I mentioned one of Archie's sillier behaviors in a recent post: how he lays down with his front paws straight out in front of him, side by side, and then carefully sets the ball on his paws and nudges it with his nose, using his paws like a piece of Hot Wheels track to direct the ball to me. He's learned, of course, that he has to be more or less facing me or this trick won't work. I refuse to chase balls so one of his newer commands is "no, YOU get it!"
I'm now going to attempt to describe some other unique aspects of playing ball with Archie. I have to specify that we prefer to play with the Orbee balls patterned like globes. The dogs gleefully and immediately peel off the continents when given a new Orbee ball, which is rare because they last forever (rated 10/10 by T3i), but even without those decorations the balls are satisfyingly knobbly. Iceland in particular is alarmingly large and pointy. The balls are made of soft rubber (not latex), and have two holes in them at opposite ends. The part about the holes is important, as you will see.
Archie likes to chew on his ball a bit before he rolls it off his paws to me. But he doesn't just mouth it. He rapidly compresses this thick, strong ball nearly in half with his giant fox terrier teeth and jaws. Now imagine what happens when you do this with a hollow rubber ball--all the air rushes out the holes and puffs his cheeks out. Then he relaxes his jaws and the ball pops back to shape as the air rushes back in, sucking his cheeks with it. He often gives a terrier head shake when he clamps down just to make really sure the ball is dead. He will do this more than a dozen times in a row after every throw so I can only conclude that he likes how it feels. His actions are deliberate, not frantic. This is high church ritual for him.
Throwing the ball to Archie has become a challenge. When I play in the house, I don't want things to get too wild so I'll bounce the ball off the floor in a low, forward arc. Archie rarely misses. It's kind of eerie. I've tried throwing faster, to the side, with a higher bounce--I can't really get the ball past him very often. As soon as he catches the ball, he runs back to the same position on a rug near my front door. Mimi is often already there with her ball so Archie has to carefully navigate around her--bumping a cranky old terrier even by accident is not the best idea. He'll lay down a few feet from me, maul the orbee for a bit to ensure it is completely covered in slobber (he has the most slobbery mouth I've ever seen in a small terrier), roll it off his paws to me...and then he waits still as a statue, tongue hanging out just a bit, almost holding his breath, laser eyes on the ball at my feet.
When I reach for the ball, he bursts into action, levitates up and over Mimi, somehow never touching her, and runs to position in the living room, skidding into a turn so he faces me as he comes to a stop. I taught him "beep beep" (the command I use for "back up") simply by waiting for him to randomly take a step back. Now he often starts backing up on his own if I don't wing his ball to him right away.
I like playing ball with Archie because he is so obsessive, so dedicated to executing all of the little parts of the game just so, over and over and over. To illustrate the depth of Archie's obsessive behavior with his orbee, I have this example. I threw the ball and to everyone's surprise, it bounced off his nose and rolled to a position far behind me. He ran and grabbed the ball then ran back to the position in the living room where he would have originally caught the ball, skidded around to face me and only then ran to lay down in the usual launch position near me, carefully winding his way around Mimi. I was floored.
I am perfectly aware that playing with him like this created the little monster that wouldn't let me study this term. But the focus he has when we play ball is very similar to his focus when we play agility. I want to nurture this focus, learn to direct it and reward it.