Friday, November 16, 2007

Couper Goes to Kindergarten - Homework Week 4

As we were doing homework this week, Couper continued a trend that has been driving me insane since we started this Kindergarten stuff. He listens to Couper’s Mommy, but only occasionally listens to his Big Buddy. He may not always do what Couper’s Mommy tells him, but he does at least give a glance before deciding that whatever he was doing is just fine, thank you. When Big Buddy barks a command (barks, get it?), Couper usually just goes about his business. As we are only supposed to call a command or his name once, that leaves me the options of whistling, or snapping my fingers, or stomping my foot. I look like the stereotyped construction worker when a hot babe walks by (Did this ever really happen? Did it ever actually work? Can it still happen now with harassment lawsuits? This has a Dateline NBC investigation written all over it).

I am glad that Couper listens to his Mommy; at least he is getting something from this class. However, I get very frustrated when he does not listen to me. A big part of the frustration comes from not knowing why he listens to me sometimes and not others. Is it the pitch of my voice? What he is doing at the moment? Where I am relative to him? What’s on TV (“What was Big Buddy saying??? I was paying attention to the latest about Brad and Angelina on ‘Extra’. I sure hope they adopt again. Why is Big Buddy whistling and stomping his foot? Does he need to go potty??? Does he think Angelina is hot??? Hey, there’s a Mr. Hiney!!! I should put it behind the stereo! That would be fun… ”)? So at least once a homework session I have a pity party. “Couper, you always listen to your mommy and never to me. You don’t like your Big Buddy anymore. I quit.”

This week, Couper’s Mommy finally had enough. She sat me down and spelled the situation out for me. It went something like this:
"Look, this is new for Couper. He is not used to hearing commands from you. You and he are playing buddies. You have taught him plenty. Think of all the games you two have made up. He is used to me giving him commands. I have been doing it since I got him. It is just going to take more practice coming from you."
It was well thought out, polite, and to the point. It should have been. She had four weeks to practice it. Couper’s Mommy has always been, well, the mommy. Big Buddy has always been, well, the buddy. And you thought these names were just noms de plume for this blog.

Couper has the good fortune of being the first dog I have ever had. How we got Couper, and why I never had a dog before him, is for future posts (like I have this all planned out or something). For the purposes of this post, let’s just say that I have always loved dogs and we lucked into the best dog in the whole wide world (I know what you are thinking, “Who is this pompous jerk who says his dog is the best in the whole wide world. My dog is the best in the whole wide world!” Well, my claim is in writing on the internet. The same internet that brings you football scores and naked pictures of “High School Musical” starlets (no link, sorry. Find it yourself). Your claim is in your mind. The same mind you erode with a case and a half of beer each weekend and which last week said to you, “Let’s watch this repeat of ‘Charles in Charge’. How bad could it be?” I rest my case).

If not the best in the whole wide world, Couper at the very least is a heck of a lot of fun. Couper loves to play and I am almost always happy to oblige him. Even when I am lying on the sofa half asleep, if he sticks a Mr. Hiney in my hand, I will throw it. Couper also loves attention and I have transferred my 38 years of not having a dog into attention to him. (Too bad he can’t read. He would love that he is getting 1000+ words written about him twice a week. To him writing this blog is just something that Big Buddy does between throwing a Mr. Hiney.) Couper’s Mommy calls us “two peas in a pod”. I hate peas. I had epic arguments over peas when I was a child. I refuse to eat peas as an adult. But she is absolutely right and I like when she says that.

So most of what I have taught him involves us playing. But just what have I taught him? And is any of it helping anything?

The first thing I did when I first met an 11 month old Couper four years ago was recoil at this cute little thing barking at me (hasn’t changed much, has he?). The second thing I did was get him a bowl of refrigerated RO water with ice cubes that he ignored. The third thing I did was go get a tennis ball to see if he would play. Third time’s a charm. I threw it, he chased it, and we became instant best buddies. He loved chasing the ball, but stunk at catching it. Yes, his mouth was a little too small for a tennis ball at that time, but his timing was all off and he was all over the place. Tens (hundreds?) of thousands of throws later, with various balls and toys, he has gotten really good at catching. Sometimes he makes really amazing catches. I wish catching were part of Kindergarten.

I think playing catch is good. It at least has bonded us and has led to other games (below). And so far, I have avoided arm surgery despite throwing more balls than Warren Spahn (You thought I might go blue there, didn’t you? Bad you!).

