Chapter 46 — Dog Talk and People Talk

Greta speaks some limited English.  Most of her friends do, too, having picked up  enough to get by.  It’s the same situation we would face if we lived in Italy for a year and wanted to do a little better than pointing and gesturing every time we went to the local market.  Greta and I use English for the essentials of our communication–coming when called,  not eating found delights such as crab claws or soggy lunch meats, fetching her squeaky toy.  But there are times I wish I spoke fluent dog.

Greta and I encountered Bailey down at the park.  Bailey had a cone over her head to protect her eye after recent eye surgery, but her other senses told her clearly who was here, and she was not happy.  Her legs stiffened.  Her hackles rose.  Her tail moved slowly from side to side.

Greta and I had worked on being non-reactive around Bailey, just trying to give her space and ignore her.   It hadn’t been successful.  Greta’s tail and legs went stiff, her hackles rose, a growl rumbled deep in her throat.

If Greta is going to go into attack mode whenever she encounters Bailey, I won’t  be able to allow her off the leash to play Chase the Squeaky Toy with her friend Juno.

I didn’t really expect Greta to understand the explanation about the leash.  That makes as much sense as sitting down with a two-year-old who is reaching into the wood stove and saying, “Now, if you continue to reach into the hot stove, you will probably get out a stick and drop it on the floor.  You may get burned, the floor will surely be burned and then we won’t be able to play Pull a Stick out of the Fire anymore.”

In lieu of the explanation,  Greta got a quick jerk on her collar.  The two-year-old would have gotten a loud “No!”  a quick carry to the other end of the room and a distraction.  The wood stove might have been reinforced with barriers.

Part of the difficulty here is that we humans can’t read or understand all the signals that passed between Greta and Bailey.  When first they met, before Bailey lunged at Greta and vice versa, there was doubtless some scent communication and  some cold, hard stares.  We would have missed that.

Left to their own devices, Greta and Bailey would probably fight it out until one dog gave the surrender signs: rolling on her back, paws in the air, perhaps urinating on herself.  Then, unless the victor was truly vicious, the issue between them would be resolved.  The loser would have to accept lower pack status, the winner would get higher pack status.

But we humans are in the way, imposing our social rules on our dogs.  We don’t want them to fight.  We have very good reasons for not wanting them to fight, as we’re the ones who foot the bill for care of wounded dogs, give them the antibiotics, and make sure they’re resting comfortably.

It’s a good outcome for the preservation of interspecies harmony and reduced pain and suffering for the animals who know only one way to resolve a dispute.  But from a dog standpoint, it has to be frustrating, rather like a standoff at the 38th Parallel without a clear victory or defeat.

How do you say in dog, “Can the two of you just chill?”

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