Playing with Jackson
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
When Jackson was a young puppy he worked very hard to win over our senior Basset Hound Maggie. It took several days but within the first week Jackson had Maggie playing like we had never seen her play, getting her to participate in standard dog games like bitey-face, zoomies and tug-o-war. We were surprised but happy that he was bringing out this fun loving youthful side in a dog who we had nearly lost due to spinal issues several years before. Over time Jackson and Maggie became best friends, but her energy level was never remotely close to being a match for his. Fortunately he found an always willing playmate in me, his human momma.
If you have ever raised a puppy, especially one with a sharp mind and seemingly endless energy like a Labrador Retriever, you will understand the phrase, “A tired puppy is a good puppy.” Between Maggie and the humans in our family we worked hard to entertain young Jackson, show him the rules of the house, and to play with him until he found a comfy spot to nap.
Since I had claimed him as “my” dog and I was the one home with him the most I was happy to become his choice of human playmate. We played countless games of fetch and tug-o-war. We went to obedience school together and then practiced at home, especially things like “off” and hide and seek, which worked his brain much more than sit and down. I introduced him to every new experience I could find: kids on bikes, my husband’s very loud Harley Davidson, kids on scooters, kids running, adults on bikes, other dogs, the UPS man, all as a fun game. And when he slept I caught up on things around the house, tiptoeing off to fold laundry or unload and reload the dishwasher.
Since I still had my corporate job, the nights when I got home before my husband were the worst because he had been crated all day with an hour break with the puppy sitter. We started to call the crate the “puppy battery charger” because we put in a tired puppy and out came a crazy one, ready to go forth and conquer. I had invoked the No Roughhousing For One Hour After Eating rule early to prevent bloating so for one hour after feeding him his supper I had a crazy puppy bursting at the seams with energy but unable to run and frolic. Frozen Kongs saved the day on those evenings and I became a master at filling them with layers and layers of yummy things to last him and hour to let his food digest and his brain work on emptying the Kong.
Maggie and Jackson loved to play tug-o-war the most together, but she would often tire long before Jackson was ready. Because of our play sessions together he knew that I, too, liked a good game of tug-o-war, so every time Maggie gave up the game to nestle into one of the dog beds, Jackson would bring the toy to me to play. We would resume the game for as long as he wanted.
When Maggie passed away Jackson was devastated and confused. He was two years old when she passed and his lack of energy and obvious despair was heart breaking to us. We had already arranged to bring Tinkerbell home but her mother was two weeks away from her due date, so we would not get to meet her for another ten weeks.
During that ten week time Jackson and I played even more and we indulged him in the life of an only-dog, going for car rides on simple errands, multiple walks a day, taking training classes just for fun and finally trying our hand at conformation shows. Of course we played even more tug-o-war and games of hide/seek than ever before to make up for the loss of Maggie.
When we went to get Tinkerbell we took Jackson with us and they rode side by side in the back of the minivan in their own individual travel crates. When we arrived home we let them out together, the words of our friend/breeder fresh in our minds, “Don’t let Jackson trample or hurt her.” After the initial sniffing and getting to know each other was finished they started their very first game of zoomies. Little eight week old Tinkerbell had no fear and we laughed to each other, “Uh, it might be that we have to worry about Tinkerbell hurting Jackson!”
Jackson was incredible in the way that he played with her rough enough to have fun but still seeming to know that she was a delicate puppy. Their friendship grew stronger by the day and by the time she was fully grown there was no doubt in our mind that they were a bonded pair, best friends, brother and sister. Tinkerbell filled the spot in all of our hearts that Maggie’s passing had left gaping open and wounded, and it was not long before it was she and Jackson who were playing tug-o-war, zoomies, and epic games of chase and bitey face.
Even with Tinkerbell as a constant and willing playmate, Jackson has a habit that warms my heart more than anything a dog has ever done. Sometimes he will grab one of their stuffed toys and instead of bringing it to play with Tinkerbell, he brings it to me and drops it in my hand. “You wanna play tug?” I ask and he responds by grabbing the toy and starting the game, all the while my heart expanding as I think, “He could play with Tinkerbell, but he chose me.”
When he does this I can’t help but wonder if he remembers all of our games when he was a puppy and during those months when he was an only-dog. Does he remember all of the things we did together? Does enjoy his one-on-one time with me like the kids do when they get to spend time with us without the other kids? Can he recognize that he has one relationship with his humans and another with Tinkerbell? It is a level of thinking that some would say dogs cannot do, but I see it every day in my own household. Dogs live in the moment, especially when it comes to training and teaching them, but I firmly believe that Jackson remembers those days from before, even if just a little.