This Side Up

When all else fails, go for a belly rub

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It’s time that I consult a dog whisperer, if there is such a person.

I thought I pretty much knew what Ollie was thinking until the other morning. Now I’m wondering if he’s psychotic. Or have I triggered some genetic switch like a broken record – remember the days of records? – when the same track plays over and over again.

There seems to be no other explanation.

It all started innocently enough, like any normal morning. Ollie is a comparatively late riser. He’ll wander into our bedroom, sleep-eyed and still getting his bearings. This surely isn’t the demeanor of a spotted coon hound, which we’ve been told he is. Aren’t hounds meant to be ready for the hunt at a moment’s notice?

Not Ollie at 6 a.m.

Oblivious to the activity around him, whether we’re making beds or heading down stairs to make breakfast, he’ll plop on the bedroom carpet and roll over the expose an array of pink belly spots from beneath a frosting of white hair. No mistaking, it’s an invitation to be rubbed that can’t be refused. He luxuriates in the attention rubbing his head in the carpet and stretching his hind legs so we don’t forget to rub those, too.

That’s all of about 30 seconds. After all Ollie isn’t anything like a lap dog and would never tolerate being cuddled or any action remotely like that. Then he sneezes – it’s the same routine every morning – and that’s the signal he’s ready for the day.

He’s up and ready, which of course means breakfast after a visit to his favorite tree.

On occasion he won’t even complete those steps before determining it’s time to play.

Such was the case the other morning.

After sneezing he pranced over to the basket we keep by the dresser. It’s filled with his favorite toys, all of them strands of rope of varying lengths and dimension with knots in either end. We and he know them by “pullies.”

I watched as he selected a ratty pullie that he’d chewed and looked to be held together by hardened salvia. It was definitely a candidate for the trash. He shook it and gave a playful growl. There was no resisting the invitation and I grabbed a knotted end, giving it a good tug. He planted his forefeet, crouched and rhythmically yanked, his tail waving.

But he was off his game. I had the pullie. I held it up triumphantly. He intently focused his gaze, a picture of absolute concentration. With a swing, I tossed the pullie down the stairs. Ollie was in hot pursuit. Before he was back up, I had taken another pullie from the basket.

He stared as I swung it back and forth in front his muzzle. He waited for just the right moment, dropped the one he had fetched and latched onto the one I held. I tugged on it a bit before reaching down and throwing the first again. He dropped the second and rushed down the stairs for a second time. Before he could get up, I threw the second pullie down the stairs and reached to get a third.

Ollie raced up the stairs, carrying neither of the first two pullies. I threw the third pullie before he reached the top stair.

And that’s when something happened. I can’t say that he snapped, but some primordial switch clicked. I can’t imagine what he was thinking.

As soon as he reached the top of the stairs, he turned around and rocketed back down. He did the same thing over and over, not once stopping to pick up a pullie like a windup toy gone wild. Finally, in one last rush he made it back to the bedroom and collapsed exhausted.

Amazingly he looked happy, he usually does anyhow, and rolled on his back for a second round of pink spot belly pats. This time he didn’t sneeze. He lay there contentedly panting.

It made me wonder if his was an answer to when we’re faced with too many choices. Instead to making a choice and sticking with it, or changing a choice after making a selection, if we might be better off just considering the choices. But then, of course, that’s making a choice, too.

Better off going for belly rubs.

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