Hidden Life of Dogs is an Open Book
by Dave Barry
I want to talk about the hidden lives of my dogs.
Until recently, I wasn’t aware that my dogs had hidden
lives. There were many times, such as when they’d take turns
repeatedly eating a deceased lizard and throwing it back up, when
I wasn’t even sure they had BRAINS.
Then I got “The Hidden Life of Dogs,” the best-selling
book by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, who has some astounding
insights into dog behavior. For example, in an effort to find out
what dogs do when they’re on their own, she spent months following
a husky named Misha as he roamed all over Cambridge, Mass. What
Thomas discovered was that Misha, who at first appeared to be
simply trotting around aimlessly, was in fact earning a degree
from Harvard Business School.
No, I am joshing. Harvard does not accept huskies unless
their parents are extremely wealthy. What Thomas discovered, after
much observation, was that Misha spent his time — and here I will
attempt to summarize two full chapters of “The Hidden Life of
Dogs” — sniffing other dogs and peeing a lot.
This might not strike you dog-owners as all that deep of
an insight. But trust me, it seems like one when you’re reading
the book. Because where you might see just a plain old dog
engaging in non-rocket-scientist behavior, Thomas sees a highly
sophisticated organism responding to elaborate socio-biological
stimuli and performing complex problem-solving tasks. It’s not her
fault that the solution to the problem is usually to pee on it.
Anyway, reading this book got me to thinking about my own
dogs. Did they have a hidden life? If so, could I discover it, and
more important — write a best-selling book?
To find out, I removed my dogs from the confined,
controlled environment of our house and put them outside, where
they were free to reveal their hidden lives. I observed them
closely for the better part of a day, and thus I am able to reveal
here, for the first time anywhere, that what dogs do, when they
are able to make their own decisions in accordance with their
unfettered natural instincts, is: try to get back inside the
house. They spent most of the day pressing sad, moony faces up
against the glass patio door, taking only occasional breaks to see
if it was a good idea to eat worms. (Answer: no).
Of course, the dogs have important and complex socio-
biological reasons for wanting to get back into the house. For one
thing, the house contains the most wondrous thing in the world:
the kitchen counter. One time a piece of turkey fell off of it.
The dogs still regularly visit the spot where it landed, in case
it shows up again. There’s an invisible Dog Historic Marker there.
Another reason is that the house provides a better echo
for barking. Dogs employ barking as a vital means of communicating
important messages, such as: “bark.” Barking also serves a vital
biological purpose: If a dog does not release a certain number of
barks per day, they will back up, and the dog will explode.
(Whenever you hear an unexplained loud noise in the distance, it’s
probably a dog exploding.)
Our large main dog, Earnest, spends her day sleeping
directly under my desk, and three or four times a day she’ll have
a pressure buildup, causing her to wake up, lift her head, release
a bark and immediately go back to sleep. Her bark, traveling at
the speed of bark, quickly reaches our small emergency backup dog,
Zippy, who is sleeping elsewhere in the house. He wakes up and
rushes up to the outside of my office door and starts barking at
it, because there is clearly something wrong inside. (Why else
would Earnest have barked?) This in turn awakens Earnest, who
leaps up, bonks her head against the bottom of my desk, then
rushes over and starts barking at her side of the door. Each dog
is firmly convinced that there is Big Trouble on the other side,
possibly involving their arch-enemy, the U.S. Postal Service
truck. It comes around every day, and usually Earnest and Zippy
are able to drive it off by barking at it and getting spit all
over the windows by our front door, but now apparently the truck
somehow has GOTTEN INTO THE HOUSE and is ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THIS
DOOR BARK BARK BARK BARKBARKBARKBARKBARKBARK!!!
This is what my dogs are thinking (if “thinking” is the
word I want here) as I get up, walk past Earnest, who is now
insane with rage, and open the door. Instantly Earnest charges
BARKBARKBARK into the hall, narrowly missing Zippy, who is
charging BARKBARKBARK into my office. Each one goes about five
feet, then — WAIT a minute!! — skids to a stop, whirls around,
and charges back the other way, still barking. Sometimes they’ll
pass each other three or four times before they run out of
momentum and lie down again, confident that, thanks to their
alertness, the house is once again safe.
This is the hidden dog world that goes on EVERY DAY in our
house. I admit that, socio-biologically, it is not as interesting
as the things that Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’ dogs do. But Earnest
and Zippy are the only dogs I have. Make me an offer.
(C) 1993 THE MIAMI HERALD
DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.