Does Your Dog Have Daily Rituals?  (Continued)

Callie’s morning Nylabone®. Callie loves the hard, chewy Nylabone® products. But her main time to enjoy them is shortly after waking up, getting her “Good Morning” scratch, and starting her day. It’s usually about the time I’m getting showered and dressed. She hangs out in the bedroom and occupies herself by chewing — sometimes with lots of dog energy — her favorite — for that day — Nylabone®.

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“I bounce the ball, you give a puppy treat!” Sometimes the dog becomes the trainer, and the person, the trainee. Callie has learned that, if she bounces a tennis ball on the kitchen floor, her “cute” behavior will be rewarded with a treat. This is a behavior that she initiates. I’m glad for her to “train me” sometimes, within limits. We usually stop after four or five small treats.

The mid-day grunt. I really think that Callie wishes she could talk “people talk.” Sometimes she walks into my office, sits down close to me, makes eye contact, and starts “grunting.” The first time this happened, Callie had lost a Golden Retriever friend to a car accident, and it seemed like she was trying to have a conversation about it. When she does this, it’s often at a time when there’s “something going on.”

Stolen Socks. Once in a while, Callie finds a pair of my socks that didn’t get put away properly. If I’m nearby, she usually walks toward me with her head drooped in a sheepish posture, as if to say, “I know I’m not supposed to have your socks, but I just couldn’t help myself.” If I’m not nearby — and this is the “ritual” — she deposits the socks in her crate — which usually sits with the door open, now that she’s fully house-trained. So any time I can’t find my socks, I know to go look in Callie’s crate. After all, a dog’s crate is her castle, right?

The evening soccer game. When Callie, at age eight weeks old, first arrived at our house, she spotted a soccer ball (under-inflated) in the back yard and she invited me to play soccer with her. (She crouched down behind the ball, looking me right in the eye, and waited for me to give the ball a kick.) That first afternoon, we played soccer for about ten minutes; I would kick the ball, and Callie would run and trap it under her tummy. She was so small that she couldn’t get all four paws all the way to the ground when the ball was under her stomach!

Now, Callie’s soccer skills have improved. She has learned to do “nosers.” A “noser” is like a “header,” but when you’re a Golden Retriever, your nose gets in the way and you “bonk” the ball off your nose — sometimes really hard!

Every evening, Callie invites me to play soccer. She tracks me down, usually in my office, makes strong eye contact, and scrunches her face into her “please play soccer with me” look. This is a face she makes only when she wants to play soccer. It the opposite of a Golden Retriever smile, where the cheeks are pulled back. Callie’s “please play soccer” face is an intense, “purse your lips” kind of look — with a slightly cocked head and very strong eye contact. The message is perfectly clear, and I always accommodate her request — not necessarily right when she asks for the first time — but eventually.

North-to-South “Nosers.” Callie and I have developed a lot of “patterns” as part of our daily soccer game. We have high kicks, low kicks, short kicks, long kicks, short “lobs.” under-the-tummy kicks, and so on. I try, sometimes, to fake her out, but she’s too smart to fall for my fake moves.

Callie almost always does her “nosers” from south to north. If I kick the ball in the air from the south end of the yard, she lets it fly over head, and then she turns and chases it. But if I kick the ball from the north end of the yard, she jumps up and either “chests” the ball or does a “noser.”

What’s that all about? I have no idea. I just know if I want to work on “nosers” with Callie, I have to kick the ball from north to south. I doubt if it’s a magnetic preference. Probably just a habit we got into without realizing it, but it’s one of Callie’s ritual behaviors.

The nighttime pacifier. Every evening, as the day’s activities wind down, Callie lies down in whatever room I’m in. It’s often a time for reading or watching sports or news on TV. About an hour before bedtime — and you could set your clock by this — Callie tracks down one of her favorite “security” toys and starts to suck on it — gumming it gently. For several years, Callie always found “Stinky,” her stuffed half-puppy (the other half having been the victim of over-aggressive chewing). But about a year ago, Callie started leaving Stinky in her crate in favor of other soft stuffed toys like “Reindeer,” or “Goosey,” or “Coyote.” Once she adopts a toy as a security object, she is very careful not to damage it. She just “gums” it gently, as if to start putting herself to sleep.

The Midnight Snack. This is the only of Callie’s rituals that I am “un-training.”

One night, at about 2:00 a.m., Callie walked to my side of the bed, flapped her ears to wake me up, and stood away — obviously too far away for a scratch. Usually, this means she either needs to go pee, or she wants to go outside to chase one of our neightbor’s cats.

So I climbed out of bed, walked, with Callie, to the other end of the house, and opened the door to the side yard. But Callie didn’t go outside. She stood gazing at the bowl of puppy treats on the stove. That stinker! She got me up at 2:00 in the morning, just for a “midnight snack?”

Well, that first night, she caught me by surprise, so I gave her a puppy treat, and we went back to the bedroom. Right away, I realized I had made a terrible mistake. Callie was training me to give her a midnight snack — just like she trained me to give her a treat for bouncing a tennis ball in the kitchen.

So the next time she tried the midnight snack thing, I walked with her to the kitchen, just in case she wanted to go outside. When she sat and looked at the puppy treat bowl, I showed her the empty palm of both of my hands, and I said “no,” in a strong voice. And then we walked back to the bedroom — snackless! So far, my “fix” is working; no midnight puppy snacks!

Conclusion. Callie’s “rituals” seem to reinforce the notion that dogs like to have structure in their lives. They like order, repetition, patterns, and knowing what’s coming next. Left to their own resources, they often create structured situations. So why not humor them? Why not support their rituals? It sends them a message that we care; that we are paying attention; and that we understand. And I think it helps them along the path to being well-adjusted dogs.

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