In time the Rockies may crumble,
Gibraltar may tumble
They’re only made of clay
But our love is here to stay
– Nat King Cole, Our Love is Here to Stay

piggy

a well weathered toy

Recently, Mark* walked into the store with a torn, dirty, and otherwise tattered dog toy, “I got this toy here and Maisy loves it, but I’d like to get her a new one.” Sadly, the toy in question had not been manufactured for quite some time. In fact the last time one was sold from Dolittle’s was some years ago. I was excited to see a toy from so long ago in somewhat decent shape. “How long have you had this toy?” I asked. The response was: “Maybe six years or so.”

Six years. This dog toy had lasted six years. And honestly it looked good enough to go another six. This got me thinking about our perspectives of destruction.

Naturally we want things to last, especially if we pay good money for them. But our standards for “lasting” or “durability” can be very broad. For some a toy is ruined the second the first stitch undone, or the instant it becomes silent. For others it’s not until the toy is so tattered it barely holds together.

While our perspectives of the physical state of destruction vary, one constant seems to hold true: one day the toy will no longer keep our dog’s interest. Based on this, maybe we should give durability a new consideration. Perhaps we should look to our dog’s enjoyment as a measure of a toy’s durability.

As humans we tend to derive enjoyment from construction. Give us a puzzle and we will build it. Give us a canvas and we will paint it. Give us flour and sugar, and we will bake a cake. Dogs tend to derive pleasure from destruction (and sleeping in sunny spots). Give them a shoe and they tear it up. Give them a bone and they chew it. Give them your homework, and well, you get the idea.

Toys make dogs happy. Of this we can be sure. Her eyes get bright, her ears perk up, her tail wags, her tongue pops out, she starts to drool, we attribute these physical signals to joy. These signs of enjoyment are only the beginning. They occur even before she’s set the first tooth on a toy. Next comes the teasing: “Who wants the toy?” Then the interaction: “Go get it!” Then prolonged interaction: “Again! Go get it!” Then some individual interaction: ripping, de-squeaking, tossing, tugging, repeat, repeat, repeat. This is the process of canine enjoyment. This is what dogs do (they do not have tea parties with squirrels in hats and little dresses). Why would we stop this process at any point? Why not let enjoyment run it’s course?

torn toy

not destroyed, just well loved

Mark was disappointed to hear that Maisy’s toy had out lasted the company that originally made them. However he was happy to see a few other toys with similar attributes. Hours later I got a call from Mark asking for two more of the toy he had purchased. That should make Maisy’s enjoyment secure for the next 18 years, at least.

*From time to time customers provide us with ideas and stories to write about, but rather than placing them on this public forum we change names to keep their stories private (kinda).

A few words on toy safety:
It’s true, nothing is indestructible (the Rockies may tumble). Tearing seams, taking stuffing out, and popping the squeaker are all part of the canine enjoyment process. Naturally we advise that you purchase toys that are an appropriate size for your dog. We suggest supervision with toys. Swallowing bits of fuzz and stuffing are not uncommon. Swallowing large bits, or the squeaker whole, well, yes that is problematic. Hence, the supervision. Dog toys can live on with a small bit of maintenance. They can be re-sewn, re-stuffed, and even re-squeaked. Get creative: tie a toy in knots, hide a treat or two in it, or soak it and freeze it for a chilly teether. With a bit of effort you can continue to rekindle your dogs enjoyment in their favorite toy.

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Two Dogs Diverged

October 8, 2010

I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.  Paisley sat below an anxious acrobatic squirrel, one who timed his aerial leap a second too late and fell to earth.  Except he didn’t make it to the earth, instead he landed squarely into Paisley’s open mouth.

To appreciate the importance of this event let me rewind a bit to introduce Dixie, Paisley’s squirrel hunting mentor. Dixie had spent years chasing squirrels from our suburban yard.  She was fast and efficient.  She’d stay low like a cat on the prowl watching the twitchy little creature dig his hole.  The squirrel’s head would pop up and quickly scan, Dixie would drop and freeze.  Then at just the right moment Dixie would lunge.  Her pursuits could cover a fair distance as the neighbors did not have fences.  It was the land of free range squirrels.  As fast as she was she never caught a squirrel, but she never gave up.

