Maybe She Had a Cold

I watched Cali run to and fro one morning, searching for her ball at the field where we play. She was so busy anticipating my throw that she ran full-on in the wrong direction and therefore had no idea where the ball landed.

She does not use the logical grid search technique that Wylie, the German shepherd who once shared my life, used. She often runs right past the ball without seeing it. She usually seems to follow her nose, and she always does manage to find her ball, eventually. It’s a large field and sometimes the search takes a while. She wants only her ball; she sniffs and rejects any other ball that happens to be in her path.

But her nose seemed to be broken on this particular morning. Or maybe she just had a bad cold. She ran past the ball several times, almost touching it, without noticing it.

Cali also does not appear to have read those studies that say that dogs, even very young puppies, can and do follow human pointing gestures. Or the training manuals that assure us that our body language looms large in our dogs’ minds, and they will go in the direction that our body, eyes, and feet are pointing, no matter what verbal cues we’re giving them.

Nope. My voice, arms, feet, and body were all telling her the same thing. I even walked toward the ball, stood two feet away, and pointed. No response from Cali, who glanced briefly at me before continuing her random search.

She did, ultimately, strike gold. She then watched me throw the ball once, brought it back — and lost it again on the next throw.

Another thing. Those studies about how dogs know what people can see and therefore tend to deliver the ball to a person’s front rather than her back? Cali hasn’t read those either. Or maybe she thinks that, because I am her mom, I have eyes in the back of my head (my mom did!). I tell her that doesn’t work for adopted kids. I pretend not to know where the ball is. I beg her to bring it to me. I demand that she bring it. I walk away. No luck. She loves dropping the ball behind me. Maybe she just has an odd sense of humor.

I enjoy reading all these studies about dogs’ cognitive abilities, and I really believe that (most) dogs do have great potential for problem solving, interspecies communication, and other feats of intellectual greatness. But playing with actual dogs like Cali is a good reality check sometimes.

5 thoughts on “Maybe She Had a Cold

  1. Molly responds to pointing gestures, but I think that is because we always play her favorite game, “go find it,” where I throw a treat into the grass and she snuffles it out. At first when she didn’t find it, I would point to it, and she’d just stare at me, so I would stand close to the treat, make sure she was watching me, then point at the treat, actually touching it with my finger. She’d come over and sniff my finger, and then realize it was touching a treat! Eventually, I could just stay where I was, point, and she’d go the direction I was pointing.


  2. Sounds like a normal canine to me! I spent a whole afternoon trying to teach Ray “Fetch”. It ended with me running around to retrieve the ball, and then throwing it again ad infinitum. Ray just looked at me with his “poor human” look. Our neighbor would have been forgiven for thinking that Ray was teaching me how to play “Fetch”! 🙂


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