A game called Fetch!

Today, delighted to offer a guest post from author Garth Stein

Garth Stein and dog!

But first to how this came about.  Way back in June, I was contacted by Wiley Saichek who signed off his email, Marketing Director, Authors On The Web.  To be frank, I hadn’t heard of the organisation before.  Wiley invited me to participate in something he called a Blog Tour on behalf of Garth Stein. It was connected with Garth’s latest book, The Art of Racing in the Rain.

Jeannie had read it some time ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.  The book had been next to my side of the bed for weeks but, ironically, the demands of my own writing had just got in the way of me reading it.

Anyway, back to the Blog Tour!

Apparently, the ideal was to have the guest post published on Learning from Dogs during the period July 18th to August 1st but I dragged my heels waiting and hoping that the story from Garth could include a picture of Comet.  The picture has not been forthcoming so here it is anyway.  I shall be reviewing Garth’s book The Art of Racing in the Rain as soon as I can get around to reading it.

A Game Called Fetch, by Garth Stein

People often ask me about my dog, Comet.  They want to know if she was the inspiration for Enzo, the dog narrator in my book, The Art of Racing in the Rain (and the young reader version, Racing in the Rain:  My Life as a Dog).  And the answer is, flatly, no.  Enzo is a singular character, I tell them, and has no predecessor.  Comet is goofy and silly, and is very much not Enzo.  But she’s still very smart–in her own Comet way–and has taught me much about the world.

When Comet was just a pup, she hated being left at home; she didn’t like the responsibility of having the house to herself.  She would always get into some mischief:  eat an entire bunch of bananas, for instance (having peeled them first!).  Or claw her way into the pantry looking for cookies.  But one day, she communicated her anxiety in a way that was so clear, so unmistakable, there was no doubt at all as to her feelings.  We went out for a couple of hours, confining her to the kitchen/dining area of our house.  And when we came home, there was a perfectly round, undisturbed puddle of urine on the dining room table.

Now that is a statement.  Message received.  Since that day, whenever we get ready to leave her alone in the house, she willingly–one might saygratefully–finds her crate, curls up, and waits for us to secure the door.

While Comet may not be able to wax eloquently about philosophy and popular culture as Enzo does, she did teach me an important lesson this summer.

Comet loves playing fetch with a tennis ball.  She always has.  And she will run herself into the ground chasing balls, so that my arm gets sore throwing a ball for her with my Chuck-It, and I find myself neglecting my cooking duties, my lawn mowing, my reading, my writing, and even my children…all to throw a tennis ball for Comet.

This summer I purchased a GoDogGo.  It’s a ball launcher with a bucket of tennis balls and a delayed feed, so one can teach one’s dog to play fetch with herself.  A brilliant idea!  The machine spits the ball, the dog fetches it, drops it in the bucket, the machine spits it again.  Ad infinitum.

And so one weekend this summer, I decided to teach Comet how to use this machine so I could do other things that needed doing, like cleaning gutters and grilling chickens.

Well, she got the idea right away.  Launch, fetch, drop.  She was really quite good.  And then I taught her launch, fetch, drop-in-the-bucket, prepare for re-launch.  And she got that, too.

“I have the smartest tennis-ball-dog on the planet,” I thought.  “She picked this up in ten minutes!  Now I can go have an iced tea while she plays fetch with a ball throwing machine.”

But it didn’t work.  As soon as I stepped away, she lost the thread.  Ball launch, ball fetch, ball dropped in the bucket.  Instead, she dropped it next to the bucket and stared at it while the machine ground its ball-throwing wheels in anticipation.

“Come on, Comet,” I said.  “Drop it in the bucket!”

I dropped the ball in the bucket, the launcher launched, Comet fetched, and dropped the ball at my feet.

In the bucket,” I said.  She wagged, sat and barked and waited for me to drop the ball in the bucket.

I spent two days teaching her how to drop the ball in the bucket by herself.  Sometimes she’d do it for me–so I knew it was possible!–but the moment I stepped away to attend to some other business, she lost her ability to drop the ball in the bucket.  She’d stand over the ball and bark until I came to help her.  It was a miserable time.

As Sunday evening arrived, my wife came outside to see how our training was going.  I expressed to her my frustration.  “She knows what to do,” I said.  “She just won’t do it.”

My wife watched as I put the ball in the bucket and the launcher clicked, ratcheting up its gears.  Comet had gotten to recognize the clicks that meant the ball would soon be launched, and she sunk to her haunches, tail wagging, staring at the launch tube.  And then with a thwack! the ball sailed across the yard and she took off after it, recovered it, dropped it at my feet and barked happily.

“She won’t drop it in the bucket,” I said, bewildered.  “She wants me to drop it in the bucket.”

My wife smiled at me my sympathetically.  “Comet doesn’t want to play fetch with a machine,” she said.  “She wants to play fetch with you.”

And I realized, in my effort to make my life more efficient, in order to multi-task one more thing during a busy day, that playing fetch is not about economy and efficiency.  It’s about playing fetch.

