Well, Hope was no problem. They said hello, sniffed butts, and fell in companionably. You're a bitch, I'm a dog, we speak the same dogalect, okay, whatever.
But he'd had little experience with very young puppies, and wasn't sure what was the protocol. They certainly seem to be the sort of creatures with which one plays -- but how? And am I going to get in trouble for getting it wrong?*
He started, wisely enough, with keepaway. The chase me, I've got a prize game avoided the pitfalls of wrestling -- one was neither being perforated by scores of needle teeth nor risking a Momma-delivered ass-kicking for inadvertently squashing a tyke.
And he likes keepaway. He'll play it with sticks, plastic water bottles, pine cones, turkey feathers -- anything that is handy.
But not with the pups.
Before the pups arrived here, I set aside a nice pile of different types of dog toys -- rubber, fabric, rope, tennis balls, plush -- for them. I also bought three new toys for them -- a vinyl baby's tub toy, a squeaky plush bone, and a squeaky plush blue bear or man or something. Possibly Manbearpig. Let's call it a bear.
When Cole wants to play keepaway with the puppies outside, he runs back inside through the dog door, goes to the kitchen, and comes out with one of the new toys. Always. For a month he has been playing with the pups -- four, then three, now two pups -- and if the game is keepaway, it is one of these puppy-specific toys every time. Usually the blue bear.
He quickly went from being nervous about intimate contact with young puppies to quite comfortable. He's Uncle Cole now, supervising the pups whenever they are outside, ensuring that they don't get carried off by owls. The last two pups have the run of the kitchen now; the gates impede the free flow of adult dogs to the front door, so they go out the dog door in the back. When I open the front door from the kitchen to take them out, he dashes out the dog door, gallops around the house, and meets us on the porch, ready for duty. He plays lots of other games with them now, but they still play some keepaway every day.
This week PC has started letting the pups tag along for his morning chores with Sophia. It's great fun for him, and the pups discharge some of their evil and aren't rioting quite so badly in the mornings. I can indulge in luxuries like getting dressed and a few household tasks before taking them out, and the pups are content to play in the kitchen. But they aren't the only interested parties.
This morning I became absorbed reading something upstairs in the bedroom; Cole was being a bit nebby, but I didn't pay any attention to him. Which was the problem. He had something to say.
He ran downstairs and shot out the dog door, returning a few minutes later with the ice-encrusted blue bear. Sat in front of me and poked my knee with it.
I want to play with the puppies. Let them out.
I'm not sure what sense of propriety led Cole to the conviction that the blue bear, the tub toy, and the squeaky bone (which has been missing, probably in a snow drift, for some time now) are the only objects suitable for puppy keepaway. It doesn't surprise me that he put those three objects in their own category. This is the pup who found and identified a box of old dog toys in the clutter of our barn only days after arriving from a kennel life in which every object he could access was a dog toy. He didn't touch any of the tools, flowerpots, backpacking gear, gadgets and miscellaneous junk piled up there, but dove into the box of dog toys and started ransacking it until he found the best one.
One element of Cole's single-trial learning is a stubborn adherence to precedent. If something happens a certain way once, it takes considerable persuasion to convince him to do it differently going forward.
When I first brought him into the house to live, I took him into the bathroom with me when I took a shower, to keep him out of trouble. One time. A year and a half later, his nickname is still Bathmat. I'll never shower alone.
Whomever taught him the down command used a treat lure. He always got a treat, and it was always accompanied by a luring motion.
Took me six weeks to break that association and convince him that he could down without a bribe or a luring motion. But in the training session where he finally shed this acquired superstition, he learned to instantly fold onto his haunches like a penknife, at any distance from me, in about five minutes.
So I'm not really surprised that, having once decided that the toys that arrived at the same time as the pups are the obligate "playing with the puppies" toys, Cole has stuck with that association.
I got the message, and went downstairs to let the pups out, assuming that Cole was telling me that he wanted to play Blue Bear Keepaway with them.
He dashed out the back door and met us on the porch. No bear. He'd left it inside. They ran off to play some other game, maybe "Chew on Uncle's Tail" or "Dig Fruitlessly for Voles."
In the inner life of Cole, the blue bear -- his first means of interacting with the pups -- had become the symbol for playing with the puppies, or, quite possibly, the symbol for the puppies themselves.
Generous little being that he is, Cole assumed that I was clever enough to understand his symbol. Or at least, he thought it was worth a try.
Tell me again that only human animals use language.
* Nervousness and outright fear of little puppies is perfectly normal for adult and adolescent dogs. I call it "Baby bear / Momma bear" syndrome. Sure, the baby bear is cute, but touch it and its mother is going to come charging out of the shrubbery and eat you. Better to run away.