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Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Target Training Your Dog: Go to Your Mat
A Teachable Moment

The ability to target a specific place is a valuable skill for your dog to have and will pay for the teaching time invested many times over. The finished exercise looks like this: On your cue—let’s use “Go to your mat”—your dog moves out to find her place, lying down and staying until the release word is given. This behavior is very useful for times when she needs to take a little break, or perhaps get out from underfoot while you’re busy or have guests.

Note that your dog should have a good “Down” and “Stay” under her collar before you begin. This exercise is a behavior chain in which we will initially reward for several different steps, or links.

1. As you give the cue, “Go to Your Mat,” step toward the target (in this case, her mat) and use a treat to lure your dog toward it; mark with “yes” and reward as soon as she steps onto the mat. Immediately follow with the cue “Down” and reward again. Release and repeat.

2. In small increments, gradually increase your distance from the mat, encouraging your dog to step out ahead toward it and anticipate the down once there. It may be helpful at this point to toss the treat onto the mat as you give the cue. This will encourage your dog to seek it out and complete the behavior on her own.

3. Once your dog is showing that she grasps the concept by moving out ahead to reach the mat and anticipating the down, add the last link in the chain by cuing her to “Stay” after the down. When all the behavior links are in place, continue to strengthen the exercise by reinforcing increased targeting distance, increased stay duration and tolerance to distraction while staying.  

Here, Sandra teaches Bark dog Lola to go to her bed!

 

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Teach Your Dog a Flip Finish Trick
Dog trick training

A nifty trick, handy for convenience and control from a sit front to heel position. It’s also really fun for the motivated dog and handler! Picture the finished exercise: On cue (a small sweeping hand signal), your dog flips from a “sit front” into heel position on your left side.

 

Sounds easy, but for the dog, this is a complicated series of movements that eventually add up to one final behavior. The initial steps involve breaking the behavior down into three small parts, with multiple tasty rewards for each. It’s important to “mark” the points described below so your dog understands exactly which actions to repeat. Here’s how to start:

 

1. Have your dog in a sit front position. To focus her attention, hold both hands in front of you, with a treat in the left hand.

 

2. Say the dog’s name with the command “Flip,” while stepping back with your left foot and luring your dog away and behind you with your left hand. Mark with a “yes” and reward once she passes you.

 

3. Quickly step and lure her forward into heel position while raising your hand above her head and saying “sit” once she’s at your side. Mark with a “yes” and reward again.

 

To further practice, keep her in a sit and pivot around to face her so she is toe to toe in the “sit” position in front of you.

 

As you and your dog because more fluid in your movements together, gradually fade the steps and luring until she can flip from a sit front into heel position while you stand still.

 

Here, Sandra teaches Bark dog Lola a fab flip finish!

 

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Building the Dog-Human Bond
It’s never too late to reinforce this critical foundation

It was a misty spring evening, the first break in the April showers in over a week. My dog Sumner was strolling off-leash about 20 paces ahead of me, taking in the smells and leaving his mark when the mood struck. Then, a crash amid the trees.

Deer!

Sumner paused for an instant, one foot in the air, and then took off full tilt after the white tail disappearing into the darkness.

“Sumner, wait!” I called.

He skidded to a stop, looked over his shoulder at me, then back toward the hunt.

“Good job, Summie!” I shouted, pleased that he’d stopped mid-pursuit. “Let’s go this way!”

He trotted back to me, all the while throwing glances at the spot where the deer had disappeared.

When he reached me, I leaned down and gave him a quick neck massage. “You are so fantastic! What a good job!”

You might be thinking, “Quit bragging. You’re a dog trainer—of course your dog came back when you called.” Not quite. Yes, I’m a trainer, but I share the dirty little secret of many other dog professionals: my dog is far from perfectly trained. What was at work that drizzly night on the trail was something more than training. Sumner’s magnificent recall was an example of the bond in action.

The word “bond” is tossed around a lot when it comes to the dog-human relationship. Typically, the bond is considered interchangeable with the love we have for our dogs, but I see the two aspects as related but distinct parts of our lives with our dogs. Love usually develops naturally, but the bond takes time and attention to grow. Love is what makes your dog dance when you come home at the end of the day, while the bond is what keeps him from taking off without you when the front door opens. To put it in human terms, you feel love for your in-laws (maybe), but you share a bond with your best friend from middle school. A strong bond forms the foundation of your entire relationship with your dog.

