Do you wanna build a pillow fort?
I’m a sucker for a good pillow fort. Honestly, who isn’t? But it’s been a while since I’ve built one. You could say I’m a bit rusty in the pillow-fort-construction department. But if there’s anything quarantine has taught us – besides the need for snack moderation – it’s that you need to bring fun back indoors.
Last Saturday, Girlfriend and I noticed a new behavior in our swiftly growing pup. New behaviors have become something of a normal routine around our place. We often barely have time to notice them before puppy is onto something else – usually that something else involves me reaching into his mouth to remove a slobbery object. This new activity however warranted some attention – mostly because it was so damn adorable. Our puppy was chasing his own tale. He stood just three feet from me and began circling over and over again nipping at his tail until he eventually stumbled against a wall like a college frat boy returning to the dorm from his first kegger.
Now, the first time he did this I looked on with amusement too dumbfounded to even call for Girlfriend to come in and witness this firsthand. When it finally dawned on me that this was too damn funny not to share, I shouted that she should join me. She emerged from the living room to look on as our pup stood back up, snuffled a few times, then went back to his game. She simply shrugged and said, “He’s been doing it for a few days now.”
Having a new puppy involves an exploration into a new language – one that consists of a unique dialect. But, unlike a spoken language, you quickly learn to look for communication styles in the way your dog moves, whines, wags, and yes, even poops. For instance, I know that my dog’s tail signifies three distinct moods: happy, curious, and bored. He has a fourth that we haven’t quite grasped yet. He also has four or five different whines that we are still learning – only one of which means take me outside right now before I pee on your rug. He has a number of head positions, a few laying positions, and several types of poops. FYI – lots of sticks in your dogs poop means he ate too many sticks. Stop letting him eat sticks. This is why his sudden interest in the back part of his body made me wonder what it could mean.
“He’s bored,” Girlfriend shouted at me from the other room. I realized I had been standing in the kitchen staring at him again and she had taken it upon herself to look up the behavior for us. Wait, bored, I thought? He’s bored! HOW? He has toys, chew-sticks, squeaky bunny, squeaky moose, balls, ropes, and when all else fails, my slippers and our bedroom rug. How could he be bored? As it turns out my puppy needed more stimulation than I was providing. It also turns out most puppies are unaware that their tale is part of their body and if that isn’t the cutest thing you ever heard you should stop reading this now.
The girlfriend returned to look at me with a face that she usually reserves for that time I forgot to fill her car with gas, or the other time I forgot the groceries on the hood of the car as we drove home. Guiltily I responded with, “well I did take him for a long walk this morning.” It clearly wasn’t enough. It turns out my puppy needed a different kind of exercise; he needed to be mentally stimulated and the walks through the woods near our house – as fun and full of exercise as they were – weren’t cutting it with his curious mind. He needed to be engaged, not just cuddled and stroked. And because I had failed as a father, my dog had resorted to chomping on his own tale in the kitchen with a dizzy look on his face.
“Stop that,” I muttered to him as I chewed on my fingernails and thought about the solution to the problem. Sure we had training classes on Monday evening and I guess I could teach him a new trick – but honestly – it was Saturday morning and we could do better. And then… light bulb.
“PILLOW FORT!” I shouted at now bewildered Girlfriend. She turned to look at me with that same look from earlier. I made a mental note we would need to speak about that at some point but for now… “Pillow Fort,” I said again excitedly. “We could build a pillow fort… with Dawson…right here in the living room”’
Well, it would sort of be a pillow fort. More a pillow fort crossed with an obstacle course built into it for him to run through. It was genius! Over the next ten minutes I pulled apart our couches, unrolled throw blankets and knocked over chairs and ottomans until my living room looked like the set from American Ninja Warrior. Puppy watched me from the kitchen with a curious look. When I was done I looked on with pride. This was perfect.
“Okay,” I called to Girlfriend, “let him out.” She shrugged and opened the gate to our kitchen where we let puppy sleep. He raced out, his tail wagging and completely avoided every obstacle, instead trying to jump over the blanket I had slung from the back of a couch across a doorway and knocking over one of the chairs. He ran straight to me with a look of pure glee. Well, it was a start.
For the next twenty minutes we walked our dog back and forth using treats to guide him. He traversed the bridge of a thousand dangers. He narrowly crossed over the flying-drawbridge and crawled under the tunnel of doom. He jumped from the ottoman of terror to the ottoman of … “Holy Cow did you see that jump!?” It turns out this was just what he needed and honestly, it was an absolute blast for us too. We loved watching him fly across the living room clearly having the time of his life and leap from pillow to pillow.
And I guess, if I had a lesson in all of this, it would be go build a pillow fort with your dog and enjoy a really fun Saturday! P.S. He hasn’t chased his tail since!