Cozy Tales: 8. Tales of the Kong

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Many dogs love toys. Some love their stuffies, some love a sock, and some have a penchant for the fine bouquet and delicate aroma of whatever tennis ball they happen to find that day. Cozy had a nice collection of toys including an orange octopus that she enjoyed, a small squeaky dog-catcher man, and various pull toys made of rope, nylon, and rubber. For Cozy, though, there was only one toy that mattered, and that was her Kong.

The Kong entered Cozy’s life on the day she came home with us from the breeder’s house. We had dutifully purchased a pile of toys fit for an eight-week old puppy, and two of those toys were the little red Kong along with a small red cube made of a similar material. Kongs, if you’re not aware, are one of the best dog toys ever invented. They’re made of hard rubber which makes them practically indestructible, and are shaped in such a way that they bounce unpredictably when dropped or thrown. Not only that, but they’re also hollow which means that they can be stuffed full of peanut butter. If you want to keep a dog busy and quiet for a while, give him a Kong stuffed with peanut butter. Want to make it last even longer? Put that peanut-butter laden Kong in the freezer overnight!

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Since Cozy was  a wee lass when first she came to us, we bought her a wee little Kong. As she grew and grew, the little Kong started to look a little ridiculous in her huge mouth, leading me to jokingly call it her poodle kong. We actually became concerned that she might inadvertently swallow it, though thankfully she never did.

Cozy loved her little Kong so much that we would use it for training and games. I would make her sit and stay, then hide the Kong in various places around the house, after which I would give her the command go find it. She would then scour the entire house and find it no matter where we put it. Clever girl that she was, if she’d found it last time in our bedroom, then she would immediately look there first on the next turn. She then learned to watch me as I hid the Kong, her head craning around the hallway corner so that she could see what room I went in, then run straight to that room when I released her. Once I caught on to that trick, I would go into multiple rooms, but she soon figured out that it would be in the last room I visited. In order to win this battle of wits with my dog I would have to walk into every room and leave it in any of them other than the last one I visited.

Another favorite game for her was the box game. I would put the Kong on the floor and cover it with an open cardboard box with her watching, then tell her go get it and watch her figure out how to retrieve it. This was fun for us because as smart as she was, this game flummoxed her almost every time. Since Cozy was so smart we would often try games like this to prevent her from getting bored since a bored smart dog is a recipe for a destroyed house, or as we would soon learn, remote controls.

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Next to me, the Kong was Cozy’s favorite thing in the entire world. If she wanted to play but didn’t want to release the Kong, she would trot up to me with it in her mouth and nudge me with her nose. If I tried to grab it from her she would pull away just out of reach then lean in and nudge me again. She was really quite a tease. If I ignored her, she would gently place the Kong on my lap, then sit like a good girl and stare at me. If I still ignored her she would lean over and nudge the Kong so that it would roll on my lap. If I still ignored her she would bark at me with a single, sharp, Hey! bark. This nagging would continue until I picked up the Kong and either threw it at her or tossed it somewhere for her to chase. Once she had it again, the ritual would start all over. If I told her to go lie down and she chose to listen, she would humph at me with a snort, then go and sit in the corner with her Kong and sulk.

If, on the other hand I even looked at her, she would quickly look at me, then look back down at the Kong with an intense stare as if to say, it’s right there. Don’t you see it? It’s on your lap! DUDE! It’s RIGHT THERE!

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If I had the Kong in my hand, Cozy would stare intently at it, and nothing else in the world mattered. She might sneak a glance at me to see if I was going to throw it to her, but her focus was always the Kong. This was a great tool for me when taking pictures of her because I could get her into almost any position I wanted by holding the Kong a certain way, or placing it where I wanted her to look. Her patience would last only so long though, and if I didn’t throw it to her she would bark her displeasure with her special single Hey! bark.

When Cozy was a few months old I threw her a piece of popcorn and it bounced off of her nose, which though adorable, simply wouldn’t do. I set about training Cozy to catch things tossed to her, and I used her little poodle Kong to do it. She got so good at catching the Kong that I could throw it at her as hard as I could and she would still catch it — she was that fast. She often impressed our friends with her Kong-catching skills, though they would be less impressed when she would shove the slime-covered Kong into their laps in order to ask for another toss.

