Several years ago, I went to O’Noir on a field trip with Child. I realized, when I was in complete darkness, being served my dinner by a vision impaired waiter, that a smile and a nod is insufficient communication. But this week, when I’m limited in other ways to communicate, I’ve been thinking about the spoken vs. other forms of communication in my life.
I’ve got laryngitis. Once or twice a year, the universe tells me that I need to shut up for a while. This is that week. Not just, like, a hoarse voice. No voice. I gots nuthin’. I’ve said less than 200 words aloud in the last 2 days. I can usually get that many out in about a minute an a half.
Woe is me.
I feel like my gentleman associate must be loving this. No chatter. No eleventy billion questions. Child’s been needling me – he whispers when I whisper. He tries to get a rise out of me to see if I’ll yell, but oh, yeah, the volume is broken. To captions, then – he texts me from across the room (or a floor above). I mean, he does this even when I have usual volume, but he’s working with what we have.
I was getting for bed last night, which means putting King Louie of Dogswald out for evening Perimeter March. Sometimes, when I get to the top of the stairs, I will clap my hands softly 5 times, and he’ll come greet me. So I tried that from the bottom of the stairs. Nothing. So I went up the stairs and clapclapclapclapclapped, and he came. I motioned down the stairs and he happily bounded down and waited for me at the back door.
I let him out and I went and sat on the bench beside his house. He sniffed around the yard looking for tonight’s Perfect Spot for the evening’s business, and he wandered out of the pool of light where I could see him. Except… how was I going to call him back? I tried the 5clap.
After a few minutes, he came back to me, at the bench.
I’ve been thinking about how he understands me. We’ve trained each other that when I say “Wait” he heels. He stops on the edge of curbs, or reels it in when he’s spooled out his extendable leash. When I say “OK”, it’s his release word. We have a zipline between our house and a tree on the back of our property. Louie’s attached to the zipline by a length of cable. When I say “Wait”, he stops pulling toward me to get off his line and into the house. Except that when he’s really excited, I’m saying “Wait! OK. OK. Wait. OK. Louie, WAIT!” And what he’s hearing is Stop! Go. Go. Stop. Go. Louie STOP! Alas, the English to Dog translator failed us both. Sorry Louie. I’ve learned to stop giving him mixed messages. Silly Hooman.
But last night, I couldn’t even do that. I mean, he knows hand signals for Wait, Sit, Down, and Yippee! (which is him jumping up on his back legs with his front paws in the air), and he knows the 5clap thing, when he’s actually paying attention. He also knows what a knife sounds like when it hits the chopping block having just cut a cucumber or a head of romaine lettuce. From a dead sleep he can recognize that. But that may not be relevant to this anecdote.
I don’t speak dog and he doesn’t speak English, so we have to come up with ways to understand each other. Some of that is verbal and some isn’t: Louie only puts his paw on Mrs. Foodmonkey if he *really* has to go outside. If he *reallyreally* has to go, he’ll bark. Louie knows that Mrs. Foodmonkey is going to work when I pick up my work bag. So if he wants to go to work, he should stand beside the car when I’m carrying that bag. Whether I’m planning on taking him to work or not. Louie doesn’t want Mrs. Foodmonkey to be afraid of the thunder or the firecrackers, so he makes sure to lay down near me – you know, to make me feel better.
I wonder if he feels as accomplished when he tells me that he wants a treat and I actually understand that? I guess treats are their own reward.