When I was younger, my cousin and I played puppy every chance we could get. He was the puppy, and I was the owner. We would make kennels out of corners gated with ladderback chairs for the bars. In he would go, with a dish of water, and if he was very well behaved, a cookie. Over weeks and then months, our play evolved to include rituals we both loved. We had a collar which had once belonged to the family’s standard poodle Clovis, emperor of the heart, irreplaceable pet. It was a red velvet collar bordered with black leather and a gold buckle. It looked majestic on my cousin’s neck.
First, I would sit on a chair and he’d crawl to my feet. I would ask him whether he had behaved well since we last met, and he was to nod yes, or simply look down at his knees if the answer was no. Let’s say it was yes, well behaved–I would then slowly and with gentle care place the collar around his neck as a reward. I would fasten it slowly, let him feel the magical transformation I could see happening inside him. His heart lifted, his mind expanded, his body relaxed into the role. I petted his hair, lovingly, my puppy.
Next came the leash and the walking exercises. I taught him to heel, to sit up, perfectly still for lengths of time, to beg. And when I stopped walking all of a sudden, he learned to freeze on a dime, so that his paw never dared touch the back of my foot. Sometimes discipline was called for, and he would be put in the kennel, not allowed to move, only to consider his misdeeds.
I lost touch with my cousin years ago, but I think of that puppy play, how it filled us. I think about that golden moment when I’d collar him, and we would sit like that very still. How I would talk to him for a long time this way. How he listened and adored me. Time slowed, liquid, sensual, exactly the way it was supposed to be. This was my first experience of putting someone in trance.