Dog Tales: Games

SamanthaLast time I gave you the final chapter in the Story of Samantha — the repose of her ashes. Two years ago, I gave you an early chapter, the Tale of the Perfect Day (in part, a tale of a tail). This time, somewhat like a (long-delayed) wake, I’m going to share some random memories from The Life of Sam.

Actually, she was Samantha II. The first Samantha was a puppy I shared with a roommate. That Sam died very young when she lost in an attempt to take down  a passing bus. My roommate, who’d left the gate open, was utterly devastated. We buried her beneath a stand of Joshua trees far out in the Mojave Desert.

The puppy, that is; not my roommate.

Samantha the witch

I may have been only 11, but I was head over heels smitten!

Both dogs bore the name, Samantha, mainly due to a childhood crush I had on the main character of the late-1960s television show Bewitched. And while I also had a crush on the show’s star, Elizabeth Montgomery, it was really Samantha that I pined over.  I mean, how awesome would it be to marry a witch!

I was only slightly chagrined when I went down to the local police station to get a tag for Samantha (II), and the lady behind the bullet-proof glass mentioned that Samantha was one of the most common names for a dog.

Either she was wrong or times have changed (this was in 1994). One list ranks Samantha at #36 and another way down at #80.  Of course, with a spread that great, maybe the lists are wrong, but popularity of names, for both dogs and humans, does change over time. How many young people do you know named Agnes or Ernest?

I briefly flirted with the idea of calling her Widget.  Very briefly.

Sam away from home

But I’m much better now!

By the time of The Perfect Day, we’d endured many months of horrible diarrhea. Sam had something of a delicate stomach all her life. We finally found a diet that worked. All that digestive upset delayed her spaying… which nearly killed her.

That was the early Saturday morning, realizing she hadn’t moved from her pillow since the evening before, that I loaded her into the Jeep and headed for the doggy emergency room. It was a massive infection, but a shot of strong antibiotics turned her around within 24 hours.

The thing about pets — and even more about children — is those moments of panic, of thinking, “Oh, shit, this is it!” Or of waiting for the doctor when they’re in surgery. I don’t know how atheists manage at times like that.  What do you do if you can’t pray? (Even if no one is listening, there is something comforting in imaging there is, and that comfort can help you through such awful times.)

Sam and Me (on Father's Day)

Our very first day together (Father’s Day in June 1994).

Thankfully, although she died years before I expected it (she didn’t get a chance to turn the dials to 11), our life was filled with games and joy. In fact, I was surprised by her ability to understand the simple rules of games.

For instance, we played a game I called, Guard. I would defend a tree (or in the heat of summer, her little wading pool), and the goal was for her to get around me. With the tree, she just had to get between me and the tree to win. With the pool, she had to jump into the water.

Which reminds me of the irony of a dog that loved getting into bodies of water, but acted like I was abusing her when I gave her a bath. When you let a dog sleep on the bed (but never under the covers, ew), regular baths are required. She never did get used to them, and always gave me dirty, tortured looks.

(I had a Keeshond that was even worse that way, but that was understandable. Keeshonds look like drowned rats when they’re wet, and that dog was vain.)

Vain Aggie

My incredibly vain Keeshond, Aggie. She’s actually posing for the camera here, I kid you not.

I knew Sam would be a proper water dog (as Labs are meant to be) when she was a young pup and we came upon a huge water puddle while walking in a park. My little gal spent 20 minutes dashing at top speed back and forth through the puddle. I could tell she was having a blast!

As a puppy she could be timid. On an early walk, our path led past a yard where a man was power-mowing his lawn. The noise scared poor little Sam so much, that tiny puppy dragged me backwards out of danger. We had to turn around and retrace our steps.

In time, she became immune to loud noises. As an adult, she was never bothered by fireworks or thunder.  Some dogs are (understandably!) terrified by sharp, loud noises, and there’s probably not much you can do for a grown dog once it has that fear. I did learn an effective trick for raising a dog, though.


Also from that first day.

During lightning storms (and on the Fourth of July), for every bang, I’d act excited and happy. I’d look at her and say, “Wow! That was a great one, wasn’t it!!”

Dogs and children learn from adults. She learned those noises were not threatening. As an adult, she barely even reacted to thunder.

Speaking of timid, my condo at the time had a nine-step stairway from the entryway to the main level. She could climb the stairs, but wouldn’t go down them. For a month or so, I had to carry her down every time we went out.

It was the pizza delivery guy that broke her fear. The doorway was out of sight from the top of the stairs, and her curiosity about the strange voice (and pizza smell) overcame her fear.  I was quite surprised when, talking to the guy, I suddenly realized my puppy was at my feet.

Those stairs came to feature in one of our favorite games: Catch. She’d sit at the top, I’d be at the bottom, and we’d toss a ball or toy back and forth. As a young dog, she was into throwing things, and “Throw it!” was a different command than “Drop it!”


