The Gravity Game

Clara holding ball

Clara has always loved playing ball. She enjoys chewing balls up and chasing them in equal measure. When she was a pup and adolescent it was a joy to watch her shape herself into quite an athlete, in her drive to chase down and catch the ball more quickly.

She gives her all to it, hurling herself down the hill through my yard. She has never had a ton of stamina, so often we are done very quickly. I let her have her ball only when we play with it and for a short time afterwards, because of her interest in chewing it up. So she has invented various ways to keep the game going longer without wearing herself out.

One of those ways ended up being the Gravity Game.

Clara under the porch steps
Clara under the porch steps

She has always liked to hang out under my back porch steps, and started taking mini-breaks there during our play. She soon discovered that if she let go of the ball while under there, it would roll out. Then, Silly Human might roll it back to her. That was Gravity Game 1.0. Then one day, Silly Human failed at her job. And Clara discovered that without intervention, the ball would usually roll down the hill. She could then play a mildly entertaining game of fetch all by herself. That was Gravity Game 2.0. You can see Gravity Games 1.0 and 2.0 in the video immediately below.

Gravity Games 1.0 and 2.0

Possessing and Chewing the Ball

Clara doesn’t play Gravity 1.0 or 2.0 that much anymore because we have developed other ways for her to keep her ball longer in the yard in between sessions of my throwing it. I’ll be writing about those new activities in a future blog. But I have always let her carry her ball in the house after we finish playing, and Gravity 3.0 was born inside.

The photo shows why Clara gets possession of her ball only for short time periods.

A red rubber ball with many chew marks and pieces missing
The reason Clara doesn’t get to have her ball all the time…

That ball is several years old, so that damage is from many sittings. But still, the longer she has it, the more rubber will disappear, either onto the floor or down her gullet.[1]That is a GoughNuts ball. They also sell balls made of harder rubber, but Clara doesn’t like to play fetch with those.

Sharing the Ball

There is so much I appreciate about Clara. This new indoor game highlights the fact that Clara, as focused as she is on balls, is not overly “guardy” of them. I have never seen her snarl or even give a hard look at either of the other dogs, should they wander close or play with one of the balls. Granted, they both defer to Clara’s ownership of a ball when she has it, but still, she isn’t ugly about it.

More than that, I love that Clara trusts both Zani and me to return the ball to her in Gravity 3.0. Clara knows that she only gets the ball for a limited time after we come in the house, but the game makes it worthwhile for her to release it periodically. I have a predictable routine for taking the ball away from her (she gets a dab of peanut butter), and I don’t ever do it in the middle of a game.

The New Game: Gravity 3.0

Clara is already accustomed to Zani “helping” retrieve the ball. You can see that in this old movie of Clara and Zani’s Team Retrieve, and also the movie in my blog post “What You Reinforce Is What You Get.” Gravity 3.0 is perhaps a spinoff from the team retrieve as well, but one where Clara gets to hang out in a corner and have gravity, Zani, and me do all the work! It fits perfectly that she would develop this game to take place when she is tired from dashing around the yard.

The more I think about it, the funnier it is. Clara has pulled a role reversal. She has taught me to play fetch! She drops the ball down a step, and Zani and I return it to her. Zani, as usual, has figured out a way to get paid for an activity.

From years of observation, I am fairly certain that one of the main reinforcers when Clara plays ball is the physical sensation of catching the ball in her mouth. So in Gravity 3.0, she gets to chew and mouth the ball, she releases it for a few seconds, and then she gets to catch it again. What’s not to like?

What games has your dog taught you?

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Copyright Eileen Anderson 2015


1 That is a GoughNuts ball. They also sell balls made of harder rubber, but Clara doesn’t like to play fetch with those.

14 thoughts on “The Gravity Game

  1. Sophie and I (or anyone else who’ll play) play “Slow Chase Around the Couch”. She gets a toy and we walk around the couch several times. Sometimes she changes direction or goes around the coffee table. We don’t go very fast. 🙂

    1. That sounds so cute!! Thanks for sharing it. Would love to see video someday!

  2. I love gravity game 3.0. It is so funny, and a delight to watch. I think Clara loves that ball in her mouth, because of the shepherd in her. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks! I keep watching my own video because I enjoy it too. So glad you found it fun.

  3. I read every one of your posts and watch your videos because they are informative, educational, artistic (you are very good at looking at things through another lens) and, well, charming. Thanks for these. And your dogs are too cute!

  4. Marlo plays a gravity game! He likes to have his ball at the edge of the couch and push it veeeeery slowly away from him. Eventually it goes over the edge and he has to grab it before it falls.

    1. That’s so cool! Clara plays on the couch sometimes too, only she always hopes that someone else will grab it for her…

  5. Oh boy, Zani’s just-controlled eager demeanour in that video is a joy – and Clara’s too, in different way. It must be so hard to stop playing that game when they love it that much … my own desire for dinner would do it, but not much else!

    1. Caroline, you made me smile. To me, Zani is the star of that video. In fact, I had to edit out a bunch in Game 3 because it was mostly her sitting there waiting for the ball to drop–it was so cute, though! Thanks for the comment. Yes, both of them can go on a whole lot longer than I can.

  6. I adore all 3 three of these games she’s taught herself, you and now Zani to play with her! She’s one smart girl. My Holly created a game for herself (and me) years ago. I have a large cedar chest in the living room. It has pretty decent clearance underneath it, enough that a ball, nose, a paw and 1/2 of a leg can fit underneath. Holly takes her ball (she has a very specific ball she plays this game with), and nose rolls it under the cedar chest. She works very hard to get it back, but if it’s too far out of reach, she looks at me and barks…which is my cue to go get it. But I’m not allowed to just hand it back to her…I have to roll it fast back to her from under the chest, and just TRY and get that ball past her. Then the game begins again. I love that this a game that she invented for herself, and then made rules for how I’m supposed to play the game with her. I also love that Holly is not a ball-loving dog. She likes soccer balls, but tennis balls and other similar sized balls are only ‘meh’ to her. But THIS ball and THIS game go together 🙂

    1. I love that! She made up her own rules and taught them to you. Dogs never stop amazing me.

  7. Love your three way game of catch and retrieve. There is a lot going on in self control and self confidence, pretty impressive. My Taffy loved to hurl her toys down the stairs to their death and then race down to save them.

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