Friday, July 01, 2011

Dogs and other critters

I watched a few documentaries on dogs and animal intelligence in general last night, presented, respectively, by Nova and National Geographic.

Anyone who has shared his or her house with a dog, or multiple dogs, has seen, again and again, the animal's remarkable ability to communicate with you.  Not only can you pick up on the meaning of your pet's barks, but you will swear that its language skills almost rival your own.  At least where it comes to comprehension.

I know I'm continually awed by the behaviors of the individual dogs with whom I'm privileged to spend my life.

The above picture is of my "old man," my 11 y.o. Shiba Inu, Kitsune.  He's epileptic, but it's not a particularly bad case.  Unfortunately it seems to have taken a toll, in that he's aging far faster than most Shibas do.  He also shows the signs of arthritis now.

Kitsune's the "mechanic" in the pack.  (If one can say he's in the pack at all).  He's the one who figures out how to open things, how to get around human safeguards.  He also knows what "tomorrow" means.  And has for some years.  If you tell Kits he gets to go somewhere "tomorrow," he will be at the door waiting when it's time to leave.  We've never tested this any farther, but it's impressive.  It suggests some understanding of time.

Of course, I have to regularly remind them that they can't tell time.  Kharma, our Pomeranian Devil (30 lbs of fiercely protective, astonishingly loving fuzzball) can tell time.  Digitally, anyway.  Dinner is at 7:30... regardless of time changes.  And he's not fooled by the switch from DST or PST.  It's the digital clock on the DVR he seems to rely upon.

He also has a huge vocabulary.  (If you think Poms aren't smart, you haven't been around them much).  It's clear he also understands context.  He knows the difference between "Should we go out to dinner?" and "It's time for an out."  It's not the word "out," he jumps on so much as the way we might use it.

We had some city water guys digging in our yard yesterday attaching us to a new hub (good thing, because the water from the other line SUCKED).  Anyhow, the dogs were locked in, something we haven't been doing this year.  If it's warm enough the back door is open and both our dogs and cats are allowed to hang out in the yard.

Anyway--I opened the back door once the men had completed their job and left. Kitsune was waiting, so he went out and laid down.  Five minutes later the others hadn't noticed and were napping in the living room.  So I called out "You've got your back yard back."  Within 10 seconds they were all outside.

These, of course, are simply my observations of these particular dogs.  The little one, our  "walnut brained" miniature pincer "Bella," has a lap dog's sensibilities.  If it comes to her comfort--or food--she's little miss on-the-spot.  She's mom's little girl.  Alert, agile, and greedy.  But sweet.  Her most unique command is "be flat."  She dens in my wife's lap beneath a blanket and and her lap desk and lap top.

Our largest dog is Bejjing.  She's a Jindo, and a rescue.  She was abused badly by some male wearing a uniform, so she really doesn't like anyone who wears a uniform much.  And she particularly doesn't like men.  She loves and trusts me, but doesn't like me carrying anything in my hands

She's the guard dog and my wife's partially-trained service dog.  It's Bejjing who helps my wife when her legs aren't working right and she needs something to steady her.  Where Kharma is the loudmouth, the watch dog who sounds the alarm, Bejjing is the silent pain in the darkness.

She's also a dog-wrestler.  Seriously.  She dominates other dogs by rolling them and pinning them not with her jaws, but with her legs in a kind of hold.  I've never seen anything like it.

Bejjing is also the most dangerous dog in the house when it comes to our cats.  And the worst thing about it is it's not maliciousness, but a never realized mothering instinct.  Cats are for grooming, even over their objections.  If we're not there, the cats simply aren't safe around her.  Kitsune is a hunting dog and Kharma is a dominant vermin killer.  Excitement with the cats results in the activation of prey drive.

Let's just say we learned the hard way to keep her separate from the cats when we're gone when we lost my cat Bastion... who clearly died defending the other cats.  Based on the evidence, anyway.  Never heard of a male cat doing this, but that's what the scene suggested.

That's Bastion.  Damn good cat.  Listened almost like a dog.  And went out of his way to communicate.  We miss him.

But we still have Monster.  His given name is Sterling, but my wife nick-named him Monster because of his size and he decided he liked that better.

Monster acts like one of the dogs.  He goes in and out with them during the day, lies around the backyard on sunny days, gets cookies when the dogs do...  He comes when he's called, answers when talked to, and accompanies my wife to work in the basement just like Boo and 'Jjing.

I'd probably be remiss if I didn't mention my wife's cat.  He's the only critter we have with serious behaviorial issues.  He's a sweetie, but either not very bright or far more of a smartass than a cat should be.  I'm going for dumber than a box of pudding, myself.  But sweet.  He's a black longhair so I don't have any really good pictures of him.  He's hard to get a good shot of.

So if you ask me whether I think animals are a hell of a lot smarter than we give them credit for, I have to say yes.  All my life I've been  around amazing animals, and I presume to continue to do so until my dying day.  I pity those who can't, or won't, share their lives with these amazing creatures.  And this is the reason I support the ASPCA and individual animal rescue groups even while decrying PETA and the USHS.  Because I love animals--not just the idea of animals.

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