The Rockwood Files: A game of switch and ditch

rockwoodfiles2-205x300This morning I caught a glimpse of something white sticking out from under the sofa. Typically that “something” is a stray sock that one of our boys has taken off and slid under a cushion because walking it to the clothes hamper would be both inconvenient and wildly out of character.

But this time it wasn’t the kids cluttering up my living room. It was the dogs. That white thing was a bone I’d given them a few days earlier – one of many dog treats they love to never eat.

Overall, our 16-year-old, Lab mix, E.J., and our 2-year-old Beagle, Charlie, are good dogs. That’s exactly what I tell them when I reach into the container where I keep dog treats and chew bones. They crowd around my legs, wagging their tails and licking their lips, anxious to clamp down on whatever raw hide surprise I’ve got in store for them.

I give grey-faced E.J. his treat first because he’s 112 in dog years and shouldn’t have to wait around. He accepts it thankfully and shuffles off to the living room. Then I give a bone to Charlie and he trots off to find E.J. and begin a bizarre dog ritual I like to call “switch and ditch.”

It’s a strange little game, but I’m beginning to understand the rules. Rule No. 1 says: “Your bone is much more desirable than my bone.”

Keep in mind that the two bones are identical in size, shape and flavor, but the dogs don’t see it that way. You know that old saying about grass being greener on the other side of the fence? In dog-speak, that saying translates to “Another dog’s bone always looks meatier.

So the dogs begin a familiar dance of methodical pacing around the room, sneaking sideways glances at each other. Eventually one of them settles down and pretends to start chewing the bone. This makes the other one relax just long enough to set his own bone down, at which point the first dog will sprint over and snatch up the other dog’s bone, leaving his own inferior bone behind.

In some households, this kind of blatant bone theft would trigger a fight. But we’re lucky because our dogs are similarly weird. The dog who gets his bone stolen trots over and steals the thief’s bone. Then they both walk away with the other dog’s bone, each of them convinced they’ve got the better deal. After this bone switcheroo, they occasionally sit down and gnaw on the treats.

But most the time, they continue that restless pacing. Then they sneak off to separate rooms and return moments later with no bone, which means they’ve hidden them under a bed, in a basket of laundry, behind a curtain or shoved under the sofa like the one I found today. Which brings me to Rule No. 2: “The only thing better than another dog’s bone is a stockpile of another dog’s bones.”

Given the frequent game of “switch and ditch,” I’m not sure why I even bother handing out dog bones. Any time we have guests over, I have to check behind throw pillows to make sure no one sits down and gets a bacon-flavored bone in their back.

But I suppose there is at least one perk. When I find these bones stashed away for a rainy day that never comes, I put them back into the dog treat container – my own little recycling program. And in a few days, the dogs will excitedly crowd around me for a treat, and I’ll tell them they’re good dogs and hand each of them a perfectly good bone. Then the game begins anew.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography