Finn has taught me to play a certain game with him when we're running trails. I don't remember exactly when this game started, but it is now a regular feature of our runs.

Finn in a stream, waiting for the signal...
Finn's game - played at every water stop - displays his sense of humor.

When we come upon a stream or pond, Finn wades in and drinks. I wait patiently, as I want him to drink plenty of water and know that if I keep moving, he'll stop drinking because he doesn't want to be left behind. After several slurps, Finn stands very still - despite my urging him to keep drinking - and looks directly at me, with legs tensed to spring into action. He even crouches a bit, his eyes very intense as he focuses all of his energy on me. It's an excellent imitation of a Border collie trying to get you to throw a stick. Finn waits, waits...until I shift my body to signal a resumption of our run. He then quickly bites one last mouthful of water (I doubt he actually ingests much) before leaping out of the stream, back onto the trail and dashing into his usual position of lead dog. I always laugh, his reward for a game well played.

This has become quite choreographed and a regular feature of our trail runs. Dog humor.

As I learned Finn's game, I even started mimicking his body language. When he tenses and stares, so do I. He loves this, and gets even more tense, crouching lower. I make him wait until finally I spring with quick movement, saying "Let's go!" Snatching that last bite of water Finn is off and running again, happy, me laughing and following right behind.

Playing this game several times during a run this morning, I marveled at how Finn had taught it to me, how important it seemed to him. I thought about dogs' senses of humor and how they display them to us, if we pay attention. I was reminded of Meadow's favorite trail game: switchbacks. Meadow had a wicked sense of humor, and Maia was usually her target. 

Meadow's switchback game worked like this: when running forest trails, Maia was always in the lead, followed by me (and often my friend Mike), Meadow bringing up the rear. Many trails we ran frequently, so we all knew the terrain well. If there were switchbacks on a downhill stretch of trail, Meadow - already in the back - would slow down and hang back. As Maia, Mike and I would keep following the trail, Meadow would quietly cut straight down the hillside and wait just above the trail as it came back across. As Maia came along the trail, Meadow would leap right in front of her with a big bouncy show and play-bite Maia on the neck, which would elicit an irritated wrestling response from Maia as she pushed her way past Meadow. Mike and I would laugh, and over time started chanting "Cheater!" to Meadow, for cutting switchbacks. This, of course, only reinforced the game in Meadow's mind. Even Maia enjoyed it. 

Maia and Meadow on a hot, dusty Idaho trail run in 2007

The other trail game Meadow would play displayed more smarts than humor. When running certain single track trails in summer there can be a lot of dust kicked up by human and canine feet (especially in drier Idaho). The lead dog or person doesn't have to inhale this dust, so it's the prized position. Maia was typically lead dog, by general consensus. In second position, I wasn't happy with the dust but at least I was tall enough to miss most of it. Poor Meadow, bringing up the rear, had to eat dust from Maia and me. Ah, but Meadow was nobody's fool. On the dustiest of days, on downhill stretches (where the most dust is kicked up) she would suddenly sprint alongside the trail until she got in front of me and Maia. I marveled that Maia rarely challenged Meadow when this happened; Maia would tuck in behind Meadow rather than try to pass her. But Meadow, playful brat she could be, would slow way down, until first Maia and then I were practically stumbling into Meadow's rear end. I soon learned the best solution was for me to jump off the trail and sprint past both girls; Maia would scoot in behind me until we were both ahead of Meadow again, and Maia would resume lead position. Sometimes this happened several times on a long downhill stretch. Yet another Meadow trail game, although in this instance it had more to do with her unhappiness with eating our trail dust than trying to be funny. I couldn't blame her.

Dogs are so full of mirth, play and joy. And smarts. We just have to pay attention and find a way to play along with them.