--by Mike Murray
Scientists have recently discovered that dogs have emotions, that they understand dozens of words, and that they are probably capable of thought.
Those brilliant men and women in lab coats are just now figuring out that canines have impressive mental abilities? What took them so long? Have none of them ever lived with a dog?
When our own little sweetie sees my wife fixing her hair early on weekday mornings, she knows that “mommy” is getting ready to leave for work. She knows that she will be gone for a few hours and that she will return the same day. When she sees her packing a suitcase, however, she knows that mommy is going away overnight.
When I put soothing music on the sound system and feed her calming biscuits, she knows that I’ll be leaving – and that I won’t be taking her with me. If I utter the phrase “I’ll be right back,” she knows my trip will be short. If my parting words are simply “be good,” she knows I’ll be away longer.
And when she observes multiple suitcases being crammed with clothes and boxes being filled with foodstuffs, she knows that something grander is afoot. At such times, she knows that the entire pack will be piling into the car for an hours-long drive and a days-long stay in a strange place. She knows that she’ll temporarily have new territory to explore and a different perimeter to patrol.
When she hears the words “get ready” (as in, “Do you want me to get ready?”), she springs to life and enthusiastically acknowledges her eagerness to go on a walk. She knows that almost anything following the phrase “do you want?” is desirable. “Do you want a treat? ...to go outside? ...to go for a ride?”
She knows that what goes up usually has to come down. Hence she is aware that when a squirrel scurries across the yard and up a tree, it will – eventually – come back down. She sometimes parks herself near the tree’s base for an hour or two in anticipation. But she has learned that when she backs away to the patio and gives the critter more room, it is often enticed to descend sooner. Then it’s ‘game on’ for a spirited chase to the fence.
At suppertime she understands that the phrase “I’ll save you some” means, if she has the good sense to get out of my face while I’m eating, that I’ll give her a bit of dinner meat – and also some doggie treats – to supplement her kibble.
She knows that routine dictates that first I share with her, then my wife does. She also knows where my wife keeps goodies in the pantry, and where I store reserves in a back room of the house. And she knows how to count. She knows when my wife or I attempt to leave even one “cookie” out of her customary allotment. (We break them up into pieces to make it seem like she’s getting more. But she sees through that.)
Also, she knows that “last one” means what it expressly states, and that the subsequent “all gone” means beg for more. (What can I say? I spoil her. And she knows that I love doing it.)
She knows that throughout much of the day I like the sound that her collar tags make when she shakes her head and they clink together. But she also knows that – at 5:30 a.m. when we’re preparing for our fist walk of the day (and my wife is still asleep) – such clatter is unappreciated.
And that’s not all she knows. She knows that it’s almost never okay to jump up on a strange woman or child, that’s it’s sometimes okay to jump up on a man she doesn’t know, and that – absent wet or muddy paws – it’s always permissible to “come up” on me. Encouraged, even.
She knows how much I like our roughhouse rituals. She knows that it pleases me when she charges from across the backyard and leaps into the air, bodily throwing herself at me. (And she intuitively knows how little it would amuse mommy, were she to try it with her.)
She also knows that when she jumps up on me in the house, she exhibits good manners when she jumps to the side – rather than directly at me. It is protection for my clothes, on those rare occasions when I’m not casually dressed. She knows that I will extend my arms, giving her an elevated platform on which to land her forelegs.
But she doesn’t know that other men are unaware of this rule of etiquette. That fact caused her to crash to the floor when Matt (the fence guy) was over, working up a job estimate. She leapt, he watched in confusion. She thudded.
She knows the names of her possessions. Ask her to go get “Mr. Squirrel,” and she’ll return with the appropriate stuffed animal. Likewise, “toy, toy” sends her after a different treasure.
Tell her it’s “nap time” and she’ll head down the hall to the bedroom and jump up. (Yeah, she sleeps on the bed. You’re not surprised, are you?) She has one spot on the bed for mid-day naps and another one for “night, night.” The difference owes to the number of occupants. As most everyone who lives with a dog knows, when there are two humans in a bed the appropriate place for the dog is between them.
While out walking, she knows what “wait” means (usually for traffic to pass). She also recognizes “okay” – her general release word. She knows her entire neighborhood, and which parts of it she wishes to explore on any given day. “Show me” means that she gets to pick the direction at an intersection; “this way” means that I’ve already decided.
She knows that “c’mon” means it’s time to move on, that she’s sniffed long enough in one spot. “Awright” is a general term of disapproval (as in, all right – knock it off). She also knows that “watch out” means that she’s underfoot and in danger of being stepped on (or tripped over). This is usually the result of her following scents on the ground and paying no attention at all to where she’s going.
When we return home, she knows that “paw” means lift it and present it so that I can clean it. (In the case of her left-rear appendage, it means that I’m taking it and wiping it off – whether she likes it or not.) “All done” means what it implies, and signals relief from all manner of indignity: baths, teeth brushings, nail clippings, etc.
She knows that squeaky wheels get the grease, and that lobbyists (in expensive Italian shoes, as Ross Perot once described them) get results. She knows who the weak link in the family is, and how to turn on the charm to manipulate him. She long ago figured out that a polite, big-eyed appeal achieves better result than does bratty pushiness.
She also knows when to back off. When I tell her that she’ll get what she wants (such as a walk) “pretty soon,” she understands. Much as is true with the dinnertime expression “I’ll save you some,” she knows that patience is being called for – and will be rewarded.
When my wife’s car pulls into the driveway, she becomes ecstatic and charges to the door as I announce: “mommy’s home!” (She knows before I do. But the phrase nevertheless excites her, celebrating as it does the happy event.)
At day’s end, when she wistfully stands on the patio for long moments, scanning the nocturnal stillness for potential prey (rabbits are often about), she gets the drift when my wife or I demand “wet, wet” or “do business.” She knows that we want her to get on with it, already. And that we want her to get her furry butt back inside so that we can all go to bed.
Oh sure, she knows all the routine words, too: “come, sit, stay” and the like. But she knows so much more than that. She even knows when to pretend that she doesn’t understand. (She’s not being disobedient at such times, you see. Only confused.)
She knows that she is loved. My wife and I tell her every day. She even knows what I’m thinking much of the time. And she knows that I know that she knows. I sometimes think that that dog knows entirely too much.
But there is one thing that she doesn’t know – one thing that I can’t see how she could possibly know. And that is this: just how much we will miss her when she’s gone.
Copyright © 2007 Michael F. Murray -- All rights reserved.