“Get ready for bed and I will tell you a story about dogs,” I instructed my daughter Miriam. As soon as she changed into her pajamas, my anxious little angel started her endless questions.
“Luckydog is always so happy to see me. When I come home from school and he always gives me kisses. Why does Luckydog do this?” Well, I’ll tell you a secret: “When you go to school Luckydog lays down at the door and does move until you return.
“When Aunt Mimi comes to visit us Luckydog runs to her and starts to sniff her. Luckydog doesn’t do this with Uncle Bill or Cousin John. Why does Lucky do this only with Aunt Mimi?” Children always seem to ask questions I can never answer and Miriam is no different.
I confess that I too wondered about that behavior and decided to ask Luckydog’s doctor about this. Dr. Smith asked me if Aunt Mimi had diabetes.
I thought that was a strange question and answered that Mimi did suffer from diabetes. Dr. Smith said that dogs have the ability to smell diseases on humans, particularly diabetes. Luckydog could smell the disease on Mimi.
“Wow! Luckydog’s sense of smell is very powerful!” Miriam exclaimed.
“Yes. Their sense of smell is really impressive. I even heard that dogs can even smell a teaspoon of sugar in an Olympic size swimming pool.”
I noticed from corner of my eye that son Paul sneaked into Miriam’s bedroom and sat next to the bed and listened to the dog story.
He interrupted the story and said that he asked how pets could find their way home after being lost for a long time. “Is that because they can smell their home?” Yes, I answered.
“Dogs can be pretty smart” Paul interjected.
Dr. Smith told me that dogs are as intelligent as the average two-year-old child. He said that dogs are capable of understanding up to 250 words and gestures, can count up to five and can perform simple mathematical calculations. “Gee, Luckydog is smarter than you Miriam,” Paul chuckled.
While in Dr. Smith’s waiting room I perused a copy of Psychology Today which referenced an essay by William Brennan called “Your Dog Feels No Shame: The Myth of Canine Guilt.” Mr. Brennan offered a short corrective to the general view that dogs don’t feel guilt. Mr. Brennan cites the work of Dr. Alexandra Horowitz. He writes, “… according to Alexandra Horowitz, a dog-cognition expert at Barnard College, what we perceive as a dog’s guilty look is no sign of guilt at all.” However, it may or may not be.
I asked Dr. Smith about this contrast in opinion. He said “Scientists believe dogs can experience ¬jealousy when their owners give attention to other dogs. But if they eat every biscuit in the house, they may look ashamed but don’t expect them to feel guilty as they don’t experience these emotions. Researchers found those puppy dog eyes are not a sign of guilt. In fact they are just the way we interpret a dog’s reaction to being scolded. I think they know how to placate us with this sad puppy-dog look that makes us think they’re ashamed of what they’ve done.”
Miriam then said that she watched Luckydog sleep one afternoon and noticed that our dog twitched and breathed heavily. Paul interrupted again saying “sometimes his four paws move like they are running and barks and growls.”
“It sounds like Luckdog was having a dream” I suggested. “You dream sometimes too don’t you?” “But I don’t bark when I dream,” Paul joked. Miriam then argued Paul with perfect logic “How would you know if you were sleeping?”
“Tell us another secret Dad,” Miriam asked. “OK, did you know that dogs have their own fingerprints?” Miriam studies Luckydog’s paws individually very carefully and claimed that she saw nothing different. “Paul, it is your turn. What do you see?” “Nothing, just a foot.”
I smiled and answered the puzzle. “A dog’s paw print may look the same but their nose print is actually as unique as a human fingerprint. The combination of ridges and creases are so distinct that it can actually be used to identify them.” “OOOOh the kid said in unison.”
“Do you want to learn a dog game?” I asked. It is called “Dog Karoke.” “Yes, the children answered and smiled excitedly. “Did you ever hear Luckydog howl when she hears another dog shrieking?” I asked. “If you howl like the other dogs, soon all of the dogs in the neighborhood sang their howl together in a chorus.”
It is said that dogs are man’s best friend. One reason is that dogs can teach us to be become better human beings, particularly, the willingness to provide unconditional love, loyalty, and companionship down to their very last breath.