I got my lab/beagle/take-your-pick mix on the spur of the moment. I had been working at home for several months and wanted a companion during the workday when the kids were at school.
Katie now goes everywhere with me. From the minute I wake up in the morning, she’s there. She positions herself right at the head of the bed so she’s often the first face I see when I wake up in the morning (the big guy is long gone for work by then). By the time I’m loading the kids into the car school, she’s there in the parking circle at the bottom of our driveway waiting for us.
“You want to go for a ride?” I’ll ask, and she’ll wag her tail and hop in the car. Sometimes she’ll race us to the top of the driveway before wagging her tail and jumping in. When the weather’s not too hot, she and I will continue on after I drop off the kids and run my errands before work. For the the longest time I thought she just enjoyed sleeping on the seat by my side, but the last week or two got me questioning not just what I know about dogs (which isn’t much admittedly) but also how I might be dealing with human animals in my life.
It started a few weeks ago when we approached the park after dropping off Thing2. She was sitting on the seat next to me, watching the town go by, and suddenly her whole body started to quake. When it became evident that we were going to pass the park instead of turning in go for a walk, she began to whimper. I couldn’t understand it we hadn’t been there in months. Then I remembered an unplanned play date she’d had with another dog there back in June. Could she be remembering it too? I shook the idea out of my head and drove on.
Today, however, as we were driving the short trip between the middle school and the bank, I got a clearer picture what it is to travel that mile on her paws.
We’d dropped off the kids as usual, and as usual Katie jumped from the seat next to Thing2 into the seat next to mine. She curled up and seemed to fall asleep for a few minutes. Then we turned into the bank.
I pushed the talk button to ask for a deposit slip, and I saw her ears perk up slightly. When I pushed the button to send the canister to the teller, she sat right up. The tail started thumping just a tiny bit, and then I noticed that she was staring right through the glass at the teller with the limpid bedroom eyes she uses when she’s begging for scraps from the kids at the dinner table. That was when I noticed the bowl of dog biscuits on the counter next to the teller.
Then it hit me that, even though she had only been here once before, she had put in on her mental map faster than Pavlov’s dog. The teller nodded and waved and popped a biscuit into the canister before sending it back. Katie’s tail was now on full speed.
I don’t know much about dog behavior; everything I know comes from growing up with my parents dog labrador retriever and from raising Katie, and that ain’t much. Early in Katie’s life I did read advice from dog experts warning about the fallacy of projecting human emotions onto dogs. But as Katie’s thumping tail reminded me not to underestimate her memory, I wondered if our projection of those human emotions says more about us than it does about the animals in our care. And it got me wondering how often in human relationships, I project my preconceptions ,rather than widening my perceptions.