Snow dog! (Taking photos of a fast-moving black dog playing in the snow is a challenge.)

In fact, one night I was awakened by a loud bang.  Moments later there was another loud bang. And then another. I went to investigate, and my pup had apparently vomited up a rock she’d eaten and was throwing it around the house.

I learned several things playing our stair catch game.

Dogs not only have a sense of humor, they can be teases. She was supposed to toss the ball towards me or at least drop it (allowing gravity to do the rest). But she’d drop the ball at the top and then put her paw on it to prevent it moving.

She’d lift her paw just enough for the ball to start moving over the edge of the step, but then grab it with her paw and pull it back. Then she’d look at me with a big grin, as if to say, “Ha! Fooled you, daddy!”

I suppose I deserved it. I’m guilty of that old trick of pretending to throw a ball while playing fetch. It only fooled her the first time, and over time I couldn’t even trick her the first time.  That dog did love to run, though. We played long fetch a lot!


It was my mom who first commented that Sam could be “as serious as a judge.”

I also learned that, to a dog, tennis balls are all different, even if they all came from the same can and were indistinguishable to humans.

Another trick I played was, during Catch, when she wasn’t looking, I’d grab a second tennis ball and hide it behind my back. When she finally deigned to return the ball in play, I’d switch them behind my back and toss back the alternate.

When that ball was inches away she’d realize it was a completely different object and just watch it sail past. Then she’d look at me with a “Just how stupid do you think I am?” look.

She knew “ball” from (non-ball) “toy” which I also thought was pretty impressive. I could tell her to “get a ball” or “get a toy” and she always got it right. Tennis balls may all be distinct, but she knew they were balls (I’ve seen some MLB umpires lately who could learn from her).

What even impressed me more was her ability to translate a game we’d play to a new setting. The game was “Go hide!” and “Find it!” On the first command she’d go into my walk-in bedroom closet and wait to be summoned. I’d hide several treats in the living room. Then I’d call her back and tell her to “Find It!”

Sam and Kong

Sam with a favorite non-ball toy — the incredible Kong!

Watching her zero in on the scent was amazing. What was astonishing was that, years later, in a completely different home with a very different layout, I told her, “Go Hide!”

And she headed for the bedroom closet.  That blew me away!

The bottom of the page draws nigh, so I will put off a couple of other important tales for another time. I taught her, but she taught me some vital lessons about myself and about life. She made me a better person in those lessons; she made me more human, too. Since her death ten years ago, I’ve felt myself slipping back away from that, and that’s regrettable.

To end on a lighter note: If you own a dog, you owe to yourself and your dog to buy some Kong toys. They are the ultimate, especially the classic Kong. They’re all but indestructible, and dogs love how they bounce. And you can amuse yourself watching them try to get a treat, or peanut butter, out of the inside!

Sam waiting at home

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

17 responses to “Dog Tales: Games

  • dianasschwenk

    Sam was a good friend to you Smitty, and you, to her. ❤
    Diana xo

  • Hariod Brawn

    I can relate well to all of this W.S., and I smiled when you mentioned the ability of some dogs to tease; Nellie was great at it, always deliberately catching me off-guard.

    So, you gave Samantha Mk.1 a Gram Parsons style of send off, though minus the petrol and airport shenanigans. Am I on the right track here or is it a false link?

    I think I can understand what you say in your penultimate paragraph. Nellie gave me more affection than any human ever has, even though I’ve not been unusually short in regard to the latter. Still, there is something we lose in our psyche when that fountain of a dog’s affection runs dry.

    May I ask W.S., did you at any point consider another dog?


    • Wyrd Smythe

      [laughing] Gram Parsons, indeed (and definitely minus the fireball and movie-like chase scenes)! We did burn some incense and other “offerings,” though. (As one of my favorite bands sang (sort of), “Don’t bogart that offering!”)

      That’s the amazing thing about a dog’s love — it’s completely unqualified. As the saying goes, “They’ll lick the hand that beats them.” Few among us are completely worthy of that kind of love. I tried very hard to be, and therein lay many of the lessons I learned. Sam definitely made me a more worthy person.

      I’ll tell ya, Hariod, many dogs, and more women, have passed through my heart. I’ve loved and been loved, but none of it lasted, and — to quote another band entirely — “I’m all out of love.” That well is dry. And, to be honest, my health has been just uncertain enough that I haven’t been confident enough a new dog wouldn’t outlast me (which seems a cruel trick to play on a dog). I would always want a “working dog” and I’m not sure I could keep up any more with the exercise and play they need.

      Saturday night I raised an Ellie for Nellie and several black Xingus for my Black Lab. Think they might both be playing with each other at Rainbow Bridge while they wait for us to join them? I like to think so.

      • Hariod Brawn

        Well, I think that until the two of us get home to Rainbow Bridge, then we’ll just have to sustain ourselves in the meantime with some long distance love W.S.

