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Dog Chess





Dog Chess is a game suitable for dogs of all shapes and sizes. It requires only a ball, a reasonably clear playing area, and an owner vulnerable to psychological manipulation.

It can be played on any reasonably sized, clear area, such as a park, and requires only yourself, your owner, and one or more balls. Sticks may be substituted for balls, and a ball thrower can be used to throw the ball if your owner would rather not reveal to the entire world that he throws like a complete girl.

Rules of the Game

The purpose of Dog Chess is to manoeuvre your owner around the playing area by strategically failing to retrieve your ball. Your score points for each metre or yard that you force your owner to walk, and lose points for each metre or yard that you are required to walk. The game continues until either the walk is over, or all balls are lost or stolen.

Basic Strategies

Like many games, Dog Chess requires initial sacrifices to me made for long-term gain. Whilst it might seem superficially advantageous to simply refuse to chase any thrown ball, such a strategy will swiftly degenerate into a bitter, sulking stalemate. So the game should always start with you chasing and retrieving your ball, at least once, and possibly twice. Once a pattern has been established, you can then start throwing in some of the following variations.

The Short Return

This is a simple manoeuvre where you do retrieve the ball, but then drop the ball and halt while only part of the way back to where your owner is waiting, thus forcing him to walk over to you.

The Short Drop

This is similar to the Short Return, but having dropped the ball while only part of the way back, you carry on running without it, returning to your owner's side with the ball now some way distant. While theoretically an inferior move to the Short Return, due to the greater distance that you have run, it can gain over the Short Return by making your owner less likely to insist on you fully returning the ball.

The "Ghost" Return

In this manoeuvre, you fetch the ball, but then return on a different track, very carefully and deliberately placing the ball in a completely different location from the one where your owner is currently standing. For extra effect, you can back away expectantly, whilst still staring intently not at the spot where your owner is waiting, but at the empty spot you've just placed the ball beside.

The Return With Velocity

This manoeuvre is especially suitable when playing with a hard rubber ball on a tarmac surface. Do a conventional return and fetch, returning all the way to your owner, but then release the ball while still moving at speed. The ball will hopefully shoot straight past your owner forcing him to sprint frantically after it.

The Dummy

One simple but devastating strategy is to tempt your owner into making a huge throw with a display of intense enthusiasm (whining, pawing at the ground, adopting a "sprint-start" crouch), but then drop straight down into a prone position the moment he's made the throw.

Note: it's best to use this manoeuvre sparingly as overuse can bring the game to a rapid and premature conclusion.

Advanced Strategies

Once you've mastered the basic strategies, you can move onto more advanced manoeuvres in which you start to dictate not only where and how your owner walks post-throw, but where he walks pre-throw and the direction in which he throws. It is important to note that these strategies begin before your owner makes his throw, and can extend over multiple throws.

The Cross

For this manoeuvre, you position yourself in front and to the side of the imaginary line along which you wish your owner to throw the ball. In the diagram, if your owner is currently standing at point A, and you wish him to throw the ball to point B, you should position yourself at point C. Then, when your owner throws the ball to point B, you should pause for a moment, and then trot across to point D, forcing him to walk to point B.

You can then repeat his manoeuvre back-to-back, with him throwing the ball back to point A, and you ignoring it and instead walking back over to point C, forcing him in turn to walk back to point A.

(My fellow Border Collies will find that it's about this point that their owner is liable to start making sarcastic remarks about how they - the owners - are supposed to be the shepherds and not the sheep).

Multi-Player Games

Standard Dog Chess involves only two players, yourself and your owner. Multi-player variants of the game allow multiple dogs and owners to compete. It is important to note that you should not directly interact with the other dogs save to steal their ball, thus forcing your owner to walk over to the other owner to apologise.

Your owner will often encourage you to play with the other dogs, plead even, and perhaps even mutter something about you suffering from "only dog syndrome".

But you must ignore him and stay focussed on the task. (If you're a Border Collie like myself, this should come naturally to you). Nothing can more damage your score than accidently getting in contact with your inner wolf and spending a mad ninety seconds charging around with a bunch of other dogs.

A multi-player game brings a number of other options into play.

The Ball Switch

This manoeuvre requires there to be two balls in your immediate vicinity, your ball, and a ball you have stolen from another dog and are being temporarily allowed by that dog's owner to keep. To perform it, first watch as your owner throws your ball, and then walk over to the other ball and indicate - by pushing at it with your snout, for example - that this was the ball you wanted thrown. Your owner will then have to first throw that ball, and then walk over to the original ball to retrieve it.

Of course, a throw or two later you can repeat this manoeuvre, indicating that it is now your original ball you want thrown.

"Let Him Have It"

Quite often, a multi-player game will involve you and another dog chasing for the same ball. In this case, points can be generated by the simple expedient of giving up early in the chase and letting the other dog retrieve the ball. (In the case of small, but potentially vicious dogs, this is generally a good strategy anyway). Ideally, the other dog will refuse to release the ball, forcing your owner and its to sprint around the park after it, while you look calmly on.



When at the beach, non-swimmers such as myself must take particular care to avoid pushing our owner into throwing the ball too far into the sea, beyond our wading depth. Your owner might possess god-like powers of food production, but he is not Jesus Christ and he cannot walk on water, no matter how pitifully you cry as the two of you watch your ball drift slowly out towards France.

Lost / Mislaid Balls

Your owner might expect you to be skilled at retrieving balls that have been lost in long grass or undergrowth, given your supposedly superior sense of smell. Quite frankly, this is a tired old stereotype not to be encouraged. He threw it, so he should find it. You should simply sit or stand to one side, encouraging him in his search by throwing in the occasional pathetic whine or urgent pawing at the ground.

Dubious Tactics (Gamesmanship)

Carpet Pooing

If you feel the need to do a number two midway through the game, you can force your owner to walk further by the simple expedient of moving several feet between each motion, dropping several small deposits spread over several feet in preference to one, convenient, pile. During Autumn (Fall) months, a particularly effective technique is to do your business in an area entirely covered by fallen, brown leaves, forcing your owner to spend several minutes criss-crossing the area searching for lumps of poo nearly identical in colour to the leaves.

Good luck finding it in there!

The Spirit of the Game

In the end, it's important to remember that this is about enjoyment and satisfaction, not points. There are few things more satisfying than lying on a comfortable spot of grass, watching your owner walking around a nice park getting some much needed exercise.

Happy playing!