I used to buy into the fact that since humans have opposing thumbs, lack a prehensile tail, and make and use tools that we were somehow superior in intelligence to our pets. Yet the longer I practice and the more I witness, I become more skeptical about how all this works. I have been watching dogs outsmart their owners since I began practicing almost three decades ago. Sometimes it is so subtle, our clients don’t even know. Other times it’s blatant, conniving manipulation of humans.
One of the most commonly played owner tricks, as if it is taught in training humans 101, is the “he won’t eat unless I mix in medium rare prime rib [lightly seasoned with Emeril’s Original Essence and warmed] with his dog food."
“Of course I sit with him and hand feed him [the 20 pound overweight lab]."
“No seriously, he won’t eat for even a whole day! He would certainly starve to death if I didn’t do this”.
Or the client whose dog they tell us loves the vegetable diet we have advised to lose weight. “Especially when I warm the vegetables in butter on the stove and add bacon to it” they add.
Some clients won’t go on vacation because they are nervous about boarding their dogs or using a dog sitter. I can almost pick out the dogs that sleep in bed with their owners. Our clients’ sheepish grins told the story of the 2 golden retrievers and lab who gets the king sized bed with the owners. Or how about 4 dachshunds all under the covers at your feet with the cats on top. I especially enjoy the “macho guys” who “don’t like” cats or tiny dogs and Mrs. comes in with photos of them sleeping on the couch together.
We buy our four-legged friends toys, treats, special food, and clothes. We take them places to run, to parks, to puppy daycare. They even have this internal clock that reminds you exactly to the minute that it is time for their biscuit or time for their walk. How do they accomplish all of this without ever asking or uttering a request? Something people cannot even accomplish with each other.
Every night I return home from work, Remi our English Bulldog greets me the same. He sprints up to me, sits down usually on my feet looking up at me, and wiggling so hard, wanting to jump up (but doesn’t) that I automatically have to massage and scratch his neck and back. It’s Pavlov’s People for sure.
Paisley, our Shih Tzu, also tries to get into the act. She spins in tight circles until she falls over on her back which means “belly rub" (Paisley is a genetic train wreck born with a stiff, straight left hind leg, which means she can only spin counterclockwise around her peg leg, and she has a crooked nose and jaw, is “snaggle-toothed," “Walleyed," and is one of the sweetest, happiest dogs I have met).
Our two Yorkies are classic. They run around “fretting” we call it, with no idea what is going on, but just want to be held and carried, sneaking licks of your nose if you are not careful. As we speak, Maive, one of our cats, is rubbing her ear against my hand which means it’s time for a head massage. They all get what they want without saying a word. How brilliant is that.
I was especially schooled by our littlest Yorkie, Allie, when I had the great idea to separate a large part of the backyard, away from the house, into an area the dogs could run, play, dig and chase squirrels. Our yard was already stockade fenced on three sides except for the front. I decided to go to a builders supply store and get 30 inch tall sections of push in the ground wire garden fencing for the 4th side. On a miserably hot summer day I meticulously installed all the sections, which attached to each other very nicely, across the yard. Admiring my work, I let the dogs into the yard to relish in their new freedom.
Within a few minutes sweet Allie turned her head sideways squeezed through the bars of the wire, ran up to me and wiggled at how fun this was. Brilliantly, I deduced that if I added another layer of fencing and offset the vertical bars, the spaces would be half as wide and that would keep the little munchkin in the yard. I went back to the box store and retrieved another load of fencing. After placing all the new panels, with an air of superiority I let the cuties back into the yard. I went back inside to grab an ice cold diet and was greeted at the back door with Allie jumping up and down against the screen.
With Sherlock-like investigation I found the 3” hole she must have dug in seconds, under the bottom wire allowing the rugrat to escape again. Ok, I get it, game on. Like “Tool Time Tim” I huffed back to the store and came back with a 40” tall roll of plastic mesh cloth that even keeps rabbits out of gardens. Total bill now easily exceeded three digits. A few hours later, in the scorching sun, I had buried one foot of plastic mesh cloth underground and zip-tied it to the two layers of fencing above ground. Ha! Take that you little varmint.
My wife had returned home just then and I replayed my two minor setbacks, but with my ingenious ending. Exhausted and sweat soaked I put the two troublemakers back into the Great Wall of Vogl. I literally picked up the shovel and closed the gate, looked up at the house and Allie was waiting there for me…*#$@ her. Worse than that was that stupid wiggle. That mangy, not a real dog, was laughing and I knew it. Without a clue how she did it, I kept putting the 2.4 pound piece of dung back into the yard; she would disappear under some bushes in the back and within seconds she would appear from the side of our unattached garage. I was starting to become cranky at this point. In my dehydrated state I wasn’t thinking clearly and became Bill Varmint Murray Caddy Shack obsessed. I told my wife I will sneak up onto the roof of the playhouse in the back and watch her to find out how she escapes. Being of superior intellect I advised to not let them see me sneak back there either.
With the stealth of SEAL Team 6, I lay on the roof of the playhouse, my eyes peering over the peak, called my wife on my cell and whispered with a Cruella De Vil laugh, “Release the hounds and you watch from the upstairs bathroom window”. I spied the two devil dogs as they cruised the yard. Once I thought Allie saw me and I wondered if I needed camouflage. Of course they went nowhere near the back and must have sniffed every rabbit dropping in the yard for over 30 minutes. As it was getting dusk the mongrel cur finally went toward the back corner and under the bushes. Like Spider-Woman she climbed onto a pile of logs, scaled a couple feet of old chicken wire attached to the stockade fence, walked on a cross member 2 x 4 brace to the corner of the fence and squeezed through a tiny gap between the posts. I nodded in acknowledgement and admiration and gave her props for her feat but at the same time yelled “gotcha” at the little weasel, who was obviously no match for my superior intelligence.
My attention drifted to my back neighbor’s yard; where unbeknownst to me he stood 60 feet away intently watching with a Corona in his hand. With a slow nod and gesture of that delicious ice cold adult beverage he calmly and ever so slowly said “watcha doin?” As if I was four years old, all I could come up with was “nothin”, followed by “pretty hot out huh”. He has never inquired since, but I see him watching out his back picture window all the time now. By the way, our brand new, tiny-spaced, overpriced, special-made dog fence was installed by professionals the next week.
I am humbled by the brains of these tiny creatures and acknowledge and know that they train us as much as we train them. What is it that makes us cater to their every whim? Maybe it has nothing to do with brains but is more like Jim Carey in the Grinch and it’s that warm squishy feeling we get from them. And then our hearts like the Grinch, also will have grown three sizes.
Though I don’t have a peg leg, or a snaggle-tooth I am still paying close attention to the proper form for how Paisley spins and falls over to see if it works for me. I will let you know how it turns out.