What We Have Here Is An Interspecies Failure To Communicate

My dog Trudeau is a constant source of bewilderment to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty good with animals. At least, I think I am, if I judge myself by the standards I’ve developed from watching It’s Me or the Dog and My Cat From Hell. Admittedly, I might be skewing my sample about what constitutes an average pet owner by only comparing myself to people who are in such desperately bad situations with their pets that they have to go on television before the nation and admit that they’re the worst pet owners ever. At least it’s good for my self-esteem.

It’s just that reading an animal, at least on a basic level, isn’t that hard. I’ve always thought it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between a horse’s “oh yes, please scratch me there” face and its “if you touch me there I am seriously going to bite you in your most sensitive and squishy bits” face. A cat will clearly tell you whether it is pleased with your attentions as its minion or whether it’s about to scratch your face off as punishment for your impertinence, and it can communicate that with nothing but the tip of its tail. Dogs are even easier, because their happiness involves full-body wriggling and tail-wagging while their “I am so freaked out I might try to bite your jugular” body posture tends to be unsettling in a way that our human hindbrains can recognize as an impending wolf attack.

This is the expression that means he’s pining for the fjords.

It’s not like Trudeau himself should be all that complex a puzzle, anyway. He’s not by nature neurotic or hyper or mean or moody. Sure, with some of those ultra-intelligent herding breeds you end up expending so much energy just trying to keep them busy that eventually you find yourself thinking that it wouldn’t be that hard to teach your dog to play Scrabble. And anyway, Scrabble is the last of your worries because you’re starting to suspect that while you’re at work, he’s building a nuclear reactor in the basement. Trudeau is decidedly not one of those dogs. He’s mild-mannered, eager to please, quite trainable, and overall pleasant (unless you’re another dog, in which case he’d like for you to come closer so he can punch you in the face but he might warm up when he gets to know you better). He’s usually pretty low-maintenance. Usually.

The problem is simply that we don’t speak the same language, and this leads to frustration on everybody’s part. Like, sometimes I’ll be doing my thing, chilling on the couch with my laptop watching cat videos on the Internet or whatever it is people do (people being me, it usually involves staring at pictures of Tom Hiddleston and making whimpering noises), and Trudeau will come stick his head all up in my business, which I’m pretty sure he finds funny because of the squawking sounds I make while I’m desperately trying to keep his drool and my keyboard from meeting one another. In any event, this sort of aggressive affection is international Trudeau-speak for “I want something and I want it too badly to be polite about it right now so can we just set aside the Canadian prime minister jokes and please get on this issue right now.” I’m totally magnanimous, I can rise to the occasion and refrain from making cracks about Canadians and politeness, obviously. The problem is working out what the “something” is that he’s so desperate for.

Most of the time it’s not complicated: he wants to go out, or he thinks it’s his mealtime regardless of whether it’s anywhere near his actual mealtime. (He recognizes that time is not linear and is rather a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey… stuff. Which means it should always be dinner time.) But when he’s just been for a nice long walk an hour ago, followed up by a trick-training session to exercise his mind, a rousing game of “find the treats I have hidden around the house,” and a delicious supper, it’s kind of hard to think of what else he might need. And since he doesn’t actually speak English, except for a few key words like “sit,” “stay,” “roll over,” and “outside,” he can’t even give me the nod when I’ve hit the right item on a whole list of potential answers. I usually rattle them off aloud anyway, because it makes me feel like I’m being proactive about the situation. When “outside” fails to elicit any sort of obviously enthusiastic response, I’m forced to get more creative.

He may try to convince you that he’s never been on a walk before while you are in fact still in the middle of taking him for a walk. Do not believe his lies.