        Thanks for Saturday; most truly.

      • Hariod Brawn

        P.S. I think Lowell’s had an offering or two of his own here.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, didn’t we all back in the day. I can’t believe how young those guys look. They played in local venues a bunch of times in the late 90s, so I’m used to their older avatars. But that’s got to be Clayton and Payne — I’ve never actually seen George in person. I didn’t really become a major fan of the band until around Let It Roll (the title cut of which is my second favorite tune of theirs — Fat Man, of course, is #1 🙂 ).

        That’s a great clip, Hariod! Rare, indeed!!

      • Hariod Brawn

        Oh, such great stuff; and Fat Man is one of their classics of course. It’s great to see the beautifully spirited (and late) Richie Hayward in action there again – one of the two greatest singing drummers in rock history in my opinion (sorry Ringo!). Here’s Levon Helm, the other one:

      • Wyrd Smythe

        That’s always seemed quite a trick to me: drumming and singing. (But then, I’ve sat down at a friend’s kit, and it became quickly clear that just the drumming was a trick beyond me. I suppose it gets easier if you work at it.) And I’ve loved The Last Waltz since it came out; got both the CD and the DVD. Who knew Scorsese had that in him? (Well, anyone who knows he was a key editor on the Woodstock film, that’s who!)

        Yeah, Hayward, man! Little Feat is like the Dead in that they’re really cool about people tapping directly into their sound board to record their concerts, plus they hang around after for fans to chat with, so I’ve had a chance to talk with them (and him). They do (or used to do) a week-long Jamaica Party with fans — I’ve been tempted for years to join in… now that I’m retired, all the more reason!

      • Hariod Brawn

        Oh that’s so nice that the Feats don’t mind being plugged into directly for the delectation of the likes of us. What a shame that not everyone is like that:

        [imaged deleted]

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Much as I appreciate (and will save) the image, it’s not really appropriate for the tone and message of the blog, so I hope you’ll forgive me for eliding it.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Quite a picture, though!!

      • Hariod Brawn

        Yes, it was certainly meant to redacted W.S.

        And saved. 😉

  • ~ Sadie ~

    Really enjoyed this WS! 4-legged kids (as my daughter calls them) can be important members of our family! The only cat I ever had, I had for 16.5 years & still consider him to be like my 1st child. Though we have a good dog now ( a black-mouth cur my husband rescued as a stray), we had a Newfoundland/golden retriever who was the best dog! He was the last puppy of the litter (for whatever reason, no one had chosen him yet), & I used to tell my daughter a story about our Rebel, the last puppy, when she was a little girl (she was 5 when we got him). Once she grew up, and no longer required stories from me, as she was in high school, I would sit with him as he got old & frail and tell him the story again & again. Believe it or not, I know it comforted him to know how I felt about him & how important he was to us. WOW . . . not sure where all that came from . . . thanks for the trip down memory lane . . . ❤

    • Wyrd Smythe

      They do linger in our hearts, don’t they. A lovely story you have — I have no doubt Rebel heard the love in your voice and knew what an important part of your pack he was! Sam and her brother were the last of her litter, and — as you say — it was just a luck of the draw thing.

      Funny lesson about people and perceived value there. The owner of Sam’s mom originally offered the pups to anyone who could give them a good home, free for the asking. No one wanted them. Then she set a price of $25, and then they were out the door in quick order. A friend of both the mom and I connected us (she’s the one who took those photos of Sam as a pup and I). It was Father’s Day when I got her… I’ve never been a father, so it was the only Father’s Day gift I’ve ever had!

      Heh, see, now you’ve got me doing it, too. I guess, as with children, proud parents can just go on and on… 😀

  • rung2diotimasladder

    “…one night I was awakened by a loud bang. Moments later there was another loud bang. And then another. I went to investigate, and my pup had apparently vomited up a rock she’d eaten and was throwing it around the house.” Freaking hilarious!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Yeah, it was pretty funny! 😀

      My townhouse had four levels: “Basement” (although it was only half underground), garage and entryway, living room and kitchen and dining area, and the bedrooms and bathroom. Point is, the main area, living room and kitchen, was about a half-story above ground.

      I had one of those giant corkscrew things you twist into the ground along with a long plastic-coated wire tethering the dog. That way they can enjoy hanging out in your yard even if you don’t have a fence.

      So one day I’m working at the kitchen table and out of the corner of my eye I see something flying upwards. Then it happened again. It was a rock! I go out on the balcony and look down, and it’s Sam tossing a rock 10-12 feet in the air! Craziest thing I ever saw. (Well, actually, I’ve seen a lot of crazy things, so maybe it’s not #1, but it was pretty crazy!)

      That behavior seemed to die out as she got older. After her first year I never saw her fling anything around. I never figured out why. In that first year, when we played catch on the stairs, she often tossed the ball, but later she’d just drop it. I always wondered if her neck bothered her, but never saw any signs of discomfort.

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