April 25, 2008

play again?

Those eyes speak volumes.

Ears erect and forward, head swinging on his neck like a tetherball on its pole, Cai is talking to me. He’s saying, “Are you sure? Where? Where is he?” Suddenly his ears flatten back for full aerodynamic capacity as he breaks into a gallop, his whole body shouting, “There he is! There’s Jack! I see him! Oh joy, oh joy, oh joy!”

For all that we humans pride ourselves on our vocalizations (and therefore scold dogs for competing with us), anyone who owns a pet knows how much can be communicated through body language. In fact, so much is conveyed by the height of an eyebrow or the speed of a tail wag, that a human can grasp the message without paying much conscious attention to how the dog has “spoken”. I have to really think, then, in order to describe Cai’s movements. Let’s see…

Here are two scenarios that begin the same way, but Cai asks a different question in each one:

  • I’m in the living room watching Cai on the balcony, who in turn is watching the neighbours go by. As he shifts position, he sees me looking at him. He enters the apartment and approaches me, eyes meeting mine, ears tilted slightly backwards, mouth ajar, eyebrows playing volleyball with each other.
    • Interpretation: “Hi Mum, did you want me for anything?”
  • Cai sees me watching him and enters the apartment, heaving loud, breathy whines, his vertical ears  twisted outwards. He runs to the balcony door, to me, to the window, to me.
    • Interpretation: “Ple-e-ease can we go out and play with Peanuts and Cindy and Boomer and Tango and Coco, ple-e-ease?”

Cai doesn’t usually care too much for other dogs, though. His main focus in life, even more than treats, is toys. Here are four games that he’s taught us to recognize:

  • We’re playing in the back field. Cai is exercising me, having me fetch the ball once he’s run and caught it. This time as I  stoop for the ball, he jogs halfway down the field and crouches stockstill, staring hard at my throwing hand.
    • Interpretation: “I’m a Border Collie! Throw the sheep — I’m ready!”
  • We’re playing in the front yard. As I reach for the ball, Cai runs behind the big Silver Maple and peeks out from one side, then the other.
    • Interpretation: “Throw the ball either side of the tree, I’ll get it!”
  • I’m playing at the computer. Cai brings the plush candycane squeakytoy that Jack gave him for Christmas and drops it beside my chair. As I reach for it, he mouths it catch-and-release fashion, growling.
    • Interpretation: “Let’s play tug!”
  • Cai brings the same toy to my chair. As I reach for it, he runs a dozen feet in front of me, three-sixties and crouches.
    •  Interpretation: “Let’s play throw!”

The final pair of examples of Cardiganese that I’d like to share with you have to do with canine emotions. I believe that Cai has a sense of compassion; I’ve seen him behave towards our kitty Cuca in the same way as described below, when Cuca caught a cold and was sneezing. I also believe — and after reading the final scene, you be the judge — that Cai has a sense of humour.

  • I step in from the balcony, put a foot on a rubber squeaky toy, and lose my balance, grabbing the couch arm for support. Cai stands on his hind legs with his front paws on the couch and stretches his muzzle into my face.
    • Interpretation: “Are you okay?”
  • Everyone’s in bed with either a good book or a good bone. Cai’s bone falls to the floor. He looks over the edge at it, whimpering softly. E.g. slips out of bed to pick it up for him. The moment she’s out, Cai scuttles up and snuggles into her pillow, his bright eyes looking at her, his mouth open.
    • Interpretation: “Fooled ya!”