Translating Dog Language

Dogs don’t really have language, since “Arf”, “Whine”, and “Growl”, do not constitute language, even if you string them all together in the same sentence.

On the other hand, it might be one, since no one has yet really defined what language is.  Or why human speech came to be.  As a (mostly recovering) anthropology major in college, I have a passing interest in linguistics.  Now, after all this time, here is what I think:  humans define what language is, and we’re handicapped by an inability to define it otherwise.  It’s Schrodinger’s cat. The victors write the history.  Those kinds of things.

We are getting better, I think.  We finally understand that whales and dolphins are at least talking to each other, even if we don’t understand what they’re saying.

What would happen if we actually found extraterrestrial life?  I am reminded of a column by the great humorist Dave Barry, who said if his wife were involved and it looked microbial, she would kill it with a spray bottle of Clorox.  So much for science.

But I digress.  No one who knows dogs or has had a dog would doubt that they communicate.  And dogs, in my view, are almost the only animals who care about whether you understand them or not.  But they have to mostly do that with behavior.  But think about it.  Humans do too.  Language gives us the ability to lie.

So, since my dog Troughton died on Wednesday, the other dog, Pippin, has been acting squirrely.

When I got home from the vet’s about 7:15 that evening, he went into mega-sniff mode–which he always does to an extent, whenever any other member of the pack goes somewhere with me that he wasn’t invited.  He’s like, “Tell me your story”.  Because this is the way he apprehends the world–through scent.  He might get it slightly wrong, but humans do too, with speech.

I was not happy with this, because I imagined that the smells I came home with did not tell the story I would like to have told.

It turned out that the vet’s office, which recently expanded its hospital, has a special euthanasia room, or that’s what I think.  I blurted out, Wow.  This is like hospice.  And it was.  There was a deep brown leather love seat against the wall.  An Oriental rug.  An “exam” table with a black marble top.

The vet tech had to carry Troughton there, and he was in the floor by the love seat.  He was fading fast.

So when I came home, I think I smelled like death. Death in general, but with the death of Troughton in the mix.

I have anecdotal evidence of this.  According the rescue group people I know, at the public shelter when they come into the dog “ward” and remove a dog for euthanasia, all the other dogs start howling, as if they know what is about to happen.  They miss their fellow prisoner, and are afraid they will be next.  I think that’s true, but I think it’s because the scrubs the people are wearing smell like death.

After Pippin’s Sniff Fest, he ignored me for the next 24 hours.  It was like if he got near me, I would capture him, take him away, and he would never come back either.

The next morning, he wouldn’t eat his food, because the routine was always that Troughton’s food bowl got filled first.  So he kept waiting for me to put food in Troughton’s dish.  Same deal last night.

This morning he seemed to have come to some sort of understanding.  He ate his food, and he let me pet him.  It’s been less than 72 hours.  Must be nice.


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