibble fell out, I cheered raucously. He still tends to simply push it with his nose, not really sure how (or not comfortable) to bat it hard enough with the old noz to make it tumble. He is pretty fair at using his paws for that purpose though. I do think these are their favourites. These probably take 3-5 minutes, depending on the amount of kibble, and how often the balls get stuck and need to be retrieved by moi. One caveat - these are noisy.

So that's us in the wintertime. What do you do to keep your dogs busy, and, more importantly, out of trouble in inclement weather?

Book Review ~ Wally's World

Wally's World by Marsha Boulton is book #9 in my quest to read and review 13 Canadian books about dogs in a year, as part of John Mutford's Great Canadian Book Challenge. I've been struggling to finish Erika Ritter's The Dog by the Cradle, the Serpent Beneath for about 6 weeks. I decided to take a break with Wally.

Wally is a lovable bull terrier that Boulton and her husband - author Stephen Williams - purchase as a puppy. Wally is always up to something and his antics are sprinkled throughout the book. Carrying pails loaded with balls, undergoing surgery to remove ingested underpants, wrecking a hotel room by humping a feather pillow, and hogging the covers, Wally is clearly a rascal, and one who is likely loved all the more for his rascally behaviour. However, Boulton herself sums up her approach to the book about three pages from the end: "How could I have managed through [the problems of the past 10 years] without having [Wally's] mug to smile at every morning?" While the stories about Wally are fun to read, the book's focus is the legal wrangles that Boulton and Willimas went through following the publication of his two books about Paul Bernardo and Karla Holmolka. Some Wally stories - such as the underpants - stand on their own; but many others are only tangential to the main plot.

Boulton previously won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour for Letters from the Country. While Wally's World didn't elicit any guffaws from me, I did have to smile a lot at that Wally Boy. Boulton is an engaging writer and this read was definitely easier than Ritter's. Some things made me uncomfortable - I wearied of reading how nasty the police were to Boulton and Williams (I get it already!); and some comments Boulton made about her mother seemed cutting rather than funny. The book's cover boasts snippets of several glowing reviews, including one from The Globe and Mail on the front: "A gripping memoir." If you're in the market for a light memoir, this is it. If you're looking for a "dog book" you might find the main plot a disappointment. For me, it's not a keeper. If you want my copy, shoot me an email; otherwise I will release it as part of the bookcrossing program.