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Thursday, November 8, 2012

How Dogs Communicate

I once knew a schnauzer named Charles
who told lies.
There are those who scoff at the thought that dogs communicate with humans, but these people either do not own a dog or else are blind, deaf, dumb, and stupid.  Our dog Zoe, for example, groans with pleasure, whines when there is something she wants - usually attention - and even has different barks for different occasions.

She has a start-up bark, kind of a soft woof, that flaps the skin of her lips.  This is a soft warning bark, telling whatever noise she hears, "I'm going to start barking in earnest if you don't quit that."  Then there is her full-blown bark which can make an empty cup clear the coffee table by a good quarter inch.  She has a special bark for dreaming; it's as soft as her warning bark but higher-pitched, a frequency to which dream-squirrels and dream-rabbits are especially responsive.

Sometimes in her sleep, she makes the damnedest noise that I can't reproduce here, except that it's a multipart, "Rowr-rowr-rowr-rowr," in falling notes, somewhere between a howl and a song.  Before going to sleep, after she's turned around three times on her bed and lay down, she will often express a sigh of wistful fatigue as if to say, "So.  Another day done.  Some joy, some pain.  Some barks, some wags.  Ah, well."

Back on the topic of barks, she also has a bark to be let in the house.  If she feels she's been outside long enough, she'll stand at the back door and bark until someone opens it.  She pretends to be barking at something in the yard, but she's not fooling anybody.

As communicative as Zoe is, she still isn't up to par with a schnauzer I knew as a kid who could tell lies.  If someone's cat stayed over for the night, Charles the Dog would take a dump under cover of darkness in some conspicuous place.  The next morning, he would feign astonishment at seeing it there, go over and sniff it eagerly, as if it had proceeded from some unknown anus.

"Look at this, Mrs Martin!" (He always called my mother "Mrs Martin.)  "Someone has dumped here right in the open!  Who could it have been?  It wasn't me, and it certainly wasn't me..." while the unsuspecting cat, too ignorant to realize she was being framed, looked on uncomprehending.  Fortunately for the scales of justice, and what Charles for all his cunning did not guess, even the least trained forensics specialist can spot at fifty paces the difference in caliber between a cat's feces and a dog's.

As Charles the Dog got older, he became very infirm and unsteady on his legs, the result of having been attacked by a Great Dane.  (In retrospect, I see Charles was partly at fault.  He had said the most shocking things about the Great Dane's mother.)  He was prone to lose his balance on linoleum floors and had to be carried from the carpeted living room to the back door so he could go out and pee.  One morning, however, my mother found Charles in the middle of the kitchen floor. Caught in the act, red-pawed as it were, crossing it under his own steam without evident difficulty, indicating he'd been perfectly capable of walking on linoleum for some time, but was milking the situation for the pasha-like luxury of being carried to his destination.  It took only a moment for Charles to decide what to do.  He began to whine and walk backward.  "Oh, my goodness!  I'm right in the middle of the floor!  Help!  How did I get here!  I can't even walk on linoleum!"

And in spite of this, there are some who claim dogs cannot communicate.  The scoffers.

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