In my early training days, I was confident that dog-friendly training could solve nearly any canine challenge. Your dog won’t come when you call him? He jumps, grabs, steals and pulls? Have I got a solution for you! Happily, the majority of the time I could help troubled duos work toward a resolution through training, but there were more than a few households where things just didn’t seem right, no matter how much training we attempted. There was a distinct lack of “spark” between human and dog—a concept that’s difficult to explain to a frustrated dog guardian!

In nearly every case, a series of human-created bond infractions had picked away at the strength of the relationship between dog and person. Some were major, such as physical punishment or not providing enough exercise, while others were more difficult to pinpoint—a lack of confidence or an unwillingness to have fun with the pup, for example. Basic training certainly improved these “sparkless” relationships, but I often found myself disappointed with our less-than-stellar results at the end of the program.

It became clear to me that in order to have happy, frustration-free partnerships with our dogs, we need more than just love and training. For a relationship that truly thrives, we must cement a bond with our dog built on trust, mutual respect and regard. An all-consuming task? Hardly. Strengthening the bond with your dog can be as simple as introducing novel games into your daily interactions, stepping up the amount of praise you give or integrating simple training exercises into your dog’s routine. The individual bond-building steps aren’t dramatic. In combination, though, incorporated with an honest look at any potential bonding infractions you might be committing, they will lead to a relationship that’s harmonious and envy-inducing.

A former client, Robin, told me a story that distilled the bond to a single concept. She was having furniture delivered and one of the workmen accidentally left the back door open. Spying her dog, Chelsea, he turned and ran back to shut the door, apologizing as he went.

“I didn’t know that you had a dog. I’m sorry I forgot to close the door—we don’t want her to run away, right?”

Robin smiled. Chelsea might wander out and explore the yard, or sniff around the delivery truck—but run away?

“Chelsea won’t leave.” Robin replied. “It’s not fun out there without me.”

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Four Scientific Studies on Dogs and Play
Having fun is serious business

As members of the dog-loving community, we should all be proud of our emphasis on play as an important aspect of our dogs’ lives. We have long understood that for most of our pups, playing with other dogs and playing with humans enhances their quality of life and improves their overall comportment.

During the past few years, scientific research into play has emerged from a long period during which play was not considered a proper topic for serious inquiry. Luckily, the flurry of research on this subject has included canine studies, many of which have practical applications for those of us who both love playing with our dogs and place a high value on play.

1. Response to Signals. Rooney, Bradshaw and Robinson (2001) investigated dogs’ responses to human play signals. They found that humans do communicate playful intent to their dogs, and that their various behaviors when doing so can be considered interspecific play signals. Additionally, they found that the success of signals used by humans to instigate play was unrelated to the frequency of use. For example, patting the floor as well as whispering were both often used by people attempting to initiate play with their dogs, but dogs showed a low rate of playful response to these signals.

In contrast, when people ran toward the dog, ran away from the dog or tapped their own chests, the signals were highly effective at communicating an intent to play and thus, at initiating play with dogs; none of these was used frequently by human study participants, however. Human play signals were more successful at eliciting play when accompanied by play vocalizations. This study indicates that we should pay attention to whether or not the ways we try to entice our dogs to play with us are actually effective at getting them to do so. It also suggests that we should consider adding vocalizations to our play-signal repertoire to make them more effective. [See: Do dogs respond to play signals given by humans? Animal Behaviour, 61:715– 722.]

2. Effects on Relationships. Rooney and Bradshaw (2002) found that dogs scored higher in “obedient attentiveness” after play sessions with people than before the sessions; this suggests that there is good evidence for the common belief that training after a play session can be highly effective. In the same study, the researchers found that the relative status of a human-dog pair was unaffected by whether or not dogs were allowed to “win” at games by, for example, retaining possession of the toy after playing tug. There is a caveat, though; the most playful dogs in the study exhibited significantly higher amounts of playful attention- seeking when they were allowed to win. These findings indicate that while there is no problem from a status point of view in allowing a dog to “win” at games, it may be better not to allow it with those dogs who become relentlessly pushy about seeking more play time. [See: An experimental study of the effects of play upon the dog-human relationship. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 75:161–176.]

