Communication and dogs

Published 8:24 pm Tuesday, December 31, 2002

By By Lloyd Albritton
Dogs have found a secure place in the world of humans through the ages. Because of the dog's superior olfactory nerves, he has long been useful to humans as a hunting animal. Many dogs have a natural herding instinct and physical agility which makes them excellent farm animals for controlling sheep and cows. Dogs have a protective instinct as well, and will give their lives to protect their human masters. And if that were not enough, dogs make affectionate and loyal pets and will perform all manner of demeaning tricks and stunts for nothing more than a tiny treat or a scratch on the belly. I could go on and on detailing the many modern uses of dogs in such valuable endeavors as police work and assistance to the handicapped, but you get my point, don't you? Dogs truly are man's best friend. Perhaps even a better friend to man than man himself.
But then, there's the downside. Dogs have a very poor sense of hygiene. Dogs could care less if they never get a bath, and even when they are clean, they still stink. A dog will pee and poop just about anywhere and dogs are always sniffing one another's rear ends, and even enjoy licking their own private parts. In fact, a little observation of dogs clearly reveals that peeing and pooping is the dogs' primary means of communication with one another. They leave little love notes to one another that way.
Dogs shed hair all over everything they touch. They have nasty-smelling breath too. There is no telling what a dog may have had in his mouth. Of course, we have to work with them on this because a dog has no hands. If I had no hands I would probably pick everything up with my mouth too, but I sure wouldn't go sniffing in no toilet bowls. That's strictly a doggy thing, although I do know a few humans who I suspect of being toilet-bowl-sniffers, and worse! Dogs also have unpredictable dispositions. Even the nicest dog might bite you if he doesn't like the way you smell. And finally, there is no reasoning with a dog when he gets upset about something. Many dogs suffer from a condition known as separation anxiety. When you leave them, they go ballistic. They bark and run around in circles and frantically dig holes and chew up anything in sight. It does no good to explain to the dog that you will returning in a matter of moments. He won't listen!
Now, it should be obvious to humans that dogs, despite their many valuable uses and their affection and devotion to us, are still dogs. A dog can be trained and conditioned to behave in ways compatible with the human environment, but like a porpoise trained to jump through a hoop for a fish, the dog does not really understand why he is doing these things. Just because we bathe our dogs each week does not mean the dog himself cares a hoot about being clean. And just because the dog can be trained to go outside to use the bathroom does not mean that he personally sees anything wrong with taking a leak on your carpet.
Despite these obvious innate differences between dog and man, it is very easy for us dog owners to forget that our dog is not really "one of us." When he turns his head from one side to the other and looks at us intensely as we speak to him, it would almost seem that we are communicating. I confess that I talk to my dog all the time. Since he can't talk back, I often talk back to myself for him. Oddly enough, he always agrees with everything I say.
"Hey Gus, old buddy, are you just about ready to go back on the leash?"
"Oh yes, Daddy, I love it best when you have me on a leash with a collar around my neck."
"Gus, do you like this particular brand of dog food?"
"Oh yes, Daddy, this is my favorite. I love it!"
Sometimes, couples find it easier to communicate through their dogs. My ex-wife loved her dogs and thought of them as human. When we argued and quit speaking to one another, we could always get through to one another through her dogs.
"Buster, please tell Mommy that Daddy is sorry for what he did."
"Alright then Buster, if Daddy is truly sorry, then tell him that Mommy will forgive him if he will take her to the mall and buy her a new dress."
See what I mean? Yet another valuable role for dogs in the human world. As we treat our dogs more and more like humans these days, it is no wonder that so many humans have also started acting like dogs. It makes one wonder which of us is the smartest, for no matter how we treat him, a dog always knows he is a dog, but we humans often forget that we are humans, and start acting like dogs.
Lloyd Albritton is a columnist for the Atmore Advance. He invites your comments at

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