Years later we moved to downtown Charleston.  Our house was fenced in on a smaller property, but the trees were active with squirrels.  Soon after moving we brought home Paisley.  She would sit on the porch keenly watching Dixie’s tactics and when Dixie gave pursuit Paisley would bark her support.

For greater exercise we would visit the local parks.  One of our favorites was White Point Gardens.  The park is full of oak trees and alive with squirrels, though even I could tell something was different about these squirrels.  They were bigger than what Dixie had chased before.  Not only were they bigger, I’m sure Dixie and I shared this thought at the same moment, they were slower.  She immediately went into her crouched prowl at the sight of tubby tree rats.  I knew the signal Dixie was looking for and as soon as he dropped his head down Dixie bolted.  The squirrel had no idea.  He made a dash for the nearest tree but Dixie cut him off.  So he zigzagged toward another. And then it happened.  Dixie dropped down and closed her jaws around the prey at the same time she lost her balance on a tree root.  In a second she was rolling across the ground with grey fur flying from her mouth.  As she regained her footing she looked around for the squirrel, but he was already half way up the nearest tree.

Paisley continued to carry Dixie’s torch, scanning the trees and preparing herself at every opportunity to be in the right place at the right time.  What Paisley lacked in speed and agility she made up for with patience.  So we return to the accidental squirrel falling right into Paisley’s open mouth, victory of a dream nearly forgotten.  For all the years of preparation it was over in a moment.  Paisley was not prepared for the squirrel to squirm and so, like Dixie, she quickly dropped it.   They were two dogs sharing a passion for pursuit, and though their methods diverged the destination remained the same.

It was all I could do to keep my gag reflex from releasing the contents of my stomach.  Sweet Dixie, the first dog I called my own, and I had just visited Sullivan’s Island beach. At last call she came running to jump in the car.  I did not notice, with the intense ocean breeze, the dreadful stench emanating from her.  We were only a few minutes in the car when she poked her head from the back seat, putting her neck in close proximity to my nose.  Big mistake.  I nearly wrecked the car as I inhaled her freshly applied eau de mer.  I’d describe it as something between Four-day-old-decaying-trash-mixed-with-sun-baked-crustacean and Patchouli. I hung my head out the window for the rest of the car ride home.

Smells tell a story as much as speech or appearance.  For dogs it is the main story.  You may have heard that dogs have upwards of 200,000 smell receptors to our 10,000, but can you appreciate the importance of that?  Dogs meet in the parks, streets and beaches.  How are they to learn about the dogs they meet?  They’re naked (most of them anyway) so appearances can’t tell the story.  I’m going out on a limb to suggest that dog’s don’t bark in a dialect, “Woof ya’ll” (though that is a topic I would love to learn more about) so speech is out. And, even for a dog, touching and tasting come after initial “hellos.”  No, if you really want to get to know someone stick your nose in and get a good whiff.

Dixie could not have been more pleased with herself.  She could not wait to get back to her friends and family and share the story of her outing.  Sure enough, as we walked in the house my mom screamed “Ugh! What died?” When Dixie was chased into the backyard Johnny, our lab mix, was thrilled to smell her.  She just stood there like a proud peacock while he drooled.  What must Johnny have smelled? Certainly there was the overpowering stench of dead crab.  But did he appreciate the light scent of the sea breeze? Or, the faint undertones of salt water and white sand?  Perhaps a hint of sea oats? A delicate tinge of seagull, pelican or sand lapper.  Then there are the 3 to 5 other dogs that rolled in the creature before Dixie.  Were their signature smells in there too?

I’m convinced that dogs roll in whatever it is they roll in just to tell other dogs a story. “You wouldn’t believe it! I found raccoon poop in MY backyard!”  “Get a whiff of what they’re feeding the cat!” “I swear it wasn’t dead when I rolled in it.” “I just met my first hippie.”

Are you ready to learn from your dog?  Next time you shake hands with a stranger lean in and sniff.  What is their smell telling you?