Although “real dog people” know otherwise, too many folks out there still
think of man’s best friend as being just some kind of a dumb animal.
Just about everybody will agree that a dog will recognize and respond to
words such as (1.) the dog’s name, (2.) sit, and (3.) fetch. But,
beyond those short utterances, most people assume dogs don’t really know
what we are saying, much less connect our word meanings to some kind of
appropriate action on their part.
Here are some interesting and potent real-life examples that suggest we hare underestimated our canine friends a whole lot, They know a great deal more about what’s going on than we’ve given them credit for. Some dogs understand a couple of hundred words!!
Story #1 - The Story of “Shack” (As told to me by Julie P.)
Black Labrador retriever Shack had a bad, bad, habit. He just couldn’t resist chasing deer. Out where we are, in Williams Valley, there are absolutely oodles of beautiful, graceful deer, with adorable fawns, in season. Well, Shack would be sitting quietly, and would sight the deer leaping over the rolling fields, and off he’d go, lickety split! He didn’t care if he was an aging dog! The problem with that forbidden habit is that Shack is a prime target for being shot by someone while engaging in that behavior. Chasing deer is a profound “no-no” for dogs.
My uncle and I had been building a very nice, warm, cozy dog house for Shack. When it was finished, I sat down by the dog house and decided to have a talk with Shack. I told him, “I don’t know why I built this dog house for you. You know how many times you have been told firmly not to chase deer. You’ve even been spanked for it, which hurt us more than you, I’m sure. Well, it’s really serious, Shack. If someone else doesn’t shoot you, my husband may have to.”
When I finished my doomsday message, Shack put his head down, tucked his tail under his behind, and slowly walked into his new dog house. He never chased deer again. He would watch them running out in the fields, but he wouldn’t move to go after them.
We had lost another dog not long ago, due to dying of old age. Only a couple of weeks ago, realizing that Shack was deteriorating rapidly, I said, “Shack do you want to go to heaven to be with your old friend, Ed?” Although Shack couldn’t use words, it seems by his expression and body language that he was replying affirmatively. He walked very peaceably into his dog house, laid down to sleep, and never woke up again, apparently having had a heart attack.
When my husband buried Shack next to Ed, our two other, young dogs sat there very quietly at the graveside while a Christian service and prayer were carried out. The two young dogs’ focused attention was amazing, because they are normally very hard to keep still.
Story #2 – Sierra Gold, Shauna Lee, and Lucy Girl
My own dogs, Sierra, Shauna, and Lucy, seem to really understand the meanings when I tell them they can’t go with me right now, and that I will be back. Usually, they are clamoring by the door to go bye with me. But when I say those words, they turn around and go lay down on their couch. I can’t tell that there are any other cues going on they could be picking up on. This scenario has happened too many times for it to be coincidence.
Moral of the Story
When we learn to set aside our assumptions about the limitations of dogs to perceive, reason, and respond on our level, and when we practice really watching and listening to them, it is amazing what they can tell us. The more skilled we get at bridging the communications gap, the more we can realize that we have real person-to-person relationships with our dogs, who are definitely in touch with us and with the world around them, who can make decisions about what is going on and what we say, and who just love to be involved with us in living life. At the end of the movie “Rusty,” which is a very charming movie about Beagles and lots of other animals, one of the main human characters said, “Dogs were put here on earth to teach people how to love.” They sure are good at that, too, aren’t they?
Dr. Joyce The Caring Heart Copyright 2008
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