Entry 628: Our Dog Can Spell

There are a few things you need to know about my wife Barbara and I before you read this post:

  1. We have a Shetland Sheepdog named Riley.
  2. Shelties are a very smart breed. They’re like Stephen Hawking, but much more agile.
  3. Barbara and I are not like Stephen Hawking.
  4. Our home has a long hallway.

Okay, now that you’re prepared, I will elaborate about the hallway. It begins at our kitchen, goes past our front door, passes three rooms on the left, a short hallway to the right and another room on the right before reaching a dead end. The floor is hard wood.snow

I’ll tell you why that’s important in a moment.

Now, Riley is our second sheltie and, like our first one, his favorite game is anything resembling “monkey-in-the-middle,” wherein two people throw a ball (or anything, really, including snow) back and forth and he tries to intercept it.

Almost as soon as he was trained enough not to be confined to one room, our daughter suggested that the best place in the house to play this game was the aforementioned long hallway, since that provided the most space for him to run and the most potential for him to get tired out, at least for a few minutes.

bambi-on-ice21So Barbara and I would sit at either end of the hall and throw a ball. Riley took to this enthusiastically, racing from one end of the hall to the other with abandon. The polished hard wood floor would often cause him to slide, Bambi-on-ice style, into the laps of the human participants, or the wall, or the feet of anyone who had the misfortune to emerge from one of the rooms along the hallway while we were playing.

We called this game Hall Ball.

We worried that Riley might injure himself with all his uncontrolled sliding, so we balldid what any couple would do: we purchased a carpet runner for the hallway. We probably would have laid in Astroturf if bright green went with our house, but it doesn’t, so we bought something like the red carpet at award shows, except not red, and with no movie stars.

Riley liked this addition very much. It let him skid efficiently to a stop by actually spreading his toes for traction, which shocked us, because we didn’t know dogs could use their toes that way or that they even had toes. The carpet also let Riley get enough footing so that he could leap into the air without tumbling onto his back.

All of this enabled Riley to intercept our throws more frequently, which was a problem, because once he got hold of the ball, he would run off into some other area of the house so that we’d have to chase him.  In other words, we would become the monkeys.

Riley enjoyed that part of the game a lot.

So we did what any couple would do: we took the gate that we had once used to keep Riley in one room, and placed it at the open end of the hallway when we played. Yes, that’s right: with the rug and the gate, we had created a Hall Ball court for our dog inside our home.

With my daughter, on the Hall Ball court

With my daughter, on the Hall Ball court

With the gate in place, and all the doors along the hallway closed, Riley had nowhere to go when he got the ball…except an equal distance between us, so that one of us had to get up or crawl to get the ball from him.

Perhaps one fact I should have added at the beginning of this post is that Barbara and are both way too old for that sort of thing. So we did what any couple would do: I sat at the dead end (so Riley couldn’t crash into the wall), and Barbara stood at the other end so she could easily walk to the middle and get the ball from Riley.

Meanwhile, Riley began having a Pavlovian response whenever he heard the term “Hall Ball,” or anything similar, even if it was “deck the halls” or just an “h” sound. He knew where I kept the balls for the game, and would stare at the box they were in and bark. Barbara and I needed a way to talk about Hall Ball without saying “Hall Ball,” because if I said something like “Should we play Hall Ball now?” we would have no choice but to play smileHall Ball now because Riley would be staring at the ball box and barking at it. Then he would stare at us, with that expectant “smile” that shelties are known for.

So we did what any couple would do: we began saying “H.B.” In response, Riley did what any sheltie would do: he quickly learned that “H.B.” meant “Hall Ball.”

Of course, we could start spelling the whole thing, but we just don’t see the point to it. He’d know what we were saying by the time we got to the second “L.” We could change the name of the game entirely and call it “Corridor Orb” or some such thing, but I’m sure Riley would figure that out before too long.

handLiterally, as I was writing this, with Riley laying on the bed behind me, Barbara appeared in the doorway of my office and, without saying a word, mimed the action of throwing a ball. Riley went flying off the bed, ready to play.

Short of inventing something like the enigma code with a key that changes every day and must be delivered by secret courier, I think we’re stuck with the way things are: a really smart dog, two really accommodating owners, and a Hall Ball court outside our bedroom door.

See you soon.

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2 Responses to Entry 628: Our Dog Can Spell

  1. Karen Taplin says:

    We have two shelties, one of whom can hear the cracker drawer opening from anywhere in the house and the other who knows whenever carbohydrates have entered the building. He can even open a lazy susan to find a box of cookies. Have we changed where they are? No, they’d just learn the new place. Enjoy your Riley.

  2. markhal says:

    Oh, I didn’t even get into Riley’s advanced sense of hearing!

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