Nuggets I picked up from my dog, No. 16
I asked Katherine if dogs could think. When they plop down for a snooze, do they go “Man, I’m pooped. Guess I’ll sack out.”
Katherine got a little huffy. “Why do you ask me questions like that? How should I know? ”
Well, she seems to know a lot about everything. She says dogs can see only in black and white. She didn’t say she’d read it somewhere or that she’d seen it on the dog network. She stated it as if it were hard-wired information included in the standard savoir faire package for Homo sapiens. I replied with the standard reporter’s question: “Why?”
Katherine gets exasperated when I drop a why on her. It’s one of the tougher questions in life. Why, for instance, would Mr. Big invent a world full of resplendent Technicolor, crank out a bunch of dogs with two good eyes then tell them, “Sorry, you can see only black and white.”
Besides, how would anyone know what colors a dog sees? Do they sit them in little booths and hold up cards and ask them to bark twice for red and three times for green?
Which brings me back to ideas and the mystery of whether dogs can think them up. You’ve got a dog, say, and he’s sitting on the carpet and suddenly he’s up and walking to the water dish and slurping and lapping and drooling so loud you have to turn up Dan Dierdorf.
Are we saying it’s just instinct? Some robotic sensor inside the fur bag decides its time for a drink and levers are pulled and buttons pushed and the dog goes from sleeping peacefully to making a swamp on the kitchen floor? That sounds like a Frankenstein movie.
I got to thinking about this the other day during the daily walk with the hound. It had snowed the previous day and then the temperatures fell even lower. Then a new batch of snow turned to rain and sleet and ultimately ice. By morning the neighborhood lay under a slick, cold crust of Kevlar. Thick enough and hard enough that walking on it made no impression whatsoever.
So we’re out walking, and here and there are footprints left over from yesterday when the snow was young and impressionable. I notice that the hound, cruising along, his snout Hoovering before him, is leaving no tracks.
And I start to think: I wonder if he notices that he’s leaving no tracks. I wonder if he’s thinking “Hmm, here’s yesterday’s tracks but I’m not even making a dent today. What gives?”
Of course if he were smart enough to think that, he’d already know about science and the properties of water and ice hockey. Maybe not. I know people who think you can’t eat after dinner mints until after dinner.
Anyway, Coffee says nothing. And I think: Because they don’t talk, dogs tend to give off a whiff of intellectual depth. Think about it.
When you meet someone at a party and they don’t say much, you get this feeling that they must be pretty smart, standing there, drinking it all in, forming deep thoughts about the human condition, or the meaning of the hortatory subjunctive, or why short stories in The New Yorker always suck.
It’s only when they open their mouths and say something like “Dude, where’s the crapper?” that you realize silence is a long way from candlepower.
I mention this because of an incident yesterday. I’m at work in my basement office and the hound is napping in an adjacent room. He wakes up and he’s smart enough to think “I’ll go hit up that guy who walks me every day. He’s usually good for a biscuit before lunch.”
So he motors his butt into my office, stopping at my feet. He proceeds to stare at me silently and pathetically. I pretend not to notice until he reaches out a claw and rakes my thigh. I notice.
I look at him but my heart sinks. Whatever thought process brought him into the room, whatever intellectual power I’d given him credit for is now proven to be about as deep as a mushroom cap.
For there, peeking out beneath the hound’s rear foot, left over from who knows what era, sits a dog biscuit.
“You’re standing on a biscuit!” I shout. But he just stares at me with a look that says “Please sir, a morsel for a poor boy; it’s not for me, but my old mother who may not last the night.”
I point at his rear foot and he sniffs my finger, finds it isn’t a biscuit, then, reluctantly follows my direction. He looks stupidly at his foot. Sniffs it. I reach down and lift up the foot.
He does a double take–Wha…?–then gobbles the biscuit. Within four seconds he is raking my thigh again.
“Please sir, a scrap of gristle for a poor waif.”
Later I told Katherine that I’ve concluded dogs can think, they just don’t think very hard.
She said “A bird doesn’t wake up in the morning thinking it’s going to fly.”
I gave that some thought. It carried a tantalizing whiff of profundity, something worth stealing as my own. But I needed to do a little more reporting.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“It means,” she said, “stop thinking!”
Well. And so I have. Although being human, now and then an errant notion enters my head. And it begs a question that I am very reluctant to pose to Mrs.
And it is this: What do birds wake up thinking?
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2013, all rights reserved.