3. Influence on Attachment. Rooney and Bradshaw (2003) found a correlation between games with a lot of physical contact and decreased amounts of low level separation-related behavior, such as staying by the door through which the owner had just left or vocalizing in the absence of the owner. It is worth considering that certain types of play may influence our dogs’ attachment to us, and also exploring the many ways that increased physical contact, including that which takes place during play, may shape our relationship. [See: Links between play and dominance and attachment dimensions of dog-human relationships. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 6:67–94.]

4. Appropriate Play. Bauer and Smuts (2007) conducted a comprehensive study of play between pairs of dogs and found that contrary to popular belief, dogs can maintain a playful atmosphere even if they are not equalizing their behavior according to the 50:50 rule so commonly considered to be essential for appropriate play. They observed significant departures from symmetrical behavior between dogs who differed greatly in either status or age. They found that role reversals were common during chasing and tackling, but that they never occurred during mounts, muzzle bites or muzzle licks. Their results suggest that when assessing play between pairs of dogs, both the specific dogs and the specific behaviors being observed need to be taken into account when determining whether any play asymmetries are potential problems. [See: Cooperation and competition during dyadic play in domestic dogs, Canis familiaris. Animal Behaviour, 73:489–499.]  The most profound insight into play that scientists can offer dog lovers isn’t necessarily new at all. There has long been ample evidence that playful behavior is associated with good relationships (see, for example, Fagen’s Animal Play Behavior, 1981). This is especially true of parents and their relationships with their children, among other close relationships. Across a variety of species, parents who are the most playful with their offspring enjoy the best relationships with them. Given the loving and fulfilling emotional connections many of us have with those of our family members who happen to be dogs, it’s no wonder that play is so vital a part of the miraculous phenomenon of dogs and people joyfully sharing their lives.

For more studies on animal play, see Marc Bekoff and John A. Byers, eds. Animal Play: Evolutionary, Comparative and Ecological Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
VIDEO: Training Your Dog to "Leave It"
Sophia Yin, DVM, MS, has training plan for the sidewalk scavenger

 

To us, the idea of eating food wrappers, horse poop and other smelly things found on the ground is gross. To your dog, it’s like walking into a room filled with French pastries and desserts—and they’re free! They can also be extraordinarily dangerous. Watch as Dr. Yin demonstrates how to change your dog’s hazardous habit.

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
News on Dog Parks Across the Country
Good news on the OLA front

Across the nation, dog-lovers are working to provide more dedicated space for their pooches to run, play and socialize. Read about some of them here and be inspired!

Louisiana: New Orleans City Bark’s 4.6 landscaped acres, coming soon. The first official NOLA dog park, it will have a state-of-the-art off-leash area, walking trails, shade pavilions, benches and a separate small dog section. They’re hoping to raise $500,000, and they could use some help.

Massachusetts: Kudos to Pilgrim Bark Park in Provincetown, which had its grand opening on Nov. 25, ’08. The dog park’s supporters employed unique and creative approaches to raising funds for their OLA. The generous response of local businesses and artists—who contributed everything from a miniature doghouse to be auctioned off, benches, art in the park, and labor and building materials to a “drive by” coin toss/penny pitch installation—reflected the best of this Cape Cod community.

New York: Buffalo’s first OLA, the aptly named Barkyard, reopened in October ’08 at LaSalle Park along Lake Erie. Veterinarian Reed Stevens, who has been working on this for eight years, explains that the name denotes a “common backyard for dogs and their human friends—and brings people and their dogs together to improve our parks, our lives and our city.”

Oklahoma: Tulsa’s first-ever dog park opened its gates in August ’08. The Joe Station Bark Park, a converted baseball field, has generous opening hours: 5 AM to 11 PM Dog lovers are hoping this will be the first of many in their fine city.

