From a dogs-eye view

Our Mountain Town, Katie Shaffer

I noticed a bumper sticker on a car parked downtown recently that said, “Dogs Are People.”

This simple statement caught my attention. Dogs aren’t people, of course, but for some of us who own dogs, we know that behind those expressive dog eyes is a mind with people-like ideas and opinions.

I have a friend who has a knack for translating exactly what a dog might be thinking, at any given time. She will adopt an Eeyore kind of voice, of Winnie the Pooh fame, that is low and slow, and she will tell the rest of us who are present exactly what her dog is thinking.

She claims that when her dog sees the ski gear set out by the front door on a Saturday morning during ski season, her dog Charlie thinks to himself, “Oh no, it’s going to be another long day sleeping in the house all by myself.”

My older dog waits by my bed every morning until I wake up. This is not because she is so devoted to me that she can’t wait for me to wake up. It’s because she has an idea that it’s time for her morning biscuit, and she knows that she’s most likely to get one from me.

It’s gotten to a point where she will not let me out of her sight until she gets her biscuit.

Sometimes I may want to do something else first, like put on my shoes or get the coffee started. Whatever the delay is, in my dog’s opinion, she will wait, but not very patiently. It’s her job to lead me straight to the lower cabinet in the kitchen where the dog biscuits are kept.

I have another dog too, named Jack. He’s a 1-year-old male lab. He depends on Chloe, our 5-year-old mutt, to be the biscuit beggar.

Jack is the patient, wait-behind guy who trusts that when the biscuits are doled out, there will always be one for him.

Meanwhile, there is Chloe, excitedly nudging the cabinet with her nose. Since my dogs are sometimes given a second biscuit, Chloe will always try for one more. If I tell her, “No more. All gone,” I know she is thinking, “Then why are there boxes in that cabinet full of more biscuits?” She not only knows about the quantity of remaining dog biscuits, she also knows that with a little persistence, she might get one more.

Sometimes a dog decision is not a good one. We used to live on a corner where Chloe could take off in four different directions. Before we installed an electric fence to keep her at home, she would often make a decision to take off after just about anything that came past our house. If we weren’t watching her constantly, it was hard to know in which direction she had gone.

Just before Jack and I received our diploma from Puppy Kindergarten training last year, which I’m not sure we deserved entirely, my dog and I had to do a final exercise.

Jack was positioned about 50 feet away from me across the yard at the community center, and I was to call for him to come. We had worked on the “come” command weeks before, from a shorter distance, but this was the real test of my dog’s attentiveness to me.

I called and called, and Jack did everything but come running to me. He ran over to a couple of his puppy friends, and then he ran back to the person who was assigned to hold onto him and direct his attention toward me, now calling desperately.

Jeannie, the wonderful dog trainer, expressed concern to me that Jack must be spending too much time with our other dog, because he should have been responding to me, not the other dogs.

Her assessment of the problem was right on.

Unfortunately, we added Jack to our family to provide companionship for our older dog Chloe, and they spend virtually all of their time together.

So Chloe is the leader, and Jack is the follower. It’s the way Jack’s life was arranged, and he seems happy in his submissive role.

Since our older dog makes all the dog decisions, and Jack follows her every move, I sometimes watch as Chloe might decide to take off after a deer while we’re out for a walk.

With a brainstorm like this, Jack is always right at her heels.

“Oh yeah!” he thinks to himself, “Great idea!”

Meanwhile I am calling for them to come back, and as I learned at puppy training, coming to me will not be Jack’s first priority. Eventually they do come back, probably when Chloe decides that the deer is long gone.

After all, they know that I am the keeper of the biscuits, and of course, they also love me a lot.

Katie Shaffer is a Truckee resident. Life in our mountain town appears every other week in the Sierra Sun.

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