Conversations with a Dog


The dogs and I don’t talk about deep philosophical things. But then I’m not so incline. Rather we talk about practical things. Livestock, predators, the weather, engineering, ferrets, fish, food, fire…

Fire… Remus loves to talk about fire. “Can I get you another stick to put in the fire!?!” he asks. “Will you ignite this stick and let me have it!?!” He’s a regular pyro. You would think he would really love Independence Day! Not!

Today was the 4th of July. When we got home after the fireworks most of the dogs were happy to see us. Except for Remus and Katya. They are normally the most communicative but gave me the silent treatment.

Later I asked Katya if the fireworks upset her. No reply. I wondered how to communicate this in our limited interspecies vocabulary? I then asked “Bang, Bang, Bang Bad?” She replied “Bang, Bang, Bang Bad Bad.” The Bang, Bang Bang is not a phrase we’ve used before but I think she knew right away what I meant – the fireworks had often been in sets of three during the session which was just one mile up our valley. She repeated the “Bang, Bang, Bang” back verbally with the same count and cadence I had used and tacked on an extra negative.

Their natural language is a lot about cadences and tones. It is pitch oriented. Our guttural stops and clicks are hard for them. Their growly undertones to words can rip a man’s throat out trying to say them. We just don’t have the lungs to match their volume of air to howl out long serenades or develop all their rich singing tones in our tiny muzzles we pathetically call noses. Yet, we each compensate as we strive to be understood and to communicate with the other across the species boundaries. Great things will someday come from our struggles to describe the diving duck and the “threeteen” new brown piglets born in the south field greenhouse ark bay 17 this morning.

Next Katya said my name “muff-uff-uuf“, verbally, and appended the signs “Not Here”. Perhaps she was upset that I had not been there with all the fireworks going off. That would be one interpretation of the conversation.

I asked again and she repeated exactly the same thing. Then she asked for her pillow and laid down when I gave it to her. This had been upsetting but she had gotten to talk about it. Now she was ready to sleep.

How do you talk with a pigeon? In pidgin, of course.

Remus was still giving me the cold shoulder. Maybe he’ll talk about it tomorrow. Or he’ll forget it. Or not. Maybe Katya can interpret for him. She is speaker for the dogs. Remus usually holds up his end of the conversation very well but sometimes she breaks in to explain something. Less likely he breaks in to explain for her. There is a ranking

Sirius who tends to just watch these interactions interjected “Bang, Bang, Bang Bag Bad”. We may have started something. A new phrase and associated words working their way into our common tongue. Language evolves with needs and use.

Outdoors: 72°F/38°F Sunny, Fast Rain During Speeches
Tiny Cottage: 68°F/62°F

Dailing Spark: Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life. -Anon

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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3 Responses to Conversations with a Dog

  1. David Lloyd Sutton says:

    Walter, I know you pack a camera about. You need to start recording sound and video. Your eventual book regarding dog “training” could well become a significant treatise on interspecies communication with a CD like a lot of textbooks. And I’m not just woofing. I’ve read everything from the one by monks (New Skete?) Even wrote one once on wolf hybrids and their necessities for people who bought or adopted one of ours. No one else has your recorded perceptions about this or your educated comprehension.

    I’ve been without a canine companion for almost a decade now, living in a condo and an apartment. Miss the familiness of them. But for the last couple of years I have been receiving training from a cat. While I’ve lived with them for all my early years, this is the first time I’ve been with just one, and been the animal’s sole daily interactor. I’ve learned that cats use position and direction as much as verbalizing. Pop open a door, offering outside access, and several steps away is a negative. Used as a statement, consistently. Never human words, but understandable tones, and sometimes repetition of movement to communicate urgency. And the lady in question often uses facial expression to convey interest or disinterest. She asked to move in with me because her former home and family were become chaotic with a bullying neutered male cat, a badly behaved young dog, and hordes of shrieking girl children. This I learned from her former mistress, who is delighted her old friend has found safe harbor. I call her Autumn Leaf because she not only looks like one, but blew in on me in the fall. Leaf sometimes greets her former family out of doors, obviously regards them fondly, but simply requires quieter living. At the advent of colder weather, when she resumes sleeping on my bed rather than on cool leather furniture, she leaves a mouse or other rodent in my office doorway. Just once a year, on that occasion. Obviously rent. She has access to the out of doors when I’m home, and takes care of sanitation outside. And when I have to be away for longer than twenty hours, she . . . uses the toilet. No training, just, I think, courtesy. And the feline desire to keep elimination odors out of the eating space. One difference between cats and dogs is that the vast majority of cat communication has to do with what the cat wants. Dogs and wolves, as you know, are interested in their humans’ welfare too.

    Folks who haven’t animals to interact with are poorer; I envy you the richness of your extended family on Sugar Mountain.

    • She sounds much like a cat who I knew that lived with me for years in the early to mid 1980’s and ironically, also looked like an autumn leaf – colors. I just called her cat. She had a name for me. Perhaps “Boy” or such. Interspecies relationships are to be cherished. As you say, they make life richer.

  2. Nance says:

    these posts and comments on animal communication fascinate me even though I own no animals or they, me, at this time. I do study babies and am fascinated with small humans. I watch their eyes, their faces, their tongues and expressions as newborns and in the early months’ development in response to our facial offerings.

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