We recently acquired a dog. Sadie. Brilliant and willful. Half poodle. Half golden retriever. She’s an amazing ball player. And not just in terms of her physical prowess. She naturally exhibits most of the advice in The Winning Weekend Warrior. She doesn’t worry. She doesn’t berate herself for past performance. She is confident she can catch any ball, and if she misses on the first bounce, she goes after the second bounce as though, not only her life—but the life of the entire pack—depended on it. And if she misses it on the second bounce and accidentally nuzzles fifty feet away, she still goes after the ball!
Before I wrote this essay, Sadie stood before me, staring those sad eyes into mine begging for another hour of ball-playing but I explained I wanted to write on the computer for awhile so she got up on the bed where she’s quietly chewing on a bone.
She and I communicate fairly well. Yet, it’s amazing how little they understand about human communication. Often, I wish I could communicate more fully. That led me to think about how to explain how humans use natural language in terms Sadie could understand. Thus:
“OK, Sadie, humans (I point to my chest) like me use language in two major ways. One of those ways is to collaborate better by communicating meaning.”
“I know, Sadie, I know. I haven’t explained those words yet; we’ll get to it.”
Rather than try to clarify my previous statement, I thought it better to advance in the spirit of “appreciative enquiry” and so I said, “That’s right, Sadie! The second way that humans use language is exactly the way you use it, to bark at other doggies! Or, sometimes, just to hear themselves bark.”
“OK, I’ll give you an example. You know how the doggies next door bark incessantly whenever they’re out at the same time we are? You know how they spend their entire time jamming their teeth up against the fence to show how tough they are and bark as loud as they can meanwhile ignoring ten thousand things in their environment that are actually more interesting—or would be, if they gave it a chance? Well, that’s exactly how humans sometimes respond. And, it’s how they respond without any adaptation or learning.”
“Oh, yes, you’re right. Those doggies (I point in the direction of the better doggies) barked a lot when they first met you and they bark again when they don’t see you for awhile, but they wag their tails and come to greet you. Many people bark like that too. When they first meet someone different, they bark to keep them away and claim their property and their stuff. But when they realize that the threat is minimal, they become friendly and stop screaming.”
“Right again, Sadie. Sometimes doggies bark just because something is new or novel or different from what they’re used to. You yourself do this. The mail truck swings by. The gardeners leave a tool. It’s different and you bark. And lots of people are the same way. They bark when something’s different. It doesn’t even have to be a person. It can be a thing, a tool, a book, or even a thought. The difference is that you get used to the new situation and stop barking after awhile.”
“You know, I have given you lots of different tastes of things: kale, lettuce, squash, carrots, tomatoes, cooked potatoes, cooked broccoli, cucumber, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and lots of other things. And I tell you you can take it or leave it. You liked or tolerated everything on that list. But some people—to tell you the truth—the cats are much like this, but don’t tell them I said that—some people who have never tried, say, raspberries will bark at the raspberries and at me for offering them. ‘What?! Raspberries?! I’ve never tried one; never will! They look like a hive of deadly ladybugs to me!”
“Well, those are two of the most frequent categories, but there’s another that’s also quite common. They bark to upset themselves and others. It’s as though it isn’t enough to bark at the raspberries. That doesn’t really upset them very much. So they bark and bark and bark until other doggies in the neighborhood are thinking something like: ‘Invasion! Invasion! Set off the alarm.’
Others, of course, are more like: ‘Something’s out there we can hunt down and tear the guts out of! Come on! Let’s go do it!’ And that’s pretty much word for word what the human pack does as well.”
It’s amazing how much they understand about human communication.
How the Nightingale Learned to Sing
Garfield Hug said:
Gorgeous pooch! Sadie is now a valued member of your household.