Pennsylvania: Harrisburg’s Lower Paxton Dog Park anticipates its grand opening for Memorial Day ’09. The nearly 2-acre park will have all the amenities, including a nice shady section and separate areas for big and small dogs. With land donated by the township, and the Pennsylvania Conservation Corps slated to do the fencing, the dog park association is busy with fundraising.

Washington, D.C.: Just in time for the First Dog, the first official (and legal) dog park opened on Nov. 20, ’08. The 15,000-square-foot enclosed area is located in the city’s Shaw neighborhood; registration is required, so for now, the park isn’t accessible  to outside visitors. Groundbreaking for another new park—the S Street Dog Park—took place in February ’09.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dr. Nicholas Dodman on Dog Behavior and New Training Techniques
What does it take to be the leader of the pack?

The rules of dog training and care are changing, which means your role is changing. Leading animal behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman discusses new training techniques and dog behavior with fellow veterinarian, Dr. Sophia Yin and Bark’s Claudia Kawczynska.

Bark: What is an animal behaviorist? What qualifies someone to be called a behaviorist?

Dodman: There are only two qualified types of behaviorists; one who is endorsed and certified by the Animal Behavior Society (ABS), the so-called certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (AB). And the veterinary ones, who are the diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Behavior. For the ABS the minimum starting point is a master’s degree, but a lot of certified animal behaviorists have a PhD. That’s the non-veterinary variety. In order to become a veterinary behaviorist, you have to do a vet degree first, taking four years after college, then one year internship and then the residency program that is normally three years long. In other words, it’s another four years after the DVM that you become eligible to sit for the specialty examination in behavior. So after leaving high school, the ABS is a minimum of twelve years of study. And then you have to sit a pretty hard exam. These are the two types of people who are qualified animal behaviorists.

Having said that, the fact is, if you happen to have a dog that you trained yourself at home and you think you are pretty good at it, and you believe you have a gift, as some people do; there is nothing to stop you from proclaiming yourself to be a pet therapist, trainer or behaviorist. So the qualifications range from a non-professional-schooled person right the way up to a Ph.D. or DVM-board certified, so there is a tremendous range of people who call themselves behaviorists. I know some dog trainers who go out of their way to avoid being termed behaviorist, so if you ask, “Are you a behaviorist?” they say “no I am not a behaviorist, I am a trainer.”

Bark: What do you feel is the place for punishment or negative re-enforcement in treating behavioral problems?

Dodman: I think that the direct punishment-based techniques are outmoded, a thing of the past, and should be avoided. Nobel Prize winners Lorenz, Tinbergen and Von Frisch might have disagreed on some points, but the three of them were all in agreement that punishment teaches a dog nothing. All it does is to teach a dog how to avoid the punishment. Which is not the same as teaching the dog what to do. There is no learning, other than learning avoidance of certain actions. You don’t need punishment to teach either dogs or children. I don’t believe in the concept of “sparing the rod and spoiling the child,” or sparing the chain-jerking and spoiling the dog. All the techniques that we use in the clinic are 100 percent motivational—we do not use any coercive techniques. I work on the theory that if you can train a killer whale to launch itself out of a swimming pool, roll on its side and urinate into a small plastic cup, given only a whistle and a bucket of fish, without a choke chain, then you don’t need those confrontational techniques with dogs.

As for those prong collars … I sometimes say to clients what John Lennon rudely said about Paul McCarthy—the only thing he did was “Yesterday.” Prong collars are yesterday. There are some trainers, not all trainers, who just seem to know only one thing, and that is how to escalate punishment to reach the desired effect. So they start off with puppies the right way with food motivation. But as soon as the dog reaches a certain age, they go into a slip collar, then a metal choke collar, and if these aren’t having the desired aversive effects, they escalate up to a prong collar; some even graduate higher, to electricity. What you have is a gradation of pain. And the pain is designed with the theory “you teach them to do something, and if they don’t do it, you hurt them.” Konrad Lorenz said that science and know-how aren’t enough in dog training; patience is the vital stuff. I find that non-confrontational techniques are more appreciated by owners who often aren’t of the disposition to want to hurt their animals to make them do anything.

