Sunday, December 30, 2012

Don't Lie to your Dog

I’ve heard it said that dogs are nothing more than selfish, furry eating machines…that their only mission in life is to get you to feed them. They will do whatever it takes: steal, do flips, climb on the counter, cuddle up next to you, pretend to obey you…all with the single motivation of getting food from you. There is a hint of truth to this, but it is not the whole truth. It is a little scary to think that you, as a dog owner, are the sole source of good to a pet. They are denied the luxury of hunting, and instead have to hope you won't forget to feed them or fill their water bowls. Instinctively their primary need is indeed food, and it is humbling for them to not be in control of their own fates. You, the owner, are in control.

But I’ve learned that dogs have another need too…and that is to communicate. They do their part conversationally, but the owner needs to step up to the plate. Communication requires two parties.
Buddy and Hutch

We have two dogs: Hutch, a big black lab; and Buddy a mutt, of indeterminate heritage.  They both are adept at communicating. Some of things they say to us are:

‘Uh hello, it is precisely 5:30 and time for dinner.’

‘Hey, it is ten minutes till 6:00, and I think you have forgotten something.’

‘Did you know that the water bowl is empty? Do you really want us to drink out of the toilet?’

 'Thank you for returning home to me.’

‘Are we going to the park this morning?’

‘Isn’t it time for you to go to bed now?’

'My paw hurts. Could you fix it, make it better'

‘Why are you screwing up our environment and moving furniture around?’

‘I want to go with you. I don’t care where you are going – I’ll stay in the car!’

‘Yeah, I love you. Let’s cuddle.’

‘I know it’s late, but can I have a snack?’

‘Let’s get it straight. I do not like getting in the bathtub. Why don’t you bathe me with the water hose outside?’

Hutch: ‘I’m not in to toenail cutting – not at all!’

Buddy: ‘Cut my toenails? Sure…what the hell.’

'Ohhh. You brought Chick-fil-A home for supper. I love Chick-fil-A!'

‘I’ll play with you.’

‘Someone is outside!’

‘If he is your friend, he will be my friend too.’

‘You don’t like him. I don’t like him either.’

‘Yeah, yeah. Thunder scares me.’

There are more things they tell us, but we only know they are telling us something if we listen.

The other side of the coin is your communication with them. The most important point in talking with your dog is honesty. Sincerity. Whatever you do, don’t lie to your dog. If you want the respect of your dog, he has to know that you will not lie to him.

I arise early in the morning. On work days I get up around 4:30. Buddy knows it is a work day because I dress early. But just to be sure – and he is pretty sure he knows what my answer will be – he will walk up to me and stare into my eyes and will give me a half-hearted cock of the head to ask me, ‘Is there any chance we will go somewhere this morning?’ I give him the answer he expects. “No baby, I have to go to work.’ He immediately wanders off.

But on weekends it is a different story. I usually arise around 5:30 and do not dress for work. Weekend. He understands this. His approach is different. He will walk into the room and sit tall, again staring into my eyes, and will give an enthusiastic right cock to his head. If I don’t answer his question, he will walk five steps closer and repeat his gesture. If I don’t answer, he will step closer and repeat. In fact, he will plop himself right in front of me boring into my eyes with his head firmly cocked to the right…and will stay that way until I give him a definitive answer.

If I say, “We’ll see”, he will not move. ‘That’s a cop out. Tell me yes, or no!’

If I say, “Yes. A little bit later”, he will dance around and jump up with his paws on my leg telling me, ‘Oh thank you. I’m ready now. This is going to be so much fun. You will enjoy it too.’ Once I made this commitment, every move I make will get a positive reaction from him. He will follow me everywhere asking, ‘Is it time yet?’ If I don’t take him after an hour or so, he will shun me. ‘You lied to me!’ is broadcast from his every move.

If I say “No – we can’t today”, he will slump down in disappointment. But he will get perky after a few minutes explaining that he understands and accepts my decision. If, for some reason, I change my mind, he will react in a confused and distrustful manner. ‘But you said we were not going. Yeah, I want to go but why did you lie to me?’

Don’t lie to your dog.

So the first decision I have to make when I arise on weekends, is what I am going to tell Buddy! Hutch is party to this, because he watches the conversation with intensity. If I tell Buddy "Yes", both dogs will spring up and start prancing all over the house proclaiming, ‘Guess what? We are going to the park!’ They will run up to Marilyn and ask, ‘Are you going too? Huh? Huh?’ If I tell Buddy “No”, Hutch will slink down and close his eyes.

While I was writing this in my office, I heard a sharp yelp from Buddy from the other room. I immediately got the message.

‘I know it was cold and windy last night and you had to seal the doggy door, but don’t you think it is time to open it up? I have to pee, after all.’

I unsealed the doggy door.

So your dog strives to communicate with you. Do your part and listen, and talk back. But above all, don’t lie to your dog.

Oh, I did tell Buddy that we are indeed going to the park this morning. Buddy and Hutch are ecstatic. And I know the first item on the agenda for today.


  1. This advice pretty much fits the bill for communication with anyone/thing. I bet Buddy and Hutch (and you) had a great time at the park. Happy New Year, Jerry.

  2. They always understand and very good companions.

  3. Jerry, I'm more of a cat person than a dog person and right now I don't have a pet of any sort. You sort of make me wish I had a dog (don't tell my husband--we kind of have a 'we hate dogs' pact [we don't really have a 'we hate dogs' pact, it's just that I don't like all dogs (or kids, for that matter) based simply on the fact that they are a dog (or a kid)-- I need to be impressed with the individual dog (or kid)...] If I could have a dog like Hutch or Buddy, I would be a happy and good dog owner) (okay, I almost deleted that last, really lame and grammatically incorrect and circuitous thought, but I thought you might like to see that I am as always...)

  4. Yes, Jerry, I, too am a cat person. But they do communicate, as well. Whatever. Oops, I forgot. That word is banned for 2013. Oh, yeah, Happy New Year - 2013! You're a prince, Jerry.

  5. Dot the Yellow Lab and Merv the Cat fully understand what you've said. Merv doesn't really give a shit, since he's a cat, but he DOES expect attention whilst purring in bed. Dot KNOWS when Jeff is going to take her for a walk and she mopes in the mornings when he has to go to work at 6 a.m. You CAN'T lie to your dog because they know. I love my dog and cat. They are people. And they and I wish you a happy new year!

  6. Darn. Just got over not having a dog anymore, and now you've gone and made me want one again.

  7. They sound like intelligent and loyal pups! Not for me though...
    I feel the same way about dogs as I do about kids. A few of them are okay.
    I know it's a week late, but Happy New Year!

  8. This is so true! My dog understands when I say that I'm going "bye bye" and will quietly and calmly get in his crate. If I try to trick him, though, and do yardwork or something else not involving going away, he knows and starts whining and crying. It's like he's saying, "If you're going to be here, there's no reason I should be in this crate! I know that I'll just get in your way and you'll get your task done faster if I'm not under your feet, but no fair calling "bye bye" when you're still here!" Smart dogs can be annoying.

  9. Wish I had a dog. Cats are too damn independent and unpredictable.

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  11. Ah doggy speak...I'm afraid I am not as diligent learning from my dogs. My hubby speaks to them all the time and come to think of it, so does my brother (but then my brother is a dog whisperer). Anyway perhaps I should pay closer attention to these things. :)

  12. My dogs just read my mind. They don't even wait for answers! Loved this post though, and realise, it is just useless to lie to a dog!

  13. I love dogs, great post! :) P.S. this is Adrielle's daughter :)

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