Published February 11, 2024

Talking Tennis Ball 

Written by
Kim Fundingsland
| The Dakotan
(Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan)
(Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan)

A Slice of Life

I know what you are thinking, this guy must have hit his head in a foiled attempt to leap the net. There is no such thing as a talking tennis ball.  

True, to my knowledge, but since you’ve already been lured in by a catchy headline and are curious about my sanity, at least let me offer the following explanation. 

Dedicated readers of this vaunted column are aware that I have been a dog owner for years. I estimate the number to be well over 1,000 years. For those of you proclaiming this to be an impossibility and solid confirmation of my loss of faculties, it is a figure reached by dogs I’ve owned times years of age times seven. The latter number being the often accepted “dog years.” 

Please stop trying to figure out how many dogs I’ve owned through some sort of reverse mathematical calculation. The number is a clever estimate designed to challenge your thinking. In other words, I made it up. The point is – I’m a long-time dog owner who, as I suspect many dog owners are, always trying to figure out what a dog is saying. 

If you are around dogs long enough you develop some understanding of postures, sounds, ear, tail, and eye movements that have meanings. We teach dogs a foreign language with words like sit, stay, and come but quite often do not understand how they communicate with us, or try to. Sometimes they will sit by the door when they want out. That’s easy to understand. 

They get excited when certain boots or shoes are being pulled on, or when a leash gets pulled off a hook. The tail moves rapidly, the eyes get bright, and it is easy to understand their enthusiasm for getting out of the house. Sometimes though, dogs say things in other ways that are not so easy to understand. 

I’ve had a dog that pawed at my leg or placed a paw on my foot every time I was away from my phone and a text message arrived. It took me a while to figure that one out. I guess she saw me responding to text messages and figured I should know about them even when I was outside, in the garage, or somewhere distant from my phone. 

Here’s another example of canine communication that is a harder sell to those who didn’t witness it. I had a talking dog. No, we didn’t have long, philosophical conversations, but rather just a single word. 

You see, accompanied by this particular dog, I often visited my mother and father. Mom would always greet the dog in a very friendly way and there was usually a treat involved. The result was that my mother became a favorite person in this dog’s life.  

One day when this dog was sitting by the back door, a clear message she needed to go outside, I opened the door, but she just sat there. She looked up at me and, in a kind of yawning manner, said “mom.” Shocked, I repeated the word mom, and my dog said the same thing back to me and went outside to sit next to my vehicle. How goofy am I, I thought as I opened the car door and the dog jumped in.  

At my mother’s house the happy dog greeted her with “mom.” It was so clear and unmistakable that my mother had tears in her eyes. As we said mom to the dog the dog would return the word. Significantly, I never heard my dog make any sounds even close to sounding like “mom” in any other situation.  

Question that story as you must, let us move on to the talking tennis ball which is the real inspiration for this writing. The dog I own today, an Australian shepherd named “Sally,” does not verbally communicate in the English language but rather in many ways. She was quick to learn from me. I’ve been a bit slower to learn from her, which is the essence of this tale. 

For reasons unknown to me, Sally has chosen tennis ball communication. It started during my occasional naps on either end of a couch with built-in recliners in my TV room. I’d wake up after nodding off for a few minutes to discover a tennis ball at my side. Sometimes it would be multiple tennis balls. Huh? 

I knew Sally was responsible and at first just thought she wanted to play. When I tried that she just put the tennis ball back at my side and looked at me with sad eyes, telling me I wasn’t responding as intended. 

“Out we go?” I asked, and Sally immediately turned toward the door. 

Now she drops tennis balls on my lap whenever she wants to go outside. There are times though, when dropping a tennis ball on the couch means something else as she doesn’t respond with any movement when I ask her if she wants to go out. 

As near as I can interpret this tennis ball talk, she’s asking, or rather telling me to take her for a walk or a run. At least that’s what I think. Admittedly, I’ve still got a lot to learn about talking tennis balls. 

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