The Cunning of a Lap Dog: November 6, 2017
My dachshund, Gracie, is one of the smartest people I know. She is at an age when she always wants to play. I am at an age when I often don’t and she doesn’t like that. So Gracie will get close to me, maybe by laying against my ankles while I’m writing. This makes me relax and become peaceful. 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 only minutes before, go unguarded. Gracie seems to sense that her master’s mood has shifted. She’ll climb up and settle against my thigh. Close together, 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, the same as I do. This is so pure. This is the yin and the yang. This is peas and carrots. Then comes mild euphoria. Burdens and problems shrivel. The world is as orderly and as promising as a bank-fresh packet of twenty-dollar bills. I scratch behind 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. Shucks, I am so in love with my dog. 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.
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 just 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. She waits and studies my body language and my voice, 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 lots of dogs and it comes from under lips so loose they are flapping: Ahyayaya. It means ‘C’mon already. Let’s play.’ The laptop claps closed and is put aside. We play. She’s happy. I’m happy. Life is good.
Then, a realization: My dog just used a five-part strategy to get from me what she wanted. Some of those five parts hinge on our knowledge of one another, knowledge which has been gradually acquired over a period of many months.
Whoa. Through careful observation, I’ve uncovered something about animal behavior. The planning and the strategy employed by a lap dog with a brain no bigger than a golf ball is sophisticated, and surprisingly so. Hey, this could really be something. The self-pride comes on strong and keeps coming until it’s obviously excessive. I don’t resist. It is pleasant to think I am so clever and nobody knows what I’m thinking. So, why not? Then I feel disturbed. It would never occur to me to think as far ahead as Gracie has to try and influence somebody. Really? Five steps? Nobody I know is that cunning.
Then comes a moment of denial followed quickly by anger, depression and then 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.
Oh, hell. We keep playing. She’s happy. I’m happy. Life is good.