Yesterday was National Dog Day and though my pups, Ace and Lila, actually believe that EVERY day is Dog Day, I thought I would make a few comments about communication with our canine companions.
A Piece by Alexandra Horowitz in the Sunday NY Times a few Weeks ago was all about things people say to their dogs.
In preparation for writing her article, Ms. Horowitz actually carried a notebook around New York sidewalks and wrote down things people said to their dogs. Things like, “You can sit all you want when we get home,” to a recalcitrant walker. Or “We’ve talked about this. No eating stuff you’ve found on the street”.
But personally, I couldn’t help but wonder what all the fuss is about. She must own a cat. I talk to my dogs every day. In fact, at the Alamo, it’s usually the first creature I say ANYTHING to.
I do have to admit though that I’m sort of fascinated by this discussion because, it’s not that my pooches and I have many actual conversations. But dogs communicate in a completely different way, some disturbingly human. They are masters of facial expressions and with body language … not unlike people. Most of the talk I have with Ace and Lila revolves around food, treats, walks or intruders. But I swear that both of them have the capacity to laugh and smile with their tongues falling out of their mouths, while the corners are tuned up in what is (literally) an ear to floppy ear grin.
My first words in the morning are often in response to something the dogs “say” … they shake their heads and flap their ears rapidly, which in dog language means, “Get your lazy butt out of bed and feed us!”
I usually respond with, “I’m coming! I’m coming! Hold your horses!” as if they had any horses to hold or even the concept of what a horse is. To canines, everything else … including me … is just an odd looking dog.
Then there’s the routine of standing or laying down in front of the door to turn around longingly like they are the most neglected creatures on God’s Green Earth, meaning “Get your lazy butt over here and take us for a walk!”
But my dogs also have a job. Protecting the tiny lot that “The Alamo” sits on. Oh, as you approach and see two giant fur-balls lounging on the porch you may think that they’re cute, cuddly and asleep. But just walk within 100 feet or so of the property line and they bounce up, bark furiously, and run straight toward me with the satisfied look of accomplishment. “See, you lazy bum?” they say. “While you weren’t paying attention a person walked down the street!!! So give us a treat!”
There’s a whole vocabulary of body language. There’s the full bodied lean, the head on the lap with the sorry eyes, the falling asleep on my feet, the sniff on the walk, the turn in multiple circles, the wag. And, of course, the running around like a crazy lunatic. All of which have some meaning.
All of these get a response from me. “Don’t act like a couple of animals,” is one of my favorites. As is, “What has Donald Trump said that is stupid today to make you so jumpy?” Both of which get essentially the same look of complete boredom and a “Is there a treat involved if I answer, you lazy bum?”
So while there’s a universal belief that dogs communicate, the problem seems to be that no-one understands why dogs don’t engage in conversation. After all, they’re social, live in packs, have mutual interests. Why wouldn’t they talk about it with each other?
I’ve lived in close proximity with dogs for a long time so believe I can speak with a certain authority.
I’ve realized that dogs adhere to my Mother’s philosophy that “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”.
So generally, dogs look at me and realize; they have nothing really to say.
Some people think that I’m crazy when I talk to animals. And, I don’t agree. However, I have noticed one thing in the long, cold, lonely winters along the bay. It’s ok to talk to your dogs. But when you start to hear them answer, it might be time for me to seek help.
Happy Dog Day at YOUR house!