The ball launcher sits in the shed gathering dust these days, but the Chuck-It is always in use.  And while Comet might like to spend every waking hour of every day playing fetch, she realizes that I have to put the ball down at some point to cook dinner or play with my family or write a book.  But she’s okay with that.  Because when we do play fetch together, that’s the only thing we’re doing–we are focused on each other, and that’s what the game is all about.

15 thoughts on “A game called Fetch!

  1. waw that sounds like an interesting toy.. I understand your frustration and I am glad you understand Comet more.. I bought this expensive toy that is suspended and can be filled with food.. I Just could not get any of my dogs into it!


    1. Dr Rayya, how lovely to make the connection and thanks so much for calling by. As you probably read, the essence of the piece was a guest post from author Garth Stein. But elsewhere you will much from my own ‘pen’ that explores the relationship with dogs, both literally and metaphorically.

      But loved your own Blogsite as well. Sure my wife, Jeannie, will be interested in your writings. Before she and I met down in Mexico, Jeannie had spent many years rescuing Mexican street dogs, dozens of them. Indeed, of the 11 dogs and 6 cats we have in our home here in Payson (Arizona) all but two of them are Mexican rescues.

      So greetings to you and your husband and carry on the great work you are doing.


  2. Thanks for posting. Just read Hotel Angeline for Bookclub – an interesting read and loved the process, recommended the October writer’s conference in Seattle to a friend and anxious for another fun book from Garth!

    I had an Enzo named Timber that we lost a couple months ago. Waiting until travels end this fall to adopt another wonderful friend! You must hurry up and read The Art of Racing in the Rain!


  3. It’s wonderful that you recognize Comet’s mischief when left alone as anxiety, and figure out
    a way to lessen it, by purchasing the ball launcher. Only someone with such great insight
    could have written The Art of Racing in the Rain.


  4. Hey Garth,
    Big Enzo Fan (hense big Garth Fan) and big fan of our own pups at home.
    The Crate is a powerful tool and my guys sprint down to theirs. The Idea of dening (is that a verb?) is part of who they are as Dogs and mine all love to snuggle up in theirs. My pups are all shelter dogs and as a group or as individuals would always find “trouble” or what they like to call it constructive “me time”, aimed at broadening their knowledge base and palettes.
    I love that Comet likes to peel bananas, that talent will come will serve her well in the future… maybe the peel is bad for her? Pup McGuiver armed only with a Q-tip and a Banana peel…
    If I don’t watch mine they could take down a small sapling in the yard, cause lumber jacking is an asset to be admired, uproot the foot thick cement pad that the propane sits on leaving a kind of Changa-esgue maize below it, or eat the roll of paper towels. Projects incomplete… Mom is ready to play with us, or is home or feed us… or sit quietly. Crating makes the setting them up for failure a nonentity!
    We all have those great lessons learned that Toys that are meant to be played with without us are no longer toys cause their favorite part…”WE” are not in the package …(batteries not included) Doesn’t get much better than that.
    One of my Boys Davey.. like” Davey and Goliath He is really the Goliath part Huge..95 pounds and the Dog of course, but in my Mind I still hear the clay-mation character saying Daa-vee, so there you are. He has a Enzo gift and gives medical exams. Knows when the ankle hurts etc., and when I came home from the hospital with a concussion he sniffed my head for the full 3 months during the time I had symptoms that no one else could be aware of, and stopped when I started feeling better. Gifted creatures.
    Thanks for being You!


  5. CLP, Antonette, Devon, Appreciate you all stopping by and leaving comments. It’s a funny old thing, this writing urge. One does it for deep personal reasons but finding others who read one’s mumblings is also very rewarding. Thanks, P.


  6. Love your lesson Garth… kind of like putting kids in front of a TV. They would much rather have the 5 minute window of focus and attention.

    Funny how some view “crating” as cruel, when in reality you are giving them security and peace in their safe place. Looking forward to your next book :0) fondly, cowhorse7


  7. Our dogs truly are brilliant in their simplicity. They’re generous in their willingness to share and teach, and they do not teach from their egos. If only more people could try this.

    I’m glad to have found your blog, and look forward to exploring it more.


  8. Love the story, Garth! Great reminder that the REAL game is to be fully present and connected with our dogs.

    Would you consider being interviewed on The Real Dr Doolittle Show with Val Heart? It’s a podcast show that’s rapidly going viral, we’ve had almost 100,000 hits/downloads so far – yea!. I’d love to interview you about your wonderful book. Please contact me if you’re interested, ok?

    Thanks for all you’re doing to share your love of animals,
    Val Heart, The Real Dr Doolittle and Expert Animal Whisperer from http://www.valheart.com


    1. Val, usually cautious about allowing comments that are also adverts but happy to make an exception in this case. If you want to be linked through to Garth’s publicity agent, drop me an email and we can take it ‘offline’ as it were. Paul


      1. Hi Paul!
        Thank you so much – I love connecting with fellow dog lovers, and appreciate your help. I don’t see how to email you privately… would you be so kind as to email me? Thanks!!


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