Not Bringing the Ball Back.
Couper has this strange habit of nudging around with the toy just thrown to him in the area where he catches up to it. He makes it look like he has no idea how to pick up the toy. I have this strange habit of being impatient and wanting to throw the toy again. Probably the fourth thing I did after meeting Couper was go retrieve the ball I threw. I quickly found out that he could not only pick up the ball, he could take off with it. So what he really wanted out of this situation was to play “Chase the Puppy”. Eventually he trained me to throw the ball, walk to where he and the ball were, and then either chase the puppy or pick up the ball and throw it again. Couper’s Mommy is fond of saying, “I remember when he used to bring the ball back, before you taught him this.” I don’t really remember him ever bringing it back, but I go along with it. I hope she doesn’t read this thing.

This is undoubtedly bad teaching. He is controlling me. However, maybe he wants to make sure that I get some exercise too.

This is a variation of playing catch, but instead of picking it up the ball and throwing it, I do a three point stance over the ball like a football center and long “snap” it back between my legs (like for a punt). Before I snap the ball, I say “3-46-3-46-hut-hut-hut”, as if I am calling a play. The original point of the game was he would stand in front of me until I snapped the ball, and I would pretend to block as he whizzed right by me.

As time went on, he would jump “offsides” as I went into my “3-46” call. I would then pretend to be a referee calling offsides, complete with hand signals and the announcement to the crowd, “Offsides defense. Number 3. Five yard penalty. First Down!” Couper’s Mommy would groan, but Couper would anxiously wait for me to go get him and the ball. Over time, Couper wouldn’t even wait for me to call “3-46” and upon my doing my center stance, run to the spot where I usually snapped the ball, even if my hiney was pointed in an entirely different direction (the ball follows the hiney).

I guess this is good teaching. He would do something based on either my bending over the ball or calling “3-46…”. If he jumped early, there was a penalty for offsides (bad actions have bad consequences – 5 yards in this case). I have not figured out if running to the usual spot is better or worse than understanding the ball goes where the butt points. (I would love to tell you that “3-46” was some famous play like the Packer Power Sweep, but it is just the first two numbers that popped into my mind. It sounds like a solid football play though, doesn’t it?)

Joe Namath wins the Super Bowl
This is roughly the same deal as “3-46” except:
  • I actually throw the ball overhand, like a football pass.
  • We have to use Couper’s tennis ball football.
  • In my “Howard Cosell for Puppies” voice, I yell, “Here goes Joe Namath to win the Super Bowl!”
Couper has learned to take off to the corner of the yard where the ball is thrown. The rule is if he catches the ball before it comes to a stop, he scores a touchdown and Joe Namath wins the Super Bowl. We have a big celebration. If it comes to a stop before he gets it, Joe Namath loses the Super Bowl. Both results are announced by “Howard Cosell for Puppies”.

A couple of things to note:
  • Yes, I did play this game in my parent’s back yard when I was 7 (without the puppy).
  • Yes, I am old enough to have seen Joe Namath win a Super Bowl (I was 3) and hear Howard Cosell call a game.
  • No, I never grew up.
  • My “Howard Cosell for Puppies” voice announces because a regular Howard Cosell voice might scare and confuse puppies. “Howard Cosell for Puppies” is essentially a cross between Howard Cosell and Mr. Rogers. Researchers at independent test labs worldwide have proven this combination of voices to be puppy friendly (please do not look this up).
I think this may be my best teaching game. Couper reacts to “Joe Namath to win the Super Bowl” by running to a selected spot. He learns a real life lesson about winning and losing. “Howard Cosell for Puppies” exults/ admonishes his win/loss; again, just like real life. Finally, he learns history; Joe Namath winning Super Bowl after Super Bowl (all on the last play) and Howard Cosell announcing them (please don’t look-up those “facts” either).

In our old house, on the patio, we had stucco columns. On these columns, there were rounded ledges (they probably have an architectural name, but I am too lazy to look it up). The ledges were just tall enough that Couper on his hind legs could reach them. We found that we could hide toys on these ledges and when Couper would find them, he would make sure to knock them down (example right with Mr. Hiney). We took this activity to the next level with the “Do-dee-do-dee-do” game.

The game plays as follows: I would pick up a toy and start walking around the columns. At the same time I would start whistling a “casual song”. The song made it seem like I wasn’t really doing anything special, just casually walking around, whistling, like usual (actual time I have spent walking around whistling outside of this game: 0 seconds). Couper would follow me, all the while looking up on the column ledges to see if I put the toy there. At some point I would leave the toy on the ledge, but continue the walking and whistling. Couper would have to keep looking until he found the toy. He got very good at this, again proving he is smarter than his Big Buddy.

