One of the early lessons Ken and I learned was to play games with Sophie. The inspiration came from our youngest dog, Cody. He loved to roughhouse with Sophie before she became paralyzed and he didn’t see any reason why the games had to stop just because she couldn’t walk.
Cody and Sophie used to play a game I’ll call crisscross, where the two dogs would face off in our back yard and then slowly walk closer to each other until their necks crossed along the side of the other dog. Then egging Cody with little shoves, Sophie would usually make the first move. She would push into Cody’s body like she was trying to make a tackle and then dart away in a full run to the other side of the yard. Cody would happily run behind trying to catch up with his older housemate until both dogs came to a full stop and the game would start again. All three of the dogs took turns playing the crisscross game until they were blissfully exhausted from darting and dashing and would fall onto the lawn to catch their breath and relax.
One evening while Ken and I were watching TV in the living room and Sophie was settled next to us in her portable bed, Cody approached. He gave Sophie a gentle push with his nose and she immediately knew that he wanted to play. She hoisted the upper half of her body into the most erect position she could manage while Cody slowly walked toward her and crossed over her neck. Ken and I watched as the two dogs made little thrusts at each other and Cody finally gave a joyous shriek in in the high pitch voice German shepherds make. He turned in a quick excited circle, very pleased he had gotten Sophie’s attention and then he slowly walked up to her for a second round.
For those few moments Sophie wasn’t a disabled dog, she was a regular dog playing with one of her best buddies. She was a fully engaged and full of energy once again.
From that day forward we made it a point to keep Sophie motivated through games. Did you know a paralyzed dog is capable of playing tug-of-war? Well, a sitting down modified version of the game, but Sophie loved it. She would push herself into an upright position with her elbows and grab one end of a thick rope while I gently pulled on the other. She would twist her head from side to side shaking the rope while making happy growling noises.
We also found a way to adapt the treat ball game that our dogs loved so much. This is the game where you fill a specially designed cylinder with dog cookies and treats and put it on the floor for the dog to roll around until the treats pop out one-by-one.
Since Sophie couldn’t walk around the floor pushing the ball anymore we would fill it up and sit it next to her. I bought an easy to use model that dispensed a goody when it fell on its side. Sophie loved toppling the treat ball and watching a tasty cookie pop out. At first I would stand the treat ball upright each time she pushed it over, but after a while she was able to use her paws to grab the ball and snatch the next treat with her teeth. It was a great game to play because you could almost see Sophie’s mind working, trying to figure out how to dispense the next treat. It was also good because Sophie always battled a constant problem of losing weight during her illness and the treats gave her the extra calories she needed.
The final game we played was good old-fashioned catch. You would be surprised how well a paralyzed dog can catch a stuffed animal that is gently tossed into the air.
Sophie loved her stuffed animals and would cuddle with them in her bed when we were done playing. Of the 7 dogs we have raised she was the only dog that NEVER ate a stuffed animal, but instead nurtured them. I’m remembering this now because every year our son Matthew would buy a new stuffed animal as a gift for each dog to open on Christmas day. It was always one of Sophie’s greatest joys.
Lesson 3: Play games with a paralyzed dog because it makes them happy.