Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thoughts on dogs | Revisited

I was at my "other" house last night watering and I always make sure I water the spot where two of my Golden Retrievers are buried. This gets my thinking about those wonderful dogs and friends. And reminded me of an article I wrote in 2004 while the Big Gold Dog was still very much alive, which I it is again.
"Researchers have recently proven that people who talk to their dogs are cutting-edge communicators, not just a bunch of eccentrics."

Thanks for that, I'm glad to know I'm not just a kook, a complete kook that is. A new German study cited here says that most dogs understand language at a rate the scientists said was equivalent to that of a 3-year-old child...or an ape or dolphin. I'd prefer to communicate with an ape or dolphin more than with most 3 year olds, but that's another story.

I've always known that dogs have an innate ability to understand, and I've always talked to them. I guess that's why I love dogs so much and we've always gotten along. I've only been bitten by one dog in my brother's French poodle. The reason for the bite is quite obvious; he didn't understand what I was saying.

My Golden Retreivers have been amazing in their grasp of the English language however. Ranger, my dear comrade of the late 80's and 90's had quite a range of vocabulary. When I would say "Duck" [as in a waterfowl] he would immediately look up and start searching the sky for a stray gaggle of mallards. He was a retreiver yes, but I had never ever taken him duck hunting nor been around lakes with ducks. Where he got that trait I don't know, genetics maybe. And we had to spell out C-A-T, for if we uttered "CAT" he was at the front door barking furiously for 20 minutes. The same with "SQUIRREL", only this would send him out the back door trying to climb the mulberry tree. If we were, by chance, to utter the word "BATH" in his presence he would slowly start to slink away and if we made a move in his direction he would shift from "slink" to "haul ass" in a nanosecond.

Ranger was also adept in automotive language. Like most Golden Retreivers he relished being in the family bed. My mean and evil Ex Wife did not relish nor allow a 95 lb. dog in the bed. So whenever she would leave in the morning, into bed he would hop. If I came home first drving my Blazer, he would still be in full repose. However if the mean evil EX came home in her Volvo he was out of the linen in a flash. He knew the sound of a Swedish engine better than most humans I know.

The present Big Gold Dog, Tres, is less communicative than Ranger but in a way, smarter about his understanding of language. Tres knows all the words, but he also has me figured out. His dog notes on me read something like:

-Owner: soft touch, easy, pushover; don't have to do a thing he says.
-Important words to respond to: "Chow", "Ride", "Walk", "Treat". Ingore all else.

Actually Tres is more of a talker than a good listener. Thankfully for us, he's the only dog I've ever had that will tell you precisely when he needs to go out and do his duty so we never worry about him. He will go to the back door and utter one single muffled "woof". That's it..."woof", I need to go. If by chance we don't resond quickly enough, there is a second and very loud "Bark". We know then he really has to go. The same procedure applies when he wants to come back in.

Daphne is another matter entirely. Daphne is an Abyssinian Squirrelhound....aka "Mutt". Mutt's are genetically smarter than most other dogs since they most typically are the strays of the world and have had to fend for themselves over the eons. Daphne is as smart as they come, and like a precocious child is generally a wise ass when it comes to language. She understands everything we say, but does not comply with anything we wish, unless she wants to do it. She learned "sit", "lie down" and "roll over", I'm told, after only one or two training sessions. She knows not to dig, bark at squirrels and to stay out of the flower beds. Her reaction to a command to do, or not do, any of these is to run out of leash range and smirk. A very perturbing and frustrating trait in a dog. And when it comes time to scold her with the old favorite "Bad Dog!"....well she just looks the other way like we are talking to some imaginary other dog.

Ranger: good listener.
Tres: good talker.
Daphne: poor communication skills all around.