Why is this called the “Do-dee-do-dee-do” game? It isn’t. It is called the {whistle the song} game, but I have no audio to insert for “{whistled song}”. It kind of sounds like “do-dee-do-dee-do” and I had to type something. The song is essentially lifted from a tune played constantly in the toy store FAO Schwartz (the toy store in “Big”). When you walk in, you hear a song that goes: “Welcome to our world, welcome to our world, welcome to our world of toys”. If you have been in an FAO Schwartz for more than six seconds, you know exactly what I am describing. If you worked in an FAO Schwartz, you are doing 20 to life for aggravated assault/murder because you heard that song over and over and over throughout your shift (Sorry for reminding you of it. Have some more therapy. Does the warden know you are on the internet???). “Welcome to our World” is to FAO Schwartz what “It’s a Small World” is to Disneyland (This should be an official SAT analogy). So what better song to incorporate into a game of hiding Couper’s toys?

This was a good teaching game as well, I think. I was in charge. He was following. I was whistling a song that leads to heinous felonies. Sounds like good clean fun to me.

Havlicek Stole the Ball
This game starts out with me dribbling a tennis ball while humming “Sweet Georgia Brown” of Harlem Globetrotters fame. There are no similarities between my dribbling and Curley Neal’s or between my song and the actual song. But to Couper, that doesn’t matter. He tries to steal the ball. When he does, we completely shift basketball gears. In my “Howard Cosell for Puppies” voice, I shout, “Havlicek stole the ball!!! Havlicek stole the ball!!!” (a reference to a 1965 playoff game that I probably missed because I was spitting up formula). When I say, “The’re gonna get Havlicek!!!”, a full-fledged Chase the Puppy game is on.

We are going to count this game as good too. I am marginally in charge while dribbling the ball. Couper knows to steal the ball. We all learn about the Globetrotters, the 1965 Celtics, and that Howard Cosell announced every significant sporting event of the 1960s. Even when he wasn’t there. Howard wouldn’t have it any other way.

Wee Wee Woo
This game was born of necessity during Super Bowl XXXIX. I kind of wanted to watch the game. Couper kind of wanted to play. Going outside to play was not going to happen. No TVs outside. Couper was deeply into his tennis ball football only phase. It was the only toy he would play with. Watching TV and blindly chucking that toy across the room, with its strange bounces, was asking for disaster. So I needed a game that was closely contained so that the fine china was safe (paper plates can be fine china, it is all relative).

Wee Wee Woo works as follows (Feel free to try this at home with your little buddy. If you don’t have a little buddy, get one. I’ll wait):
  • Sitting on a sofa, cross your feet. Keep the outside edge of both feet on the floor. Being left-handed, I cross my left foot in front of my right. (All game instructions from here on will assume that you are left-handed as well. If you are not, please become left-handed now. I’ll wait.)
  • Take the toy ( the tennis ball football really is the best for this game) in your left hand and set it on your left knee.
  • If you drop the ball to the right, down your left shin, yell “Wee”. Somewhere in this drop, Couper attempts to pounce on the ball. Usually while it is rolling down my leg, causing 12 pounds of force with claws to tear up my calf and/or foot.
  • If you drop the ball to the left, down to the floor, yell “Woo”. This side is usually less painful. Be careful if anybody is sitting on the sofa to your left.
  • Soon the little buddy will know the difference between “Wee” (attack your leg) and “Woo” (attack the person sitting to your left).
Amazingly, Couper took to this game. He brought the ball back every time for more. He was mesmerized by the ball sitting on my knee, trying to figure out if a “wee” or a “woo” was coming. So during important plays, it was OK to just leave the ball sitting there. In the end, I got to watch the Super Bowl (and many a sporting event since) and he got to play.

Summary: Educational: Yes. Human in charge: Yes. Painful: Yes. Bottom line: Good

So what have we learned?
  • I actually have had some good influence in teaching and leading Couper through playing. I somehow need to transfer this to our Kindergarten training.
  • I am using our dog as an excuse to play games I used to play in grade school.
  • Howard Cosell impressions (even puppy-modified) never get old. If Rich Little were still alive, he would be doing “Howard Cosell for Puppies” on the Mike Douglas Show.
  • Nothing significant in the world of sports has happened since 1970.

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