Does he want a snuggle? Is he just trying to weasel his way onto the couch? Maybe he’s distressed that I’ve moved the ottoman to where I can put my feet up on it and have therefore screwed up the room’s feng shui? Is Timmy down the well? Is he concerned about the situation in Gaza? Am I neglecting him? Does he feel like his life is passing him by and he’s not achieving any of his dreams and he’s only just realized that he’s never going to be able to start that woodworking business he’s always dreamed of because he doesn’t have thumbs? Is it just a general sense of ennui? Does he want to discuss his feelings? Do we need to hug it out?

Usually I end up trying at least a few of my more practical suggestions, like giving him a hug or relocating to the floor so I’m in a better position for snuggling if that’s he needs. I’d offer to buy  him a lathe or something so he could hone his woodworking skills but honestly I think it would all just end in tears. I try explaining that to him gently while he just stares at me, getting more and more frustrated, expressing his dire and all-consuming need for something by decorating me with streaks of drool.

Once we’ve dispensed with this ritual, I’m usually flabbergasted enough to try the things I’ve already ruled out, and since he’s never actually succeeded in convincing me that I haven’t actually given him dinner yet, I usually end up taking him outside, where it quickly becomes apparent that at some point he has slurped down his entire very large bowl full of water and does, indeed, need to relieve himself again. Or he just needed a nice wallow on his back in the grass. Or he was dying to try to make friends with a neighborhood squirrel. (Not normal friends, though. Murder friends. Trudeau is not pro-squirrel.)

Mostly, I think it’s just a test he likes to conduct occasionally, to make sure my obedience training is coming along: he wants to make sure that he’s still able to convince me to take him outside on demand for no apparently obvious reason. Which actually is okay with me, because I live in fear of the day that he truly realizes how quickly he can get me off the couch and out the door just by hacking like he’s about to toss his proverbial cookies. I don’t think my nerves could take it.

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12 thoughts on “What We Have Here Is An Interspecies Failure To Communicate

  1. How fitting of the universe to provide such a picturesque and complementarily (that is, too, a word; I just made it up) colored backdrop for Trudeau’s own particular handsomeness. :-)

  2. My husky tried to convince me she was throwing up to be let out of her crate. She’d start making those awful gag-y sounds and I’d run, open the crate and…. She’d be sitting there wagging her tail as if nothing happened and walk out cheerfully.
    We just started ignoring her when she’d do that. She never did throw up on those occasions.

    • See, this is what I’m totally terrified of. :D A week or so ago my guy had an upset stomach and sincerely did need to go out a few times (and a couple times I wasn’t fast enough :(). I worry that he’s going to notice exactly how quickly I snap to getting him outside when he does that. :D

  3. Your animal posts always make me smile– this one especially! When my cats are overly needy (not kneady!) and I can’t seem to figure out just what they want I call it a failure to “purrmunicate!” Nice pictures. Trudeau is quite a stately pup!

    Totally, off subject, but have you seen “Baby Sloth Bath Time” on YouTube? You will die from the cuteness of it!

    • Cats are tough because most of their needs they can take care of themselves! :D With my first roommate’s cats it seemed like generally if they (well, I say “they,” but mostly it was just the one who was in love with me :D) were pestering me it was just a need for attention and snuggles.

      I hadn’t seen the baby sloths but I have now and OMG. I love how they “drip-dry” him by just putting him on a towel rack and he hangs there and chills out. :D

  4. “Murder friends”–hahahaha! I couldn’t think of a better way to summarize dogs and squirrels! Smiling at Trudeau . . .

  5. Great post! When my Nekoka (male cat) is really determined to tell me something, he gets all up in my face and meows like an opera singer – good LORD I wish there was a rosetta stone for cat speech just so I could respond appropriately and get him to shut up.

    • Oh my god, seriously! Lately Trudeau has taken to sitting a few feet away from me and just staring. For like ten minutes at a time. I still genuinely cannot figure out what he wants. I’m beginning to suspect at this point that he just does it to mess with me.

  6. Trudeau may be the most beautiful dog I’ve seen. Totally echo what El said! “Murder Friends” pshhhh ha!

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