Say What?

I’ve been around dogs for most of my 49 plus years on this earth. I’ve seen both sides of the training fence and like to consider myself somewhat informed about the science of how animals learn. I’ve learned from some great people and some amazing animals; yet with all that education I still manage to utter some truly baffling shit. Well to be more precise, it’s often what I don’t utter that amazes my dogs and causes them to shake their heads in shame.

As humans we infer a great deal from inflection and word order. Two sentences can contain the exact same words and yet confer different meanings based on the way we say them. We can have entire conversations using a single word and they make perfect sense to us. (Those who doubt me check out season one episode four of The Wire in which a murder scene is analyzed using a single pejorative.)

There isn’t woman alive that doesn’t know that when her name is called in a certain way from across the house, it will be followed with “Where’s my …?” And as kids, from the age of 2 up until the time we leave home we know that if we are called by our complete legal name— shit’s about to hit the fan.

Unfortunately for our dogs, we often seem to expect the same level of understanding from them. While inflection may serve to inform them we are not pleased, it does little else to direct their actions. “Sir Beauregard Brummell!” may have gotten my favorite Pug’s attention when I was a kid, but unless it was followed with the doggy equivalent of “Please don’t chew on my Buster Browns or dad will kick my ass!,” i.e. “Leave It,” it didn’t really help him understand much.

Our dog’s names are attention-getters, no more. It is up to us to follow their name (however cleverly inflected) with additional information in parlance they understand. Failure to do so can often result in looks that can only be construed as a sarcastic doggy “Doh!”

Cheers and Happy Holidays

Kevin, Jackie, Gavin, Annie, Tosha, Elbee

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