Bark: I know that one of the big problems in training comes up in animal shelters, where some training is given to the dogs to make them more adoptable. Patience and non-aversive training are wonderful, but what can shelters workers do to make the animals adoptable, quickly?

Dodman: You could train fairly fast with clickers. In my office I use a clicker and food treats. I can have a dog at the beginning of a one-hour session without the faintest idea of what a clicker is, but at the end of the hour I do a click and he’ll immediately come and sit for a food treat. They can learn what the clicker means fairly quickly. But in terms of rehabilitation of a dog in a shelter, I don’t think that taking a dog that has gone through the kinds of unfortunate experiences that cause it to arrive in a shelter and then putting a choke chain and popping it a couple of times is going to sort it out. With a lot of the dogs I have seen in the behavior clinic, the relationship with the owner has broken down. Many of these dogs have been to training. They are top of the class. They are very smart. But they are willful or dysfunctional. They have problems that way, and these are the kinds of things that bring animals to shelters. You have dogs that are either relatively normal but untrained, or they are fearful, needing more confidence building. If you put a choke chain on a dog like that, you are going to drive it back in the middle of last week.

It all has to do with communication, too, it’s not about having your dog respond like a little soldier to commands. It is just clear communication. I tell people to just imagine if they were in downtown Shanghai: everyone speaks Chinese and they don’t have the faintest idea of what is going on. That’s a pretty stressful situation to be in. But if someone comes up with just a few basic words—like restaurant, bathroom, transportation—just a few words sprinkled in, that could really mean something and could help with de-stressing the situation. I see communication as being one of the three Rs of rehabilitation for a dog that has gone off the rails. The other two Rs are exercise and appropriate diet. I call that the Reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic of dog rehabilitation. If you are dog, you pronounce that with a rrruhrrr.

Bark: What do you think is the single most important preventative measure people can take to help avoid behavior problems in their pets?

Dodman: That’s a difficult question, because there are several factors, such as exercise, diet, communication, suitable restraints and fenced-in yards and perhaps providing a crate, even if you don’t ever shut the door. Put as the one single thing? Probably it would be to provide leadership. The dog is a territorial animal and when he moves into your territory, he’ll try to take it over; if you feed him, he might keep you on because you are feeding him. So it is very important to provide clear leadership in a non-confrontational way.

I think that dogs and children are a very similar. For example, there was a study done by a master’s degree graduate student at Tufts. She took dogs on the basis of puppy temperament testing who were likely to become a bit extroverted, a little dominant. And she said three simple things to their owners—she had two groups so she did it all scientifically—one group of owners were told, “Have a nice day,” and the other group was told, “Number one, make your puppy sit in order to get fed; number two, make your little puppy sit to get food treats; and, number three, provide the puppy with a crate. (You don’t have to put the dog in there twenty-three hours a day, you can even leave the door open. Make it a safe place for the dog to go to.)” With these three measures none of the dogs in the second group became dominant or gave the owners any trouble. Nearly all the dogs in the first group turned out to be dominant and got into the territorial mode of guarding their property and possessions within their territory.

So I think that leadership is very important because of the pack mentality of dogs. If you are the leader, I don’t think that the dog is unhappy about having you as the leader. And when the owner takes clear control through a non-confrontational dominance program, you can almost hear the dog sigh with relief. It’s as if they are saying, “My god, for a minute I thought it was me who was in charge here.” It’s a relief. They don’t feel miserable. They are not like humans who have to be number one. They don’t care about being at the top of the hierarchy, they just need to know where they are in it. Clearly know .

Bark: In your books you talk about the importance of aerobic exercise for the health of a dog. How can dog owners provide that kind of exercise for their dogs at the end of leash?

Dodman: The vast majority of dogs do benefit greatly from having exercise periods. And walking dogs on a leash is not sufficient exercise. It’s not that they die if they walk on a leash, just as it’s not that a human being dies in solitary confinement either. It is just that it is not optimal for their physiological and psychological well-being. Exercise is good for us and it is good for a dog. People say to me, “I give my dog a lot of exercise, I take him for a walk around the block every day and it is about a mile or a mile and a half.” I say, “Well, I take my 84-year-old mother for a mile walk around the block, but that doesn’t constitute exercise.” We really need to get heart rate to a certain level, and this is done by running off-lead.

Then again, there is another side to the dogs-in-parks issue, and this is where you find people coming out stacked high on both sides. There’s responsible pet ownership. But it is the irresponsible behavior of the few that has made society make rules that are punitive for the many responsible owners. So it is not appropriate to walk along Fifth Avenue with your dog off leash—even if you happen to have a dog trained to heel, all it takes is a rollerblader coming down the street and the dog might run after him or the dog might decide to cross the road because there is a bitch in heat. On crowded streets you need to keep a dog on lead, and people need to be responsible for picking up their dog’s waste; and if you know that your dog has a weakness for, say, attacking small dogs, that is another thing that you should control. The only way you can control it is physically. But that doesn’t mean that you have to forego aerobic exercise. It is the owner’s duty to find a place where they can let their dog off leash to run, safely.

I know how difficult it is when you live inside a huge sprawling urban complex, such as a city like Boston. Tufts is north of Boston in Medford and they have the same issues. All the dog people from the north shore of Boston were using the university playing fields to exercise their dogs. They were all congregating on the only green area. The football players were running around and skidding in dog muck. So they put a little fence around a little area in the corner, so now all the dog people are condensed into that small area. This is a difficult situation—the dog owners have nowhere else to go, but the players shouldn’t have to roll around in the dog doo either. I think there should be certain areas where dogs are permitted to do whatever they want to do, to run. I sometimes tell people if they are in a really difficult situation, though this is somewhat illicit, if worse comes to worst, take their dogs to a tennis court—wing a ball to them and they’ll run backwards and forwards.

So whether it’s continued petitioning to provide parks for dog owners, these things are necessary, considering how many dogs there are in the country. There are something like half as many dogs as there are cars. If you told car owners they could not park on the streets, what would they do? So there is this massive problem. One in five people owns a dog, something like 40 percent of all American households have a pet. And to make a rule that people can’t exercise their dogs off leash might even be one of the reasons that we are seeing an increase in problems these days. The demographics of the human population is such that people are moving into the inner cities, we are becoming a nation of city dwellers, and in the city it is a concrete jungle, as Desmond Morris would say.

Life is very bizarre for dogs who live in Manhattan. It is not at all like the natural life. A dog needs to be provided with natural outlets—being able to run and exercise and chase things and do what dogs were bred to do. Say you have an apartment-dwelling dog who has little or no exercise and is fed one of these high-energy foods. Then add to that that there isn’t much communication because the owner took the dog to obedience training as a puppy and doesn’t do it anymore. So now you have a dog that neither is communicated with properly, nor has appropriate outlets or diet. This situation, which is all too common, is an accident looking for a place to happen.
 

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Dogs Who Love Soccer--and Try to Join the Game
Some dogs get a kick out of the game
Soccer Dogs

Since he spent much time with pencil and paper in his father’s study, dogs also became the chief subject of his drawings: an endless number of epic scenes in which dogs were generals, soldiers, soccer players, and knights.

 

—Milan Kundera, Life Is Elsewhere

 

The world’s most popular game and one of the most beloved symbols of domesticity would seem to be an ideal combination. Soccer and dogs can both create idyllic moments. The emotion that comes from watching a dog freed from his tether bound across a field parallels that of seeing some of the world game’s artists demonstrate their gifts in the 2010 World Cup.

 

Study the history of a sport that has enchanted people of all social stripes and you’ll see that dogs have had their place in it, nowhere more so than in the modern game’s country of origin—England—where the phrase “two men and a dog” long ago became the sportswriter’s cliché for the sparse but dutiful attendance at lower-division matches.

 

One of the indicators of increasing corporate influence and enhanced regulation over English soccer (football), in fact, has been the decline over the past two decades in the number of dogs trying to join the play. The so-called “pitch intrusions” were features of the game in its earlier days; when they occurred, the referee was required to stop the game, and players kneeled in frustrated attempts to coax the canine visitors into their arms.

 

How did dogs get on the field in the first place? I asked Roger Titford, who has written on dogs and football for English soccer magazines.

