Wednesday, December 10, 2008
I speak dog. It is not remarkable. What I do find remarkable are all the people in this world that don’t. Dogs are very talkative. They communicate every second with every part of their body.
It only takes a lot of observations and patience with a bit of discipline to be able to carry on a conversation with a dog. Once you have experienced a conversation with a dog, however, it is a heady and delightful experience.
Sirius is my Black Chow. He is the most inscrutable of all my dogs. The only way I can truly understand what he is saying to me is to stand and take him in. Usually we are standing because we are on a walk and he is insisting on explaining why a certain way is preferable and why. Sometimes we stand and attempt to break our language barrier for as much as 5 minutes. Sirius has learned to be patient with me. I have so many human projections that are loaded onto him that the process of stripping them away to see who he is and what he’s really telling me is one that takes time.
Speaking of human projections, Sirius is a victim of many of them. Because he is adorable, and looks like a little black bear, people always want to pet him. Usually when that happens, he is standing right next to the human (never in front, that would be considered ill mannered in canine etiquette. But quietly he stands, his head slightly inclined toward the human, tail wagging very softly and his eyes plainly saying:
“I like you. I think you smell nice but I do NOT wish to be touched.”
Inevitably, the human reaches to touch him and he jumps back quickly and with a certain amount of anxiety. It is at this point that I can tell how much dog the human is willing to speak or not. The person that speaks dog always states out loud something to the effect of:
“Oh, OK. I’ll leave you alone. No problems or hard feelings”
The person who does not speak dog will say how they have heard Chows aren't’ friendly or, even more disruptive, continue to force themselves upon him. It is owing to Sirius’ good manners that the human does not get threatened by Sirius. No growls, no bites, just an ever increasing backing up to me and a distinctive back turning. Unfortunately, Sirius' body language is rarely sufficient to get the message across: that Sirius (who is always on leash when humans are around) Is attempting to say: Peace Bro but no touch. I suppose it might be confusing to a non-speaking human that Sirius continues to approach and speak with his eyes but jumps back at an attempt at touch.
Interestingly, most kids understand Sirius’ quirk and a few have become petting friends as they were willing to spend the time just having quiet conversations with him sans petting.
I have no patience in life. It is only with a dogs that I can access an unlimited amount of it. I think this is because I find the canine heart and psyche fascinating. Sirius is a dog who has pledged his heart to me and I to him. Sirius is also a stubborn dog. Once he has felt the Spirit move him to something, he is pretty bent on doing it. However, he is always open to negotiation, providing I am able to speak his language. Plus, his desires are reasonable: A leafy glade preferably with a bushy overhang to empty his bowels, and a bit of time off leash where he can pretend he’s being all bad and running away from me. I learned from him, that if I just turn my back on him, he will trot happily behind me.
Sirius has silently assured me he will never roam far. He has also proven it time and again in the past 4 years we have been together. I remember the first time I unhooked his leash. It was an early and warm Spring dawn. I could feel him just wanting to kick up his heels and I wanted that for him more than anything. I knew I was taking something of a gamble as I told myself I trusted him, could feel our connection and just expected him to return to me. It was thrilling but no surprise when, after 30 minutes of happily sprinting from brush to lake, Sirius trotted back to me ready to be hooked back to his leash.
I think that in order to speak dog, you have to be a dog. I admit, my life is pretty much my dogs right now. Immersing myself in the canine mind has become my newest passion. The ability to speak another species’ language is by far, the most enthralling skill I have picked up in a long time. I’m hoping that the skills I learn in dog will enable me to speak other creatures’ languages.