Sunday, July 27, 2008

Heal! Heel!

14 years ago I took my doggie to obedience training. I learned to get her to Sit! Down! and Heel! on command (in English). Being a small dog, she was not especially menacing in appearance, but she did have the healthy aggressive tendencies that contributed to her survival for several months as a foundling. Over the years we have had an ongoing negotiation over whether I am her Alpha or not, thanks to my own ambivalence on the subject. For example, I enjoy the illusion that she thinks I am a big and rather stupid dog who needs to be taught how to bury bones and treats. Whenever I give her a dog biscuit, which has become more frequent now that she is encased in her lampshade (two more days!), she leads me over to her "bed" - in reality an old blanket on top of an old pillow, under the piano - and drops the biscuit there. She then proceeds to looks imploringly at me and at the biscuit lying on the blanket. If I give her the biscuit again, she repeats her non-verbal imprecations. Finally, after about 12 years, I tried hiding the biscuit in some folds of the blanket blanket, and she happily proceeding to "dig" it up and eat it. I had the strong feeling that she was demonstrating for my benefit the proper storage and retrieval of treats. I know the Dog Whisperer would disapprove of my enabling behavior, but I don't care; she's my pet, and I believe she has humanoid wisdom, not to mention a vast repertoire of non-verbal communication skills.

One of her ritual behaviors still mystifies me, though, and maybe one of You Out There can explain it. When she first arrived, her only possession was a fuzzy green tennis ball. Whenever we prepared to go out for a walk, she would scramble for her tennis ball and carry it in her mouth until we got outside, and then she would secretively drop it. When I was vigilant, I would pick it up, but often it just disappeared. I don't play tennis, so my supply of tennis balls depended on donations from tennis-playing friends. Over the years, there were "dry" periods when there was no tennis ball in the house, and she learned to substitute a small chew bone. Sometimes she even drops it on the doormat. I've come to think of it as her Mezuzah ritual, but don't know why she does it. Do you?

No comments: