I’m currently reading Alexandra Horowitz’s book, Inside of a Dog, What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. I’m reading this book because we (my current wife and I) share the house with a large, mix-breed mutt named Margaret Truman. Margaret wasn’t large when first she came to piddle on our floor. No, she was five or six pounds of piddling fur-ball. Now, add 70 pounds and fur that comes out in large chunks and rolls across the hardwood floor when the weather gets warm and you get the general picture. She has, thank goodness, learned to piddle and poop out of doors.
“Mixed breed” is the dog industry’s euphemism for the progeny of a good time party bitch. Margaret’s mother, a black lab from the streets of Atlanta’s west side, apparently never met a male dog that she didn’t accommodate, if you get my drift. Margaret has a wide variety of breed markers.
I sent a DNA sample to Bio Pet Vet Lab, a company that analyzes cheek swabs of dogs to determine their primary lineage. Before I give you the results, I have a question. Who thinks up a business like this? I mean, really. Even more curious is this: what kind of person swabs the inside of their dog’s mouth with a long cotton-tipped swab, wraps it carefully in sterile packaging, mails it to a company that says it uses scientific methods and expensive machinery to determine–for a substantial fee–what types of male dogs were in the general vicinity of the puppy’s mother when she was in heat that summer of 2003? Well, we know the answer to the second question don’t we.
Margaret’s mother, as we already know, was a black Labrador. According to the DNA test, the rest of her is a combination of Akita, Dachshund, Great Pyrenees, Yorkshire Terrier, Chow Chow, Mastiff, Poodle and Schnauzer. In the great scheme of dog matings, that must have been some party. My best guess is that Tyler Perry was having a launch party at his Atlanta mansion for yet another of his bad TV shows or movies starring overweight, sassy-tongued folk and his guests brought their dogs. Then, Margaret’s mother stumbled onto the grounds, attracted by the smell of canapes. Let the mountings begin.
None of the fathers stuck around to help with the care and nurturing when the litter arrived. For Margaret, it was either the pound gas chamber or adoption by people who would later have her spade and eventually swab her mouth for DNA evidence of paternity; death vs. indignity.
Thanks to Ms. Horowitz’s book, here are some of things that I am learning about dogs in general and Margaret in particular.
Dogs are not color blind, they just don’t care about color. Here’s why; they can’t eat color. If you think that your dog cares whether his or her collar is snazzy blue, sissy pink or aggressive red, you would be wrong. You care, the dog doesn’t. Suggestion: when you go to Home Depot to select colors for the bedroom re-do, don’t take the dog to help in the decision. There is no living creature who cares less than the dog whether the room will be “Willow Mist” or “Cucumber”, except, perhaps, for your spouse. Take neither the dog nor the spouse to Home Depot.
Dogs don’t yawn when they are bored. Although it is quite possible that you are extremely boring, your dog pretty much doesn’t notice. Why? Because dogs can’t eat boring. Your neighbors, however, do care and will be reluctant to go to dinner with you if you are boring. Think about it; when was the last time your neighbors asked you to join them for dinner?
Dogs see the world through their noses. Some estimates of dogs with particularly sensitive noses (bloodhounds, beagles, etc.) have a capacity for smell that is one million times better than a human. This would exclude, of course, my second grade teacher who could smell a pair of slept-in underwear from across the room.
When dogs make their daily rounds, they are smelling the latest news from the neighborhood and leaving newsy tidbits behind. It’s the dog equivalent of Twitter but way more interesting, especially for the dogs. Besides catching up on the gossip, dogs are also checking to see if, by chance, someone left a Salisbury steak lying around on the ground. If not, dogs will substitute almost anything else that looks and smells edible and I mean anything. Dogs are infamous as excrement eaters, especially cat poop.
At our house, while we humans may see a cat box that needs cleaning, Margaret is thinking, “Hey, the snack bar is fully stocked”. A sure sign that we have carelessly left the door open to where the cats do their business is the telltale cat litter stuck to Margaret’s wet nose. She tries to look nonchalant but it never works.
One of the reasons that dogs like to stick their heads out of moving vehicles is the sheer overload of smells that rush by: “Oooooh, fried chick….ooooh, oooh, hamburg…..oooh, Indian cuisi…..ooooh, Hispanic yardma..(dogs can smell fear)…..ooooooh, the UPS tru……oooooh, cat poo…..oooooh, brautwers……ooooh, bitch in hea……oooooh, Roto Rooter Ma…….ooooh, Waffle Hou…..ooooh, dead squirr……oooooh, metrosexual”, and all of this within a block or two.
Of course, for specific information nirvana, there is nothing like a good warm human crotch, especially one of a stranger. The crotch is where the really interesting human news resides. This is where owning a very small dog avoids social embarrassment at the front door when guests arrive, although I have had small dogs “mark” my shoes as an initial greeting. I have also found that unreprimanded crotch sniffing by a large dog is an excellent deterrent to having Jehovah’s Witnesses hang around long enough to convert me.
Dogs roll in things that stink; this way, they can walk around all day and be constantly reminded of the wonderful miracle of putrification. I also think it possible that being hideously smelly could be the dog’s way of getting even for earlier sexual neutering and DNA swabbing.
Further, even dogs who have been “fixed” still have sexual drives, a situation that got multitudes of eunuchs in deep doo-doo over the centuries. This “fixed” dog sexual drive is illustrated by the behavior of our neighbor’s neutered yellow Lab. He and Margaret are pals. I take them walking in the woods where there is much news reading and news leaving. Then, when they’ve smelled the news thoroughly, they have a play fight. The Lab’s primary goal is to tire Margaret to the point where she finally lies down exhausted . Then, he moves to her front and humps her head, her head being high enough for him to make a glancing rub or two. In between visits he neither phones nor writes.
Finally, dogs generally resent being anthropormorphized by their human partners. This starts with the naming of the dog. “Margaret Truman” is, of course, a human name not a dog name. Clearly, however, Margaret is comfortable with a semi-famous, and somewhat ironic, name. Dogs are into irony. Many dogs, however, are disgusted with their names and spend time communicating to other dogs how they feel about their human-given names. For instance, a dog named “Blue” will, through a series of tail wags, eye darts and strategic sniffing, communicate to a fellow dog the following, “The redneck at the other end of the leash couldn’t get past primary colors before he ran out of ideas”. Suffice to say that dogs named Scroto, Prometheus, Tofu, Stump, Princess Boink or Steve have much to resent.
Observoid of the Day: Dogs may not be as smart as pigs but they have figured out how to avoid becoming bacon.