I was reading a book review recently about the long history humans have had with dogs and puppies. According to the article, “Neanderthals didn’t live with puppies. But Homo sapiens have done so for thousands of years.”
That reminded me of myself talking to our dog every morning on the way to get the newspaper. He always listens attentively, as if he understands what I am blabbering about, and then turns his head and looks out the window for the deer and other creatures that he likes to see early in the morning.
How is it that we can project such human qualities upon an animal?
I remember my days on the farm. I had my favorite cows and, in those days, they each had a name. My absolute favorite was Doris. She would always lead the cows coming home to be milked, she would always go into her proper stall, and, when being milked, she would turn her head toward me as if to say “thank you!” I talked to Doris a lot.
There were other cows I liked because they wouldn’t kick me when being milked. But, with Doris, it was different. It seemed like there was some real communication going on.
Of course, it was the same with horses. I always thought they were smarter than cows, and they also knew how to play you somehow like an “audience.” They could be balky and stubborn when they wanted to get your attention, or give you the thrill of lifetime when they galloped for home. You often see jockeys and trainers talking to their horses at the track.
As to pigs, I never tried speaking with them. And, chickens were a “lost cause” as far as I was concerned.
But, that brings us back to pets–there is something special about them. I have always spoken to a pet cat or a dog (but, especially a dog) as if they were human, or at least half-human. How much they understand is anyone’s guess, but they seem to like the interaction.
As to dogs, the article postulates that they were initially wolves (or a certain type of wolf which was less aggressive) whom early humans could domesticate and who would act to protect their caves or dwellings. The dogs would, in turn, be fed and treated like a part of the family. (Now, I understand why our dog barks at the mailman or when an unfamiliar car comes down the driveway.)
Yet, none of this, really explains why I talk to the dog. Is it because I am an animal also–though a very, thoroughly domesticated one? Is it because the dog actually does understand what I am saying?
My wife, I think, believes the latter because she will admonish the dog at great lengths about why he should not be doing something–though I think the only word he really understands is “No!”
Maybe I talk with the dog because it is good for me. He doesn’t talk back, he is always respectful and I don’t have to justify anything that I tell him.
Whatever the reason, talking to the dog does make me feel good each morning … so I keep doing it. I guess it must be a good thing. Have you talked with your pet today?
Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident and a former New York state Assemblyman.