I love dogs because they are dogs, not inarticulate hair-children. I love my dog because he's not operating on human terms. I love my daughter, but I'd be worried if she found a rabbit hutch in the backyard and ate a bunny. Especially because it gave her such a stomachache the first time.
Perhaps this is a minority opinion. A news release about a recent survey that landed in my inbox makes me wonder if people really know what dogs are all about. Here are some results from the survey.
The average dog knows 18 human words.
As opposed to fish words, I guess. I'll buy that one, but:
The top human word that dogs know, besides basic commands, is "love."
Also in the top 10: "TV" and "ice cream." I'm sorry to tell you this, but if you are living with a creature who understands "Would you love some ice cream while you watch TV?" you have a stranger in your house who is wearing a fur suit. Just say, "Oh, we forgot, it's time to go to the vet and get you neutered" and watch them stand up on two legs and make for the door.
Dogs make 77% of survey respondents feel heard.
Does it matter that they hear but do not understand? I mean, I say to Birch, "It's a lovely day, a fortunate allotment on this great, green globe that rolls around the sun in its ancient path, plowing a furrow in which the lives of men sprout, grow, wither and die with the harsh breath of Father Winter. But for now, carpe diem! Let me lash you to the leash and endeavor forth on our daily perambulation!"
No reaction. He's listening, all right, but he's waiting for a key concept to announce itself. Walk, food, car, park. If you go on too long without uttering a key concept, they lose interest and look away. Talk to the paw because the snout ain't playin'.
Context is everything. When I have put food in the bowl, and Birch is waiting for the OK to start inhaling his kibble, I could recite the entire Constitution plus amendments plus proposed amendments as well as the transcripts of relevant subcommittees involved in the amendment process, and he would hear every word and discount them in turn because they were not "OK."
A third of respondents said their dog gets excited to FaceTime people.
Or perhaps they're just reacting to your excitement? A third might say their dog wags his tail like a metronome set for "Flight of the Bumblebee" when someone mentions Martin Luther, but it doesn't mean he comprehends the 95 Theses.
Now, the worst:
One in four of the respondents claimed that their dog understands their mood better than their partner.
I think this might say more about the partners than the empathetic abilities of dogs. Let's say you come home from work — if that phrase still means something — and recount the details of your day:
"I galloped the gamut today. Woke with bright resolve, but it faded fast on the way to work, as the hectic traffic and willful disobedience of traffic laws reminded me of a general sense of civic society fraying not just at the edges, but the center of things. This led to a general sense of existential weariness, but there were doughnuts at work, and that helped.
"Of course no one took a whole doughnut, this being Minnesota, and I watched as one cake doughnut — chocolate, with those tasteless hard sprinkles that are intended to connote a sense of gaiety — was cut in fourths over and over, until just a sliver remained, and it reminded me that the doughnut could never be consumed, it could just be cut into smaller and smaller slices until it existed only at the subatomic level.
"Then I busied myself on a project that made the day feel substantial, even though the accomplishment will be forgotten soon enough, like a sandcastle built too close to the hungry mouth of the sea. Then I drove home and made food, and now here I am."
Wife: "So, a Tuesday, then."
Dog: "You said "food!"
Of course, you want your partner to detail their complex emotional inner life every now and then, just to ensure that there's someone in there. And we all want someone to look at us with the rapt adoration of a dog that is waiting to hear a particular word. But not all the time.
The relationship between dogs and humans is not about ice cream and TV. It's something ancient, instinctive, intuitive and marvelous. The understanding cannot be itemized or quantified. The amusing part is that dogs, if surveyed, probably would say that they don't feel smelt by their owners. So go bury your face in your dog's fur and take a deep whiff. The dog might figure out what you're doing, and think: OK. Now you.