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My Dog Cheats When We Play the Dreidel Game

Tucker the Terrier takes the Hanukkah game very seriously, taking off with the top when the stakes get high.

Susan C. Willett  |  Dec 7th 2015


My family is one of the few I know of who actually play dreidel at Hanukkah. And by “my family,” I mean the humans, dogs, and cats.

Each of us takes turns spinning the dreidel — a top that features a Hebrew letter on each of its four sides, which tradition tells us stand for “a great miracle happened there.” (If you’re interested, you can read about the miracle of Hanukkah, the origin of the dreidel toy, or the official rules of the dreidel game.)

Those of us with opposable thumbs help out those of us who lack those handy appendages, by spinning the top for them when it’s their turn.

Tucker and Jasper watch Corinne spin the dreidel.

Tucker and Jasper watch my daughter spin the dreidel. (Photo by Susan C. Willett)

All players start with an equal amount of pennies. Depending on what letter lands face up when the top stops spinning, the person/dog/cat will take additional pennies from, or put their pennies in, a central pile or kitty (not the furry kind).

My daughter, Corinne, goes first, setting the top spinning in a beautiful blur, transforming the cubed sides into a rounded whole that seems to stand motionless. A quiet whir and soft whoosh are the only sounds as all eyes focus on the top.

Our 74-pound hound Jasper watches intently, his quizzical eyes moving between the top and me, wondering why we’re all staring at this strange item when it is obviously not something to eat.

Jasper isn't sure why the dreidel is so interesting since it doesn't smell like food.

Jasper isn’t sure why the dreidel is so interesting since it doesn’t smell like food. (Photo by Susan C. Willett)

Lilah, our Border Collie mix, focuses her laser eyes on the top and then pokes it with her nose, causing the dreidel’s spin to degrade into a mad, capricious wobble.

The whir morphs into a clunking quiver. The dreidel draws erratic arcs with its stem, and with a final clatter, collapses onto the surface.

We all look at what letter is face up. It’s a shin. Corinne puts a penny in the pile. Jasper sighs and curls up on the rug. This game is boring; there are no treats and nothing to chase. He doesn’t want to play anymore. Lilah, however, wants to know why the top stopped spinning.

By now the whirs and clatteration have attracted assorted cats and our terrier, Tucker; they want to join the game.

Jasper, Tucker and Calvin take the dreidel game very seriously.

Jasper, Tucker, and Calvin take the dreidel game very seriously. (Photo by Susan C. Willett)

We all put another penny in the kitty, and Corinne spins the top again on behalf of Lilah. Athena, our tortie cat, is fascinated, stretching her neck out to sniff at this strangely moving item. Her nose touches it, sending the dreidel into a looping tailspin.

It lands with the letter Hay facing up. Corinne takes half of the kitty (not the furry kind) and puts it in Lilah’s pile. The dog wags appreciatively.

My daughter spins the dreidel for Lilah, while Tucker watches. (

My daughter spins the dreidel for Lilah, while Tucker watches. (Photo by Susan C. Willett)

It’s Athena’s turn, and I spin for her. Remembering the results of her previous nosiness during Lilah’s turn, Athena is a bit more cautious this time. Mesmerized by the susurration of the spinning dreidel, she slowly reaches out and taps it; the top ricochets off her paw and lands right in front of Dawn, who spooks, hisses, and runs away.

Tucker and Athena have a lot riding on this spin.

Tucker and Athena have a lot riding on this spin. (Photo by Susan C. Willett)

We discuss this among ourselves. Fair spin? While Athena did interfere, we decide she couldn’t have actually predicted how the top would land, so while this kind of meddling is frowned upon, we decided the spin would count. It’s a Gimmel, and Athena gets everything in the kitty (not the furry kind). She looks smug. (Actually, that’s her standard expression, but still.)

While Tucker was watching the game, we should have been watching Tucker. Had we done so, we might have noticed his increased terrier-type attention. The perked ears. The tense muscles. The fact that he dropped his ball and didn’t notice as it rolled under the coffee table.

Tucker is mesmerized by the spinning dreidel.

Tucker is mesmerized by the spinning dreidel. (Photo by Susan C. Willett)

It’s Tucker’s turn, and Corinne spins for him. The dog stands up, his entire being focused on the dreidel. The top begins its death spiral, rattling as it collapses.

It’s too much for the terrier. He pounces on the coffee table, grabs the dreidel, and takes off for the kitchen.

Game over.

I run after the dog, yelling, “Drop it!” while Corinne makes sure the glass insert on the table hasn’t cracked under the stress of a 45-pound terrier diving onto it. We’re lucky; nary a scratch.

The dreidel is not so lucky. Toothmarks mar its wooden surface. The bottom is chipped away. This top will never the spin the same way again. And while we could continue to play, I think it’s time to take Tucker outside to chase a few balls.

Calvin walks by some of the dreidels that have been stolen by Tucker.

Calvin walks by some of the dreidels that have been stolen by Tucker. (Photo by Susan C. Willett)

As for playing dreidel? Maybe we’ll wait and play again next year, hoping that Tucker will chose not to cheat by running off with the top.

One can only hope. Miracles do happen.

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About the author: Susan C. Willett is a writer, photographer, and blogger whose award-winning original stories, photography, poetry, and humor can be found at Life With Dogs and Cats. She lives in New Jersey with three dogs and four cats (all rescues) and at least a couple of humans–all of whom provide inspiration for her work. Refusing to take sides in the interweb’s dogs vs. cats debate, Susan enjoys observing the interspecies interaction among the varied inhabitants of her home–like living in a reality TV show, only furrier. In addition to Life With Dogs and Cats, you can find more Lilah, Jasper, and Tucker (and the rest of the gang) on Haiku by Dog™,  Haiku by Cat™,  and Dogs and Cats Texting.