This is going to sound a little bananas. I think you guys can take it, however.
The most fun thing I’ve been doing lately with my dogs is playing hide and go seek. I’m a behavior geek anyway – I love watching dogs (and other animals) work and play and interact – but I can’t tell you how entertaining it is for me to watch my adolescent dog learning how the game works, and try to anticipate my hiding strategies.
The house that I use as an office has three bedrooms upstairs. Sometimes, my husband and I rent them to students who attend a local trade school. In the past couple of years, though, we’ve had various relatives staying in the house on and off. At the moment, no one is living here, so I have both three rooms to hide in upstairs and no one to watch me at this ridiculous game! (Lest this sound rich – my second house! – let me assure you that the area where I live is so economically depressed, that the mortgage on this house costs us less than rent on office spaces in town.)
And (at risk of sounding defensive), it’s not like I’m playing with my dogs all day; I’m just using the game on breaks, to both stretch my muscles and refresh my brain. I will admit I played a lot over the past couple of weeks, when I was working on the canned food review that will appear in the October issue. I put in some long days and nights on that piece! When I would get up from my computer to take a snack break or bathroom break, sometimes I’d sneak upstairs afterward, hide behind a door or curtain, or step into a closet, and then whistle for the dogs.
Otto, my older dog, has a poor nose and terrible vision (I think); his strategy has always been to listen for me. He runs up the stairs, and will stop in the hall, standing stock-still and listening for the slightest noise – a floor creaking if I shift my weight, or breathing (if I ran up the stairs too fast). If he hears something, he will race into a room and then stand still again. If I’m successfully quiet and still, he will sometimes be inches away from me before turning and running into another room to check on the noises there. Only after he’s checked each room for sounds, will he start using his nose to try to track me down, and it seems like he uses his eyes last of all. Sometimes he’s been sniffing practically at my toes before he recognizes the sight of me standing behind a door.
Woody, my adolescent pit bull-mix, takes exactly the opposite tack. He races about, looking first, and he’s quick to recognize the sight of even just a part of me that might be unconcealed – my elbow sticking out from behind a curtain, for example. Only if he can’t spot me after a quick survey of each of the rooms will he slow down and start using his nose.
Interestingly, given that dogs are supposed to be such brilliant smellers, both dogs seem to use their noses last.
One evening, standing in shadow in a closet that has no doors on it, I watched, fascinated, as both dogs stood just feet away from me, trying to use their noses to work out where I was. They had already run from room to room and Woody hadn’t seen me, and given that the loud whole-house fan was turned on, Otto couldn’t hear me, either. Both dogs had worked out that I was in that room, but because the ceiling fan in that room was also turning at low speed, sending my scent around the room in waves, their noses were giving them mixed signals. I watched as both dogs stood, turning their heads this way and that, up and down, sniffing. It took a good 30 seconds of concentrated sniffing before Woody followed his nose and turned in my direction, and then his face lit up as he finally saw me.
It’s the most fun when they light up like that. “Gotcha!” they clearly say, and erupt into wiggles and wagging. Otto starts play growling – he vocalizes a lot – and Woody leaps into the air and bashes about. “Good dogs! Wowie, you did it!” I tell them, and we celebrate as we all run down the stairs together. And then I go back to work!
Tell me I’m not crazy? You play hide and seek with your dogs, too, don’t you?