Dogs different, but still family
Our dogs are members of our family. Granted, Jo Mama the golden Lab, and Junior the black Lab, are canines and not humans, but they’ve got personalities and temperaments as distinctive as the humans in our brood. We love them, scold them, nurture them and coddle them. They’re part of us.
But they’re also dogs – four-legged creatures with paws instead of hands and feet, and big waggy tails. And sometimes the fact that they’re animals, albeit domesticated animals, is hard to remember. Other times it’s not at all.
Take their tails, for example. What valuable emotional barometers they are. In fact, the human race would probably benefit by having tails. With one look at one another’s backsides, we could tell if we’re happy or sad, scared or inquisitive, concerned or relaxed. We humans do have mood indicators like smiles, frowns and body language, but those can be faked. Look at the acting profession. Tails, it seems to me, don’t lie. Ever.
Because Labradors are known to have mostly happy dispositions, most of the time our dogs are in the waggy mode, which sometimes takes over their entire back ends, resulting in a sort of butt-shaking dance. It’s hard to be bummed out when your dogs approach you in this mode at the front door at the end of a long day.
The only disadvantage is the incredibly powerful coffee-table-clearing ability of said tails. It’s a freak of nature that most coffee tables are the exact height of a dog with a long, expressive tail. When Jo and Junior are in a good mood, they can clear our coffee table of wine glasses, flower vases and aluminum cans in one enthusiastic swipe.
Another way to distinguish between us humans and our dogs is the whole sense-of-smell phenomenon. A dog’s sense of smell is perhaps the most attuned sense he or she has, stronger even than eyesight, hearing and taste.
So if that’s the case, why oh why do dogs stick their noses into other dogs’ doo doo – one of the most offensive smells on the planet – every possible chance they get?
A dog behaviorist explained this to me once. She said that since the dog’s sense of smell is so acute, the dog doesn’t actually smell the offensive odor you and I smell, but is smelling the remnants of what the other dog consumed to produce said doo-doo. From way back, this information has been key to the dog’s innate survival.
I bet you could have gone all year without this tidbit of news, but there you have it. Still, the dog sniffing thing is one of the main ways I am reminded that Jo and Junior aren’t cut from the same cloth as us humans – not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Chewing and gnawing are other activities that separate us from the pups. Jo Mama will methodically chew and gnaw away for hours until a bone or rawhide is reduced to nothing. It’s a great day for the dogs when we come home with a big, raw meaty bone from the market.
I’ve given her a bone in the evening before bed and will awaken to hear her gnawing at it into the wee hours of the morning. The concentration, dedication, and diligence of completing her task is awe-inspiring. Like a reader devouring a novel or a knitter compulsively finishing a sweater, Jo will not deviate from her task until it is completed.
But apart from chewing on a big wad of gum, we have no way to relate to Jo’s methodical disintegration of her bone. We eventually spit the gum out after our jaws get tired and the gum loses taste. Not Jo. She’ll gnaw on her bone until there’s nothing left.
Eating is another activity that separates us from Jo and Junior. Since I first got Jo as a puppy, she has wolfed down her food faster than any dog I’ve ever seen. She can suction up a bowl of dry dog food in 26 seconds flat. Without stopping to breathe, she is off and running. If Jo were human, she would never, ever sit at the table to eat. She’d be at the kitchen counter, choking down her meals in breakneck efficiency.
Junior, her younger “brother,” learned this behavior from his big “sister.” He can inhale almost as fast as Jo, but she still wins the race every time.
But not all dogs have this characteristic. We’re dog-sitting for a friend of ours this week. Brindle is an older pooch (it’s been said she’s a Jack Russell and German shepherd cross but I can’t imagine the logistics of that mating ritual!) When you place her bowl down on the ground, she gingerly picks up one dry dog food kernel at a time, steps away from her bowl, and cracks into it, chewing it thoroughly. Needless to say, we have to separate our speed demons from Brindle when it’s mealtime.
A particularly unsavory difference between our dogs and us is the amount of shedding that goes on – with the dogs, of course. I literally had to give away most of my black clothing when I got Jo because she sheds so much. I tried brushing her and giving her supplements, but she is just a shedder. I’ve become a big fan of Swiffer products, and need to de-shed the house constantly. We don’t vacuum the house; we Shop Vac it, with the most powerful Shop Vac on the market. Yuck.
Despite all these differences – and you know as well as I do there are many more – Jo and Junior are part of the family. They’re always ready for a walk or a run, as well as a car ride. They make the bank tellers laugh every time I pull up to the drive-up window. (You see, to Jo and Junior, the bank isn’t a bank; it’s a drive-up dog biscuit snack shop!). They know when it’s time to play and they play with passion. And they know – most of the time, at least – when it’s time to settle down and be quiet (except for their 6 a.m. romping sessions).
I guess some folks can’t imagine why we’d want these dogs in our lives. But I can’t think of living any other way.
Carrie Click is a Post Independent staff writer. Her column runs on Tuesdays.
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