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When Cozy would get bored we would take her Kong and throw it blindly into the yard from the deck. She would then tear down the stairs and search the entire yard until she found it. She even learned on her own to develop a search pattern where she would criss-cross the yard, advancing her search as she covered an entire section, then doubling back to cover another section in perfect form. Sometimes she would find it right way and other times it would take her twenty minutes, but she always found it. Every now and then the Kong would bounce over the fence and into the woods, and when this happened she would figure out where it was, but since she couldn’t get past the fence she would stand and bark at it until someone retrieved it for her.

Since Cozy had grown so attached to her Kong, we decided at one point to get her additional copies in case something happened to the original one, but she wanted nothing to do with any of them. We even tried to get her to play with bigger ones since we figured they would be safer and more befitting a girl of Cozy’s stature, but only the Kong we bought for her as a puppy would do. We don’t know if they smelled different or if the Kong company had changed the formula in the plastic, but there was only one Kong for Cozy.

Sometimes the Kong would go missing for weeks until one day we would walk into the living room to find Cozy barking and scratching at the bottom of the couch. We finally learned that if Cozy was going crazy for no apparent reason that we should check it out, you know, in case that guy with the missing finger from the stories was in the house. If she was barking and pawing at the couch, then we’d slide out the couch and invariably the Kong would roll out from behind it. Cozy would then pounce on the Kong, trot around the house triumphantly with her tail in the air, then proceed to annoy us with it with newfound fervor.

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Over the years Cozy mastered the ins and outs of her special brand of Kong-play. Since the Kong was so little and she was so big, she might have the entire thing in her mouth and you’d never know until she walked up to you and started talking. Her muffled woo-woo-woo would be altered by the odd hollow shape of the Kong, almost like a trumpet player using a plunger over his horn to get that wonderful muted metallic sound.

Cozy also had a variety of ways to hold the Kong in her mouth. She might hold it with the little end pointing straight out, and if you told her to turn it around she would flip it in her mouth until the big end was sticking out. This was preferable to me because then I could stick a single finger in the Kong to get it, thus minimizing my exposure to drool. Of course, this was a fool’s errand because she would just lay her head in my lap when she was done thus using me as a napkin, but at least I could keep most of the drool off of my skin. That was the theory anyway — in practice Cozy’s drool was as ubiquitous and constant as her affection for me.

Cozy would also place the large opening over one of her large canine teeth. This would make the Kong stick up or down out of her mouth at a funny angle, and she would often just sit there with the Kong on her tooth like some giant piece of plastic jewelry. I think she just loved the variety. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear that I’d caught her once or twice checking herself out in the mirror as she accessorized her look with a variety of clever Kong placements.

Cozy even learned to throw the Kong. If you told her to throw it, she would take a step back, rear her head back two or three times then launch it right at you. She could usually hit a man-sized target at ten yards, though her accuracy was inconsistent at best. Luckily, if she missed me, I could just tell her to go get it. She would stare at me awhile, then having decided that I was too lazy to get it myself, she would snort, trot over, pick it up and harass me with it all over again.

The downside of her loving a single toy so completely was that any time I mowed the lawn, the first order of business was to make sure that the Kong was secure, and since it was small, that was often a challenge. Before each mow I would scour the yard, which I had to do anyway to remove all the other toys that she left there. If I didn’t find the Kong, I’d have to go inside and make sure it was safe. This was troublesome if the Kong had been lost, but we never managed to destroy it, though we did have a scare once.

One day while mowing I nailed the cube-Kong with the mower, tearing it to shreds in the blink of an eye. With a thunk, the mower shuddered and red shrapnel went everywhere, my heart sinking as I feared the worst. I shut down the tractor, and went looking for evidence that I had ruined Cozy’s life, though thankfully I discerned through careful analysis of the remains that I had only killed the red cube. I vowed to check doubly hard from then-on, and I am proud to say that in all my years of mowing and Kong-hunting, I never once hit the Kong with the mower.

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