For example, I was about to ask my wife, Sandy, if she wanted some ice cream, but I couldn’t say, “Dear, would you like a dish of ice cream?” because Bella would have made a beeline for the kitchen and start barking at the freezer door until I opened it and gave her a dollop or two of Häagen-Dazs cherry vanilla, which is her favorite when we have no Ben and Jerry’s.
I can’t let her have any, though, because I think she suffers from lactose intolerance, which is something that would take me too long to translate into dog talk.
So to avoid that, I asked Sandy, “Would you like a dish of I-C-E-C-R-E-A-M?” And immediately, Bella dashed into the kitchen and sat staring at the freezer, barking expectantly. I’m beginning to think she can spell better than some reporters I knew.
A few days later, I was waiting for a package to arrive from Amazon, which I always try to retrieve before my wife does because there will be hell to pay if she discovers I bought another book, let alone a Diamondback recumbent exercise bike.
Without thinking I said, “Did the mailman come yet?” Which wasn’t very smart on my part because Bella is to the mailman what Donald Trump is to the President of Mexico. She immediately raced down the stairs, tore across the living room, leapt onto the sofa and starting barking out the window before she had a chance to see if he was even there.
She does this so often that our family members, in a sort of Pavlovian twist, have also started barking when the mailman drives up the street. We’re a regular family chorus like the von Trapps.
As a result, we’ve taken to spelling “M-A-I-L-M-A-N” and saying things like, “Do you know if HE came yet?” But that doesn’t work either because she understands the meaning of the verb “come” and realizes that someone is approaching, which to her is a license to bark. Where’s the Dog Whisperer when you need him?
You’d think with all these linguistic skills that she would understand what I mean when I yell, “STOP THAT BARKING!” Maybe she does but is telling me, “Heck with you, buddy. I’m programmed to bark! Woof woof!”
Let me not forget the least favorite word in her vocabulary — “bath.” As soon as she hears the “B” word, she’s nowhere to be found. The last time, my wife had to send out a search party, and they eventually found her hiding under the sofa with a supply of dog treats in case it was a long standoff.
You’re probably saying, “So what? I have my own problems. My 401(k) is tanking and I want to retire. Enter her in the national spelling bee or start talking in Italian.”
Those are, indeed, wise suggestions. However, there are other frightening implications. I’m worried she might have my credit card information and be using it for personal gain because I saw a lot of charges for Petco on the last statement that I didn’t make. Dog treats don’t amount to much, but what if she uses the card to make a six-digit donation to the Humane Society? That’s money I could use to buy more books I won’t read. Plus, we don’t want her to have access to our identities because identity theft is a really serious problem in America, and a growing concern among dog owners.
Apparently we’re not alone when it comes to this canine ability to understand human language, according to researchers in Hungary, who recently put dogs through a battery of tests and MRIs to find out how their brains worked. They concluded that dogs understand words and intonation, and process language with the same parts of the brain that we use. Furthermore, some dogs can match words to hundreds of objects, including “credit card” and “passport.”
The crazy thing is our dog listens better than my four daughters did. Maybe these researchers should conduct the same tests on teenagers. With our kids, it was “in one ear and out the other,” as my mother would say, although I don’t recall them barking at the freezer when they wanted ice cream.
I look at it this way. Dogs and humankind have socialized for at least 15,000 years, so it’s only natural that we should be able to have a good conversation over a pint of Guinness and some Milk Bone biscuits and discuss … the presidential election. Well, maybe not that because it could lead to extremely loud barking.
Contact Joe Pisani at firstname.lastname@example.org.