 

“One suspects that men sometimes said they were taking the dog out for a walk as an excuse, when in fact they were off to the match,” he writes. “This was much easier in the days of walking to a nearby ground and standing on half-empty terraces than it is nowadays. The dog got bored, startled by the noise or something, and escaped through a pitchside gate or by leaping a low wall and ran for freedom all over the pitch, usually round in circles until rounded up by the referee or, for some reason, the goalie.”

 

A notorious incident occurred at the 1962 World Cup in Chile in a quarterfinal between England and Brazil. A stray dog avoided several players until celebrated England forward Jimmy Greaves sunk to all fours and corralled it. According to some reports, Greaves barked. This counterintuitive approach to calming the dog had startling consequences, as the frightened animal urinated on Greaves’ England jersey. “I smelled bad,” said Greaves, “but at least it meant the Brazilian defenders stayed clear of me.” Garrincha, a Brazilian midfield player, enjoyed the display so much that he adopted the dog after the tournament. Garrincha scored twice in the match. England lost.

 

But of all sporting events in which animals have interceded, few incidents top the exploits of Pickles. The mixed-breed Scottish Border Collie, accompanying his owner, a Thames barge worker, on an evening walk in South-East London’s Beulah Hill on March 27, 1966, drew the man’s attention to a package wrapped in newspaper.

 

“I picked it up and tore some paper and saw a woman holding a dish over her head,” recalls David Corbett in an interview with the London Observer earlier this year, “and disks with the words Germany, Uruguay, Brazil. I rushed inside to my wife. She was one of those anti-sport wives. But I said, ‘I’ve found the World Cup! I’ve found the World Cup!’”

 

One week earlier, the Jules Rimet trophy, the prize for the winning team in that summer’s World Cup, had been stolen from its glass display case at an exhibition hall in Westminster. England’s Football Association, domestic organizers of the tournament that was taking place in England for the first time, consulted Scotland Yard and started ransom negotiations with the thieves. The FA also surreptitiously commissioned a replacement trophy in case the £30,000 solid-gold statuette could not be recovered in time.

 

But Pickles saved authorities from greater embarrassment. The theft, remembers Corbett, gained such attention that it had “knocked [Prime Minister] Harold Wilson off the front pages.”

 

Pickles was feted. He lived life as a celebrity dog, starring in a film, The Spy with the Cold Nose, earning medals from canine-advocacy groups and receiving a year’s food supply. The medals, attached to Pickles’ weathered red collar, remain on view at the National Football Museum in Preston, England.

 

Beyond these chance intersections between pets and the game, do dogs themselves play soccer? The idea has intrigued me since attending the 2005 US RoboCup Open at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. There, I watched teams of Sony AIBO dogs programmed to play four-a-side games on artificial turf. The Japanese word aibo means “companion.” Before being discontinued earlier this year, the robot dogs, marketed to Japanese consumers, eventually became the most commercially successful robots in history. These “bots” play amazingly well, considering that their moves are not controlled by programmers but rely on algorithms devised in artificial-intelligence labs.

 

Flesh-and-blood dogs, typically burly Labradors, occasionally join me and my friends during casual weekend soccer games at an Atlanta park. One dog in particular likes to flop down in the standing water at the goalmouth—a born goalkeeper, ready to soil his jersey.

 

In order to avoid injury to ourselves and the dogs, we shoo them away. But Kim Schive, who breeds Shetland Sheepdogs in Carlisle, Massachusetts, says that youth soccer coaches have sometimes looked admiringly at her Shelties when she takes them on park outings. Some of her dogs, she says, use their front paws as “hands,” whereas other breeds typically rely on the nose to propel a ball.

 

One dog, Toby, “would often stop an airborne ball by actually jumping up, catching it between his front paws, and slamming it to the ground in perfect position to be propelled forward with his nose.” He “would also ‘head’ the ball if it was airborne and if he was close enough to me to knock it back to me with his head. He had a real knack for leaping into the air and hitting the ball at just the right angle to drive it back to wherever I was.”

 

Toby may have only played in the World Cup in his dreams, but he was an AKC best-of-breed and herding-group champion. Playing soccer, says Schive, looked like another expression of his herding drive.

 

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