Hooper is a soccer wunderkind. Like all of his other traits/habits/skills, we discovered this over time.
It started with a yellow "utility ball" we found in the snow in November, a forgotten castaway from an Aurora 7 Elementary School recess. Upon discovering the lost ball languishing on top of the fresh snow at the schoolyard after one of the first snowfalls of the season here in Boulder, I kicked it toward the ballfield and Hooper immediately recognized the potential. We ran toward the ballfield gate, kicking the ball along, and once we got inside, a game of keep-away/get-the-ball-past-the-dog ensued, for far longer than it should have.
Since that time, a number of balls (soccer balls, utility balls, baseballs... balls!) have turned up in the ballfields where we take our dogs--in various states of disrepair and deflation--and recently a particular soccer ball has become the apple in Hooper's eye.
I left work early today to make a doctor's appointment, so Hooper & I ended up at the ballfield earlier than usual. With no other dog action going on, we resorted to a good old fashioned game of one-on-one fetch. But returning from the second throw of the day, Hooper discovered a pathetic, half-deflated, chewed-up soccer ball to his left and dropped the baseball he was bringing back to me and darted off towards the soccer ball. He jumped on it, bit it, and bounced back a foot or so and nosed at the ball, then looked at me, tail wagging.
Soccer with Hooper is simple; make the ball go. But there are evolutionary, hard-wired layers to the game that I find interesting. Hooper's Border Collie DNA makes this a game of Get in Front of the Ball, Herd the Ball, more than anything else. All it takes to put Hooper in motion is to simply put your body between ball and dog; he circles around and positions himself in front of the ball and you with precision. You can keep moving around the ball and he will follow suit, making sure that ball has no "out".
The main game is to put the ball in motion though, and this clearly makes Hooper's day. cutting left and right, Hooper eyes the ball, my feet, my hips and my eyes, as if the end result of my getting past him with the ball decides the World Cup Championship Match. And so I oblige, until I am out of breath. We cut left and right, kick-dribbling and running, Hooper's tongue hanging out, his big brown eyes tracking my every move. The best part is when we get a certain momentum going in one direction and I open up enough distance between ourselves that I can give the ball a good whack, sending the ball arcing just over Hooper's head in a dead run; Hooper springs up into the air, all four paws off the ground, and he throws a single snap of the teeth towards the ball, missing, and then scampers off to tackle the errant ball. He pounces, shakes it a few times like it owes him money, drops it, backs up a few steps, and looks at me and wags his tail. How does one resist this plea?
We played this game for a full hour in the ballpark tonight, with no other dogs joining us. I even gave up early and sat on the dugout bench, holding the leash. Hooper came up to me and dropped the ball at my feet, which I rewarded with another ten minutes of World Cup Doggie Soccer. Afterward, we walked home and I made him another batch of homemade dog treats; I think I love this animal.