Thursday, February 23, 2006

Does brain food come in liver flavor?

My daughter is almost finished reading John Grogan’s Marley and Me and highly recommends it. One of the things she's commented on is Grogan’s spot-on descriptions of what he perceived to be the thought processes of a dog. As a matter of fact, I have some questions about that very subject:

How do dogs know what day it is? Butch and Kadi have no separation anxiety whatsoever on the five days each week that I go to work. In fact, sometimes when I tell them goodbye, they show so little interest that I have to lean in close and check their breathing. But on Saturdays and Sundays they challenge me every time I try to step out the door, barking and making it quite clear that I’m not supposed to leave the house. At least not by the front door; the door to the backyard is OK.

Can dogs count? If I’m handing out treats, first to one dog, then the other, and if for some reason I miss somebody’s turn, the missed dog gets highly agitated--and vocal about it--until I correct my error. I’ve also wondered if Butch, my blind dog, counts steps as he makes his way around the house. At first I thought he managed strictly by scent and floor texture, but I’ve noticed something that makes me wonder. If his route from one place to the other includes a turn–-going from the kitchen to the bedroom, for example–-he usually gets where he’s going with no problem. But if he starts out just a couple of degrees off course, he goes a certain distance, then turns–-maintaining the same angle he always uses to make the turn, but not turning in exactly the same place--which causes him to run into the door frame instead of through the open door. What's his frame of reference for when to make that turn?

Does size matter? Apparently it does, at least if we’re talking about treats. If I break a treat into two pieces, one larger than the other, and hold one in each hand, Kadi will inevitably pick the big one. Unfortunately, I can’t test this concept with Butch; it’s one area where his blindness is a handicap.

How do dogs make group decisions? My dogs act independently of each other when they want to go outside or come back in, and either one may pick up a certain toy or wander off alone to take a nap in another room. But it’s rare that only one dog will beg me for a rawhide chew. Usually, they approach together, double-teaming me. And if my granddogs are here, then all four dogs surround me, smiling, dancing, wagging, and looking pleadingly back and forth between my face and the cabinet where the rawhides are kept. They do this until (a) I give in, or (b) I convince them I’m too stupid to understand what they want.

Do they think I'm going to die soon? Why is it that the food and water dishes stay practically full while I’m at work, but then the dogs rush to eat as soon as I come through the front door. Are they rationing? I've fed them religiously for years, so why do they think that any given day might be the one when I don’t come home and they’re left alone to starve?

What is so fascinating about the scent that clings to my clothes when I’ve been to court? Once every few months, in the course of my job, I have to go to court on arraignment day. Every time, without fail, the minute I get home from court both dogs descend on me and thoroughly “vacuum” my clothes and shoes. I've considered a lot of possibilities, but so far I can only think of one substance I’m exposed to in court and nowhere else: airborne particles of orange-jumpsuit lint. Wish I knew what they like so much about it.

Maybe John Grogan has some insights. Can't wait to read that book.

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