I think my dog has been deceiving me.
When a dog grows up with you, from puppy to adult, almost every day of her life spent in your company, you get to know her pretty well. When she’s your first dog, she shapes your ideas about what dogs are like. Then dog number two comes along and of course, he’s different. In Bartleby’s case, the open question has been, “Is he really dumb? Or is Zelda just really smart?” Because clearly one of those two things is true. Maybe both of them are true.
Training Zelda is pretty much a matter of figuring out how to explain to her what you want. Once she understands you, she’ll give it to you. She’s actually a lot better at training me than I am at training her. When she discovered that Bartleby’s glucosamine treats for joint pain were delicious, it took her about two days of sitting and staring at the treat box for ten minutes at a time before I started giving her one, too. Now, every morning, after breakfast, if I forget, she will get my attention and then go stare at the treat box until she gets her glucosamine. She’s ten years old and she’s learned this within the past six months. There’s some innate behaviors that I don’t think can be trained out of her, like her desperate need to chase any squirrels out of the backyard, and some behavioral stuff that I probably went wrong on too early, like her conviction that the right spot to be in a thunderstorm is on top of me, but otherwise, she’s so responsive. She tries really hard to understand me and do what I want her to do and she does really well at it. C votes for Zelda being a genius, so maybe she is.
In comparison… well, honestly, I’ve thought that possibly Bartleby’s head just isn’t big enough to have much working brain inside of it. (Ignoring the fact that he’s not that much smaller than Zelda.) Two years of putting his food in the exact same spot every single morning and evening and he still can’t bring himself to sit in the right place to wait for it. Trying to teach him to lie down seems impossible. He just gives me this blank stare out of his dark eyes and waits for me to give up. Sometimes I’m not even sure whether he knows his name. If he does, he practices very selective hearing.
But I could be wrong.
All last summer, I would bring him into the pool for a couple minutes at a time, just to get him used to the water. If he ever fell in accidentally, which happened a couple times, I wanted him to be comfortable enough not to panic. He never seemed to like it much, but he tolerated it. This summer, he’s started carefully jumping in. I’ll be in the pool, standing at the edge, when he comes up to me. Once I put my hands on either side of his body, he takes a little jump onto my shoulder. He’ll sit on me for a while, seeming to enjoy the water, and then start paddling. I let him go, he paddles to the steps, and hops out.
All that was fine, until he discovered the delights of rolling in dirt to dry off. Argh. He turns into a little mud dog. He’s got long, lovely, silky fur that becomes a matted, disgusting, tangle-y mess when covered in dirt. Not fun. Trying to convince him to stop was pointless. I’d say, “No!” and he’d give me that blank look, like, “Are you talking to me? Noise comes out of your mouth, but it means nothing,” and dash for the dirt.
So, in another instance of my dogs training me, I started promptly following him out of the pool to towel him off before he could reach the dirt. Fortunately, he loves being toweled dry. He especially loves it when I leave a towel spread on the chaise lounge so that it gets nice and warm from the sun.
But here’s the thing — it took him three days, three days, to understand that when I say, “towel” and point to the chaise, he should run there, jump up, and wait for me. Two years and he barely recognizes his name. Three days and he’s figured out how to get a warm, cozy towel wrapped around him for a full-body massage.
I think Bartleby has just been pretending to be dumb.