The Cunning of a Lap Dog
My dachshund, Gracie, is one of the smartest people I know. She always wants to play. Me? Not so much. So Gracie will get close, maybe by laying against my ankles while I’m writing. I don’t know it yet, but I am a square pat of butter in a warming skillet. My breathing and my heartbeat slow. My borders, defended sternly minutes before, go unguarded. Gracie senses that her master’s mood has shifted. She’ll crawl into my lap and it feels like we have a shared devotion. This little yapper is my girl; I am wildly imperfect but Gracie doesn’t care. All she wants is companionship and love. This is pure. This is the yin and the yang. This is peas and carrots. Then, mild euphoria. Burdens and problems shrivel. The world feels as orderly and as promising as a bank-fresh packet of twenty-dollar bills. I scratch Gracie’s ears and lay a hand on her chest. She licks my hand, lays her nose in my palm and breathes against my skin. She is my best old pal and I tell her so. Then she is up and licking me in the ear because she believes that will put me on the verge of playful, which is where she’s wanted me all along.
And, she is correct.
She lays down against me again, studying me as I write. Her eyes take on a sympathetic droop. She is in waiting. She wants the heat of the skillet to melt me a little more. In less than a minute, she pokes her nose across the keyboard of my MacBook and takes the tip of my ring finger between her front teeth and she gently pulls. She wants my hand. I resist, brush her off. She waits, then tries again. This time, she’s visibly energetic and from her throat comes vocabulary from Gracie’s Big Book of Doggie Words, a book we wrote together. It’s a breathy little phrase I’ve heard spoken by other dogs and it comes from the back of the throat, past lips so loose they flap: Ahyayaya. It means ‘C’mon already. Let’s play.’ The laptop claps closed. We play. She’s happy. I’m happy. Life is good.
Then, a realization: In five steps, my dog just conned me. She exploited inside knowledge of her master.
Whoa. Through careful observation, I’ve uncovered something remarkable about animal behavior. The self-pride comes on strong and keeps coming until it’s obviously excessive. I don’t resist. Then, a disturbance. I would never have gone so far. Really? Five steps? Nobody I know is that cunning.
Then comes a moment of denial followed quickly by anger, depression and, finally, cold resignation: My dog has more social intelligence than I do. Dude, you are so naïve, and a little bit of affection turns you into a complete sucker. Gracie knows this. She knows it and she works it.
We keep playing. She’s happy